Ex Leeds United man on key next step for Whites and his Elland Road ownership horror story

Good ownership is key at Leeds United because we all know the horror stories. We lived through one at Elland Road.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 5:56 am
NEXT STEP - Keeping hold of players like Illan Meslier will be key for Leeds United, says ex Whites defender Dominic Matteo. Pic: Getty

Once we started losing some of the better players in my era, it felt like the trouble began, writes Dominic Matteo for the YEP.

When you have a good team and you start losing good players, it feels like it’s all falling apart around you.

We lost Rio Ferdinand then Robbie Keane, Lee Bowyer, Harry Kewell, top players and any club would struggle. Look at Liverpool with Virgil van Dijk, Joël Matip and Joe Gomez, you lose three of your best players and it soon has an effect.

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The players that we lost were much better than the players who replaced them – no disrespect, but a lot of them were Championship players.

It was such a mess, it felt like I never knew who to speak to. I’d go to see Eddie Gray and he’d give you a straight honest answer, but there were a lot of rumours around the club.

The Rio Ferdinand sale was a bit different, because he came for £18m and was sold for £30m but I’ll never forget the time Mark Viduka and I were called into the office and asked if we could be loaned to a finance company, to fund the Rio deal from West Ham.

We were still getting our wages, although I must admit it felt a bit strange to be getting our money from an American finance firm.

Viduks and I did it for the good of the club, I suppose. They thought we had a bit of value in us, good money because of the age we were at.

It was bizarre though and felt like the start of it, things going wrong. The amount of finance they had to pay on the loans meant they didn’t make much when they sold players. It was worrying.

The financial situation led to my departure. I tried to stay, I said I’d take a pay cut to stay and battle it out but they said they had to get me off the wage bill.

I don’t believe I was one of the top paid players at that point, my wages didn’t change too much when I went to Blackburn, but they told me it was the case and I had to go. I was disappointed, I wanted to have a go at getting us back up. Leeds just lost out to Watford the following season and maybe if they’d had a few more experienced heads like myself, it would have helped. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m not saying I would have had enough to get us up but I would have had a good go. I always wonder what if?

Having gone through that time, good ownership is so key for me and I think we have that at the moment. I’ve had brief conversations with Andrea Radrizzani, I’ve spoken to Angus Kinnear about certain things and it feels like we’re in good hands, they’re good people.

The accounts showed a £68m loss but getting out of the Championship is going to cost a lot of money. It sounds a lot but in the football world to try and get the players you need, players who can bring something to the table, you will have to spend.

We probably haven’t even seen the best of a lot of them yet, either, which suggests we have got value for money.

The next step is brokering the contracts to keep them. That might be the hard bit, especially thinking about the season Kalvin Phillips, Raphinha and Illan Meslier have had.

It might take the kind of contracts Leeds United haven’t paid, perhaps since Mark Viduka’s days, real high end money to tie your best players down. Otherwise, you risk losing them and then you have to shell out millions more to replace them and rebuild, which is even more costly.

Meslier has had a hell of a year. A lot of players have had unbelievable seasons but when you look at players who would command a really high fee, Meslier has to be one. He's got it all. Obviously he can still get a bit stronger and more physical and that will come with age.

Kalvin has an ex-Leeds player, Kevin Sharp, as his agent and sometimes that helps because they see the bigger picture, but they’re also looking at the top Premier League clubs and the money players can earn there.

Once fans are back in and finances start flowing again, the vultures will be circling around players like Kalvin and Raphinha and offering stupid money.

We know these players can do it at this level and we have to try and keep them together. We’ve got to tie them down.