Phil Hay: Joke is all on Leeds United thanks to sorry GFH

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Ashley Barnes (left), was overlooked by Bahrain bosses and is now doing a good job for promotion-chasing Burnley.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Ashley Barnes (left), was overlooked by Bahrain bosses and is now doing a good job for promotion-chasing Burnley.
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From real estate to leeds united in a real state, Phil Hay reports on the week’s twists and turns at beleaguered Elland Road.

Gulf Finance House deals in real estate more than anything else. The bank doesn’t do customer service, or not in the conventional sense, and it clutches at straws in a market where growth relies on perception and popularity.

Buying Leeds United broke new ground for GFH, as shown by its blundering management of the club. Property projects don’t have much of an attitude. English football teams with a fanbase of thousands and a staff of hundreds are always quick to bite. It’s the Gerald Ratner effect – make a joke of your business and people will treat it as such. GFH has made a joke of Leeds United, and more than many of us realise.

Last weekend, a directive from Bahrain, which the club ignored, demanded that their manager, Brian McDermott, be banned from talking to the media with immediate effect. His comments about pay, ownership and other issues were unhelpful and troublesome, GFH said – even though they were valid and essentially true.

McDermott is a lone voice at Elland Road, rolled out up to four times a week to give the same answers to the same questions he can’t really answer. Withdraw his right to speak and Leeds have no voice at all. Seven days on from last week’s crisis, GFH is still to publicly acknowledge that a wage deferral is in place among United’s playing staff. There is no explanation and absolutely no apology. The bank can’t even stretch to a four-paragraph statement, issued in time for last orders.

The squad at Leeds expected the deferred 50 per cent of their wages to be paid in full this week. On Thursday they were thrown an unexplained 15 per cent. We know this because McDermott said so in his latest press conference, although even he had no idea why he and his players were receiving money piecemeal. If you were him, you’d do pre- and post-match briefings via a short website statement. Or not bother at all. It’s the new form of supporter engagement.

United’s league results are very real and the disarray in their performances counts against McDermott heavily. But equally real is the interference he has dealt with in the second half of this season. Ignore the abusive phone calls made to him by supporters in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Those childish attacks are at odds with the crowds attending games, crowds who without exception have been patient and lenient with him; or, perhaps more accurately, willing to keep their thoughts to themselves.

The headaches for McDermott are internal, as they have been for months. You do not need to be in favour of McDermott keeping his job to accept that he has been systematically undermined.

The memo sent to him by GFH’s Hisham Alrayes, revealed by the YEP yesterday and including demands such as bank and board approval of McDermott’s line-up for each game, says it all. GFH would have been better off sacking him than sending him that letter; it should have had the courage to do what it plainly wanted to do. Instead, McDermott was served with the least constructive of notes by an owner which has been absent from Eland Road all season and a board led by a chairman who has not been seen since Christmas.

United’s results in early January, and the debacles at Rochdale and Sheffield Wednesday especially, warranted some explanation. But GFH asking for analysis of “technical shortfalls” is beyond parody. Around that time, the club were attempting to sign Ashley Barnes from Brighton and McDermott thought he had a deal in place. When David Haigh put the terms of the transfer into Bahrain, one of the messages that came back (perhaps in jest, though who can be sure?) was that Barnes had a lower rating on Football Manager than Luke Varney. That is Prozone analysis Toy-Story style. In jest or not, Barnes went to Burnley. Burnley in turn have been very happy with him.

It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Another memo aimed at McDermott, again from GFH, said his signings should consist purely of players from top European leagues; that or “Brazilians”. Because all Brazilians are good footballers, see? It would go some way to explaining why Cameron Stewart and Jimmy Kebe signed without fuss in the same week as Barnes caused a ruck. Top division, top transfers. This doesn’t even touch on the episode with Gianluca Festa, the events of Mad Friday or the warnings McDermott has received for trying his best not to talk out of turn or stray above his pay grade. As a means of making a manager fail, the handling of United’s affairs has been flawless. Other coaches look on with amazement. It’s why Ian Holloway spoke up for McDermott on a day when he and Millwall had far more to worry about. Football is where McDermott is falling down. United’s is weak and abject and it will not change before the end of the season. He is muddling around with his squad and it is probably going too far to suggest that every one of the club’s players is rigidly behind him. They never are en masse at times like this.

The surest sign of how bad this period has been was his admission on Tuesday that in isolation, recent results under him merit the sack. You have to go back to John Carver in 2006 to find a manager or would-be manager of Leeds who admitted so openly that his goose was almost cooked. This season has not been a fair test of McDermott; not even close. But you suspect that the barrage of poor form and disruptive politics has done irreparable damage. He needs two things now – a new owner who sees talent in him and supporters who are ready to accept that next season is a new day for him and them. Without that approval, McDermott is on a hiding to nothing. He has no chance. Then again, rifle back through the column inches written about Leeds and consider whether he ever had a chance at all.

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