A new season awaits and the old broom has gone. Elland Road was free of Ken Bates for the first time in eight-and-a-half years on Saturday and most who were there seemed glad of it. Symbolically, his chapter at Leeds United is over, even if legal battles lie ahead.
The club’s former chairman lost his influence many months ago, but the abrupt end to his reign as president on Friday banished him completely. Saturday’s defeat to Nuremberg should have been his first home game in the role, but the divorce came through 24 hours earlier, 25 days into a three-year term.
The question of whether Bates had been pushed was answered by the incredible revelation that Leeds’ owner GFH Capital sacked him for committing the club to an expensive contract to fly him by private jet to and from Monaco over the next three years. The club will say nothing beyond the fact he has left, but Bates planned to attend this weekend’s game against Brighton and many others besides.
His seat at the top table has been withdrawn and Bates now threatens to sue. Leeds might see him in the court before they see him in Elland Road’s East Stand again.
The 81-year-old leaves behind a club with their finger on the popular pulse, but pressure to do what he could not – finance a team with the strength and class to shoulder the wishes of the thousands who turn out religiously. The air on Saturday was fresh before kick-off, but Nuremberg’s accomplished win made Leeds look stagnant. United were beaten by cheap finishes in either half from Daniel Ginczek, a German striker with an eye for a goal.
Nuremberg’s credentials are plentiful enough – 10th last season in the German Bundesliga, Europe’s flavour of the month – and they were able to play within themselves for all but a short period of the second half.
Brian McDermott gave a less than glowing appraisal of the friendly, but was able to rule on which of his players will start against Brighton in six days’ time. Nuremberg was a final trial.
He said: “I know my team for Saturday and what my 18 will be too. There’ll only be decisions to make if something goes wrong – an injury or something like that.
“You want to win games in pre-season, obviously you do, but we’ve got 46 league games ahead of us and that’s what this is all about. Friendly games are what they are. On Saturday, Elland Road will have a different complexion and atmosphere. It’ll be a different place. I can’t wait to get going.”
Ticket sales for Brightoncrept past 25,500 on Saturday morning, promising a higher attendance than any league game last year. Bates’ dramatic exit might have encouraged business, but much as those who opposed him delighted in the news, the promises of the GFH Capital era are not altogether certain. Leeds head into this season in as unpredictable a state as they were when Bates stood at chairman 12 months ago.
McDermott’s squad has changed only marginally throughout he summer and the land at Elland Road lies awkwardly.
Selling players to sign players is a necessity for him and he was hoping to advance an inquiry about an unnamed squad member today in the hope of creating scope and money for an incoming deal.
Nuremberg were skilful and confident, pleasing on the eye, but United’s struggle to make them uncomfortable is a concern which McDermott did not duck. He was unhappy too to see Leeds concede to soft chances in the third and 70th minutes.
He added: “We were playing a good side, a top 10 Bundesliga side, but it’s disappointing to lose a goal after three minutes, especially from a set-play. Then we lost another from a set-play. That’s something to be aware of.
“We need to create more chances, get more crosses and shots. It’s going to come over time and we’ve got work to do, but while we’re doing that, we’ve got to try and win games as well.”
Leeds emerged from pre-season with a record of three wins and four defeats and their limitations as clear as their strengths.
McDermott persisted for six games with a diamond midfield but put it to one side on Saturday to use a 4-2-3-1 formation with Luke Varney alone up front.
Prior to Ginczek’s second goal, Ross McCormack’s clever shimmy and shot – saved with one hand by Raphael Schafer – was Leeds’ only effort of note. Nuremberg themselves created few chances, but looked like a team in a low gear.
Ginczek scored with the first attempt of the match, appearing unannounced at the far post and hammering Hiroshi Kiyotake’s free-kick goalwards.
Varney met the ball under his crossbar, but did not persuade linesman Danny Markham that he had cleared it in time. Nuremberg’s raucous support of over 650 fans were satisfied within three minutes and enjoyed their afternoon immensely.
The first half offered no more than that but the second period was compelling in its own way.
McCormack tested Schafer for the first and only time in the game, while the mood also began to sour. The Scot and Berkay Dabanli went head-to-head in front of the Kop and other players fought running battles. Referee Andy Haines struggled to maintain control until Nuremberg did their bit by substituting Javier Pinola, a player intent on fighting anything in gold and blue.
United threatened on occasions, with Lee Peltier’s header hitting a defender on the line and Luke Murphy and McCormack angling shots wide before Ginczek, who also struck a post, netted an easy header following Dabanli’s corner to wrap up the win.
Leeds United: Kenny, Peltier, Lees, Pearce, Warnock (Drury 63), Green (Tonge 63), Murphy, Poleon (Smith 75), McCormack, White, Varney (Hunt 63). Subs (not used): Cairns, Pugh, Brown Norris, Thompson, Hall, Lenighan.
Nuremberg: Schafer, Pogatetz, Balitsch, Feulner (Stark 81), Gebhart (Frantz 75), Ginczek, Kiyotake (Drmic 69), Mak (Esswein 85), Dabanli, Pinola (Plattenhardt 64), Chandler. Subs (not used): Angha, Rakovsky, Mendler
Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne and Wear).