Sunday 23 October 2016

John Giles: No way back to the big time for Leeds

Gap between Premier League elite and a much abused club too wide to bridge

New Leeds United manager Steve Evans
New Leeds United manager Steve Evans

When Leeds first fell off the cliff and fans woke up one morning in what used to be the English Third Division, I don't think any of them believed that things could get worse. Unfortunately, I think there is still depth to go before we hit bottom.

Back in 2011 there was chaos, law suits and acrimony surrounding Elland Road but even with that, I thought that the heart of the club would remain strong and that the job of rebuilding, while difficult, was manageable.

But a whole new chapter of woe has been visited on the club since then and even though a successful Leeds United would generate money, they are so far off the pace now that it would never be enough.

At the time and like many fans, I thought that the only way Leeds could ever compete in the Premier League again was through a big financial backer but now, just a short spell of years later, I actually think that it is nigh on impossible.


LEEDS, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09: General view of Elland Road Stadium on January 9, 2013 in Leeds, United Kingdom. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09: General view of Elland Road Stadium on January 9, 2013 in Leeds, United Kingdom. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

To fund a promotion challenge from the Championship, you won't get much change out of £150m. Sure, you'll get a freak like Bournemouth every now and then but most of the time, the clubs that make it into the Premier League spend money to get there.

And they must spend again to stay there which is the point at which everything begins to go wrong.

A club like Bournemouth is well run and will avoid many of the pitfalls but nobody at Dean Court is thinking about winning the Premier League.

Elland Road
Elland Road

At Leeds, winning titles is part of the tradition so survival would not be enough for fans.

In Howard Wilkinson's day, he was able to do it with lads from within and some decent signings. It was after that, when ambition overtook reality and common sense, that the real damage was done.

To get to that level would require an investment well above £500m and very few people have that kind of money to throw around.

The one great hope is that Leeds could somehow claw their way back to the big time and plug into the huge television money available but when I see what is happening at the club today, I can't imagine that scenario.

The longer it takes, the more expensive it will be and short of a man like Roman Abramovich stepping in, Leeds fans have every right to look at the future and see a bleak picture.

All of the above was true before Massimo Cellino got his hands on Leeds United. Now, to add to all the problems which the club already laboured under, they have an owner who should never have been allowed take over and is a millstone around an already overburdened football club.

Leeds fans are the most vocal on Twitter of all 92 professional clubs, according to a new study
Leeds fans are the most vocal on Twitter of all 92 professional clubs, according to a new study

Oddly enough, I'm more optimistic now about the future in broad terms than I have been for some time. The only problem is that Leeds United may be one of the big casualties as we move towards a more open game.

There is a very harsh light now shining on football. Sepp Blatter and his cronies are in full retreat and I think we will see an avalanche of horror stories in the next few years.

But because of social media and the internet, nobody can hide from this any more. These people operated without any oversight. They regulated themselves.

Football is deeply corrupt but the more light you shine in the dark places, change has to follow.

I'm not naive. I don't expect a shining knight to arrive and fix everything and I understand that it suits many people in the game to keep the curtains pulled.

But when the FBI are on the case and Swiss financial detectives, I'm confident we will see a full picture and some interesting criminal cases.

These things take time but I do believe we have hit some sort of peak and that is a chance now to take a grip of the game we love.

I know some feel the game is dying but I can't agree with that. The game as I once knew it is disappearing fast, that is true, but there has never been more people playing it, watching it and living it every day of their lives.

That won't stop. Football's growth in places like Africa, China and India is remarkable and shows no sign of slowing down. The massive financial market it represents will get bigger and bigger.

But I don't like a lot of the change which is happening and I'm pretty sure many fans agree with me.

Just ask the people who still go to Elland Road and still dream despite everything that has befallen their club over the last ten years or so. Ask them what they want.

They want their club back the way it was but I can't see it happening.

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