Phil Hay: Classless GFH leave Leeds United high and dry

Salem Patel, left, and David Haigh
Salem Patel, left, and David Haigh
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GFH and would-be Whites owner Massimo Cellino argue over money and the wage bill goes unpaid on another farcical day at Elland Road.

Wednesday was a day for reflection about football. The game with the nets and the rectangular field. This is the last weekend of March and Tuesday’s harrowing defeat in Bournemouth was an excuse and a cue for some blood-letting at Elland Road. What better time to start deciding which of these cats are out of lives?

So naturally Wednesday was devoted to other things as senior employees from Leeds United and Gulf Finance House and lawyers working for Massimo Cellino converged on London to argue the toss over who if anyone would pay the wages for March. Brian McDermott says football is secondary at Leeds but even that opinion is generous. The game is nowhere in the club’s consciousness, as far back from the front counter as United are from the play-offs.

The definition of disrepute is being held in low esteem by the public. That’s the level GFH has reached and that’s where the bank has dragged the club. There was no spinning out of the failure to pay United’s players in full yesterday and GFH did not bother to try. How it can see a role for itself as a minority shareholder at Leeds in future is an answer to be found through the wardrobe into Narnia.

It took Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, to say yesterday morning that as far as he knew, Cellino would be responsible for funding part-payment made to United’s squad in the past 24 hours. It fell to him to claim that payment of the remaining balance – half of what the players are owed – would arrive subject to the outcome of Cellino’s appeal to the Football League; in other words, after his appeal but only if an independent QC revokes the League’s decision to ban him from buying a stake in Leeds.

The general understanding is that when Cellino and GFH made their takeover pact on January 31, the Italian agreed to meet all operating costs for the next six months. It was a huge commitment – and GFH believes, an unconditional clause – but the deal was bound to be tested if the Football League obstructed his buy-out. From the earliest days, Cellino’s takeover and the agreements around it gambled on an approval process which never looked like a formality. There are worries now about the calculation of the risk and a reluctance on Cellino’s part to wade in too deeply.

GFH likes to let it be known that Leeds are in no danger. The bank says it has money to fund the club if necessary. If we take its word for that, what we had on Thursday afternoon – with the wage bill due the following morning – was two parties holding enough cash to pay the debt but showing no desire to do so. In some respects, won’t pay is worse than can’t pay. It’s a considered choice. But obviously this is all about Leeds United. It’s all about the history, the supporters, the fever. Bournemouth away must have brought back memories.

Contracts notwithstanding, the real world will ask why on earth Cellino would be minded to foot the wages for March when his takeover hangs by the thread of an appeal. But in the absence of any official comment and in spite of Cellino’s resistance, Taylor gave the impression that it would fall to him. Other sources say Leeds used all that was left in their bank account, which is why the players made do with half-pay. Not that the players were any the wiser. They spent yesterday morning trying to establish whether any of them had received any money. On Thursday night you had uncomfortable visions of the entire workforce at Leeds, sat in front of laptops refreshing their bank accounts. At least the rank and file – good people and scores of them – were paid on time.

As for the players, don’t bother with the notion that this is Karma for Tuesday night’s no-show at Bournemouth, or for their general performance since Christmas. It’s a disingenuous way of distorting the issue unless you think that public sector workers should have their pay docked or withheld on the say-so of anyone who pays tax and has a problem with their input.

United’s application at Dean Court scraped the barrel – a derelict, soulless effort – and for that time on Wednesday should have been spent determining who’s in and who’s out when the summer comes – the squad, the coaching staff, everyone. There are legitimate ways of dealing with underachieving professionals; drop them, sell them, release them at the end of their contracts. Hundreds of players lose their jobs each year and more and more find employment with new clubs difficult to come by. It’s never been a career without consequence and when May comes, the exodus from Elland Road will be large. There is still no reason why monthly wages should be the collateral damage of a protracted change of ownership.

The most depressing fact to emerge in the past 72 hours was that by 2pm on Thursday, McDermott had received no contact at all about salaries from anyone above him. That would matter little had the wage bill been met in time and in full yesterday but the lack of communication is remarkable, especially since it transpired that he, his coaching team and the squad he manages were the people about to go short.

Morale? It must be wonderful. We’re at the tell-tale stage now where those on the inside are asking members of the media what to expect next. GFH says time after time the club will not go down the road they followed in 2007 but for those of us who saw that hellish period, there are similarities – confused faces everywhere, shoulders shrugged in response to questions, an absence of guarantees about money. No matter GFH’s view of events, there are many at Elland Road who feel deserted. Go there today and you’ll find plenty of them, pawns on the black and white board. You’ll also find some dignity and class. Just don’t look for much over their heads.

Liam Cooper

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