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the square ball week: futures markets

the square ball week: futures markets


We can all settle down a bit now. A football fan without a fixture list is like a kitten without a ball of wool: he looks balefully at you with sad eyes, pretending to be interested in this toy mouse you’re shaking at him – or Spain vs Tahiti – hoping that you’ll stop mucking around soon and bring the wool back. Leave him too long and he’ll begin to mewl anxiously; but when the fixtures finally reel off the Football League’s old dot-matrix printer, he’ll leap upon them with joy, entangling himself in the possibilities until he falls asleep, secure in his woollen fixture nest. Saturday the third of August at three in the afternoon: Brighton and Hove Albion at home.With fixtures, our new season has shape and form: a beginning, a middle and an end. Brighton first, all the way through to Derby at home on the last day; we’ve got Barnsley and Blackpool for Christmas, and Blackburn for New Year; Huddersfield just before Hallowe’en, Yeovil just after. We play Wigan then Watford at home in December, and in April play Wigan then Watford away. We know where we’re going and when – Sky and the various local police forces permitting – all we need to know now is what we’re going to see when we get there.

A year ago in this column I was writing about two swift signings in two days: Adam Drury and Paul Green, although in the first draft I found on my laptop I was calling Paul Green Peter in some sort of subconscious nod to Fleetwood Mac. At that point in the summer the takeover was but a young thing, and our squad was but a thin thing, and getting two signings over the line was bit of a relief. It hopefully meant our summer wasn’t going to fizzle out damply, that the coming season wouldn’t be over before it began.

This time around, we can say for certain that Mathieu Smith, who just wants a little clarity where Made in Chelsea is concerned, has signed; and that’s it so far. Last year the lack of use for the Thorp Arch welcome mat had the takeover to explain it, but that’s not viable this time around: director/cheerleader/executive-owl-fancier – or whatever he is – David Haigh is Not-Negotiating to an almost ostentatious extent, unless that’s why he’s in Bhutan, ‘talking football with the Vice President of its national Football Federation.’ “We don’t see many Leeds matches in Bhutan,” Mr Tshering probably told Haigh, “But we all think you should sell that craphouse Brown.”

According to The Scratching Shed the lack of action – and the lack of talk from the likes of Haigh, Patel, or anyone else they might have sold a bit of the club to without telling anyone – is not a bad sign: silence is golden, after all. No news is good news and all that; and the only person saying anything is Brian McDermott, which, as he’s the manager, is quite as it should be. Just take a look at Newcastle this week to see what can happen when people start speaking out of turn.

But while it might be a good thing that only Brian McDermott is speaking, there’s room for unease about what he is saying, or not saying, for as long as he is not saying, ‘I’m delighted with this new signing.’ When he arrived, Brian described taking a leap of faith to join Leeds, coming without the reassurances you might expect to be given to a new manager: “The question about money available will be answered. I don’t know the answer and have come here on a lot of good will.” Talking to the Yorkshire Evening Post this week, McDermott sounded like he’s still waiting to hear back, even though he sent the forms off weeks ago, and it says on GFHC’s website that their customer commitment guarantees a reply within 28 working days, and he’s phoned several times but can’t get through to a human.

“As far as players are concerned, we have got agreements that they do want to come,” said McDermott, “And what I have found is that players are very, very keen to come to Leeds. For obvious reasons, really. I now need clarification from the owners that the deals will be done. That’s important and one of the reasons I will be having a meeting with Shaun and the owners to get clarification and get these deals done … It’s very simple – have we (got) the finances to do the deals, can we do the deals? Players are in place and we have targets lined up if we can do the deals.”

Clarification that deals will be done? The simple question is whether we have the finances to do the deals? If, if, if, if? The situation sounds strange. Shaun Harvey, as chief executive, is the man who normally agrees contracts with new players (and fails to agree contracts with the players we’ve got, more usually), yet it sounds like Brian McDermott has lined up all the necessary transfer activity himself, and now has to ask whether Shaun Harvey has the means, or the ability, to clinch any of the deals. Can we actually sign any of the players that McDermott has convinced to come? And if we can’t – why not?

The silence from GFHC is beneficial in the sense that we don’t have that owner vs manager friction that characterised so much of the Bates era, but as they tend to make lots of noise whenever there is good news to report, the longer the silence from Bahrain lasts, the more it becomes a bit eerie. No news, in this case, means no good news. GFHC keep insisting that their “strategy [is] of bringing strategic investors into the ownership of the club,” but so far they have managed to shift 10% of the club to International Investment Bank in December, and 3.33% to Salah Nooruddin – who used to work for IIB – in March, with triumphant announcements and press stories each time. I know GFHC like to say their strategy is long term, but their search for investment feels like a long term project in the same way a Nigel Worthington upfield charge felt like a long term project.

We’re still ten days from the official start of the transfer window, and the links and rumours are out there – Right in The Gary Kellys rounded them up this week, while Rob Atkinson pointed out that Richard Naylor’s new contract at the academy makes the future seem a bit brighter. But the club can’t sell tickets for 2013/14 on the promise of players Naylor might bring through in 2015/16. There’s the long term future as imagined by a foreign investment bank, and then there’s the future as known to a group of football fans and their club’s manager. And us and Brian have got a fixture list to pore over: our future is now.