'They got carried away. It's inexcusable'

Fall of Leeds: From distinction to near-extinction. Now Leeds' new chairman stresses need for hard-headed decisions
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The Independent Football

Three years ago, they were Premiership peers, their ambition unconstrained by the man then considered the League's most admired chairman, yoked to the most promising young manager. Yester-day at Elland Road, an ebullient atmosphere could not conceal the inner despair. For Leeds, the culmination of a season - some say the most traumatic for a relegated team since Manchester United descended into the old Second Division 30 years ago - in which the Yorkshire club have been variously mocked, condemned, and now, finally, pitied.

Three years ago, they were Premiership peers, their ambition unconstrained by the man then considered the League's most admired chairman, yoked to the most promising young manager. Yester-day at Elland Road, an ebullient atmosphere could not conceal the inner despair. For Leeds, the culmination of a season - some say the most traumatic for a relegated team since Manchester United descended into the old Second Division 30 years ago - in which the Yorkshire club have been variously mocked, condemned, and now, finally, pitied.

The end of the peer show, as we recall those acts which have passed through: David O'Leary, Terry Venables, Peter Reid and Eddie Gray; Peter Ridsdale, "Professor" John McKenzie and Gerald Krasner. But will it be Leeds United's final curtain as they pass from the glamour of the West End to the hand-to-mouth existence of repertory?

The best one can say is that Leeds are currently in thoroughly appropriate hands. Those of an accountant. But not just any old balance-sheet shifter. "I am an insolvency specialist," declares Krasner, the latest chairman. "I lecture on it. Companies in administration who need surgery, I give them advice. We are like undertakers or surgeons - we either bury them or save them. The only difference is I bury the same person more than once.

"In terms of ruthlessness, I've been very polite today," adds Krasner, 54, a pinstripe-suit clad, bluff Yorkshireman, with a dry humour and a sharp tongue. "But you haven't seen the other side of me. Ask a few people in Leeds. You don't save businesses from going bust by being genial."

Though he refuses to discuss the financial machinations behind his board's takeover, it is understood that the buy-out totalled around £20m, of which £15m was used to settle the £80m owed to the bond holders and the finance company who provided the hire purchase to buy players such as Mark Viduka.

The deal with the bond holders means the board can now sell and lease back Elland Road, which will provide a crucial source of finance. Krasner says: "We saved this club from going into extinction. But we're not in this for credit. We went into this because we all live here. My late father is buried a mile from Elland Road. He always taught me if things are good in life, put something back."

I asked Krasner if his brief exposure to the realities of Premiership football had astounded him. "My background, in insolvency and recovery for 20 years, means there are not many things that have shocked me," Krasner replies. "It's upset me we didn't stay in the Premiership. But having been threatened with a body bag being sent round to me by a funeral director I had dealings with, I can cope with anything."

Thrice-married, with two grown-up daughters but now separated from his third wife, Krasner is a long-standing fan of the club and was among a record crowd of 57,892 who witnessed a game against Sunderland in 1967. "It's a surreal experience being chairman at Leeds," he says. "It's good that I come to my office and find out what's really important in life. Or you switch the news on and find out what's happening in Iraq and get another perspective of the world."

You ask what emotions he had felt, from the outside, as he watched Leeds spiral into decline from Champions' League and Premiership title contenders under the Ridsdale-O'Leary regime to relegated club in just three years? "Firstly, we never won anything," he says. "You get nowt for being second, as we say in Yorkshire. You saw the signings, but you didn't realise the commitments that were being entered into. Looking at it with hindsight, we had to win the Premiership and Champions' League to break even each year. Even Arsenal can't do that. Everyone got carried away by emotion. That's not understandable from hard-headed businessmen. It's not excusable."

What Krasner and his five fellow directors now have to assess is how to reduce an annual wage bill of £53m - no, that's not a misprint - to realistic proportions for the First Division. Alan Smith and Viduka will depart once the season ends next Saturday. But not necessarily goalkeeper Paul Robinson, and certainly not James Milner. "It's very unfortunate that Alan will probably be leaving," says Krasner. "Smithy is the Mr Leeds United of the current era. Before that, it was Billy Bremner. Before that, John Charles. Maybe James Milner will be the new Mr Leeds United."

He is adamant that the teenage midfielder will stay, "because he's a young rising star", though Krasner swiftly adds: "If somebody offered me silly money I'd seriously have to think about it, because the finances of Leeds United are more important than any one player."

Though he won't comment directly on what individual players have contributed, or, more pertinently, have not contributed, this season, he observes: "I thought we had enough players not to go down. Some haven't played to their potential. Whether they've lost it or the discipline is wrong are in-house matters - but that will not occur next season."

Caretaker-manager Eddie Gray's future is under discussion. He may remain at the club, but it is unlikely he will continue in his present role. "A third of the letters we get question Eddie [remaining as manager]," says Krasner. "But that's because we've been relegated. If we had stayed up he would have been untouchable."

It is understandable that there has not been the formation of an orderly queue of would-be new chairmen, prepared to wrest the club from his hands. Local businessman Steve Parkin is reportedly preparing a takeover bid, but has yet to convince the board he has the necessary funding. "I want to get Leeds back in the Premiership and will do whatever that takes. If it's somebody coming in and wanting to do it their way I won't stand in their way," Krasner says. "But unless Mr Abramovich Mark II comes along, I think I'm here for the long haul."

Certainly, he doesn't appear to suffer from the stress of it all. "I've got younger since I took this job," he says dismissively. "I'm a great believer that worry never solves a problem."

Which is just as well because, where Leeds United are concerned, there is no prospect of the problems being resolved in the foreseeable future.

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