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the square ball week: in the gaps at leeds united

the square ball week: in the gaps at leeds united


This international break has been typically quiet for the new style post-Cellino (if we’re only temporarily post-Cellino) Leeds United; no games played, no players signed on loan, no shock revelations.

Some of the club’s youngster impressed in a Development Squad match, as has become almost usual; some others of the club’s youngsters are off on various levels of international representation this weekend, where if they play no doubt they’ll impress too.

Chris Dawson says he’s looking forward to breaking through next season, Luke Parkin says that Redders insists to the young players that the first team door is always open if they work hard enough, and Redders himself gave an hour long interview to BBC Radio Leeds that had plenty of interest but nothing of horror.

It’s been so quiet, that it has almost felt like our presumptive owners in waiting Genting didn’t publicly deny their strongly rumoured interest; like our recently appointed chief operating officer didn’t suddenly leave without explanation.

That’s one of the things about stability; the waters are still, the sky is clear, and nobody thinks overmuch about icebergs.

The takeover talk this time around has had a different tone to that of the last few years, and it’s not easy to ascribe a source or reason for it. The whole period from the start of 2012 until today can’t really be separated into distinct times of takeover, as each seemed to bleed into the next and put LUFC into a constant state of flux.

Leeds United’s dirty trousers have been constantly plunged back into the washing machine without any time to check the pockets, and if one day we remember to check what that rattling noise is coming from the drum we’ll find Ken Bates, Shaun Harvey, Hisham Alrayes, Salem Patel, David Haigh, Massimo Cellino et al all still rattling around in there together. And we’ll decide we can’t face cleaning all that rubbish out and start flicking through the Argos catalogue for a new one.

Talk of Genting’s interest came from somewhere else, though; from Malaysia, for one thing, but more than just geography, their size and scale and business and intention and lack of connection to the Bates-GFH-Eleonara orbit puts them in a different class. In short, it doesn’t feel like the same old takeover by the same old people.

That’s not to say there’s not a connection; Genting and Stanley Leisure had options and plans back around 2004 for the land betwixt the Kop and the M621, for a super casino; when Cellino’s takeover looked a struggle to complete, Shaun Harvey’s trip to Kuala Lumpur led to suggestions that he was lining up a new bidder to replace Massimo. You can imagine him turning up in Genting’s offices, breathlessly introducing them to this fantastic business opportunity in West Yorkshire. “Yes, Mr Harvey, we know. Can’t we have this guy arrested?”

The connection is a little more buried away from immediate consciousness, though, and it is to do with scale and class. I’m going to Wikipedia for this, but the kind of figures that get talked about for The Genting Group as a whole are ‘market capitalisation of US$46billion’ and ‘assets totalling US$16.6billion’. Ken Bates is presumed to have a farm and couple of hotels in South Africa that help to fund his lavish lair above Subway. GFH, as banks go, are the Middle Eastern equivalent of a small-town building society. Massimo Cellino, the brother of the Kings of Corn, has enough coming from the family trust to fund his lifestyle and then some, but I suspect Genting may well have employees who make more per annum than poor old Massimo.

Money isn’t everything, of course, but reputation is, and if we judge people by the company they keep then it is very much in Genting’s favour that there’s nothing to suggest they’ve spent any time sitting across the table as Ken Bates spoons beef wellington into his gummy mouth, playing the bilious, involved businessman.

It’s also in Genting’s favour than the conversation around any interest they might have in Leeds United has been kept so hush-hush. One leaked email is all we’ve had to go on, and some apparently inconsequential talk of power struggles and board meetings; the main issue has seemed to be who is in charge, Andrew Umbers, Matt Child, or an Italian lawyer who has absolutely nothing to do with Massimo Cellino at all, but whoever it is, they haven’t been saying anything about Genting, and Genting haven’t been saying anything about Genting, and that has been the word all over town: there is no word.

Until there were some words this week, that is. “Genting would like to make it clear that we have absolutely no interest in purchasing or investing in Leeds United Football Club,” said a spokesperson from Genting’s corporate communications department, and that would appear to be that. Compared to similar statements in the past this one dropped with the impact of a pebble in a pond rather than an iceberg on the very near horizon, even if it was followed very closely by the announcement of Matt Child’s resignation as chief operating officer; two events that, even if they’re not related, added up to quite a one-two punch for an average Monday.

Imagine if, in 2012, GFH had announced they had no interest in buying Leeds United on the same day that Shaun Harvey had resigned. I mean, on reflection, that would have been brilliant, but imagine the chaos.

Perhaps Genting just seemed too big to feel really real; perhaps nobody believed the rumours anyway; or perhaps our recently won war-wounds have made us a little more wary of unequivocal statements like these. It’s all about the tense, after all. “Genting would like to make it clear that we have absolutely no interest in purchasing or investing in Leeds United Football Club,” said the spokesperson; so much for right now, but what of yesterday? And what of tomorrow? A statement about the present situation only tells you about that – the present situation – and not about what the situation has been or what it might become.

Massimo Cellino understands this, and it might make more sense (for once) to listen to him than to Genting on this. Insisting to Simon Austin in early March that the club was not for sale, he asked if Simon’s car was for sale; it was not. “Would you sell it to me for fifty thousand?” “Yes.” “There you go.”

Equally, from Genting’s perspective, they might not be buying Leeds United right now; but would they buy it for a quid?

But as ever when you make the mistake of listening to Massimo Cellino, you have to temper it with what he’s said before; back in July, in his infamous ‘new sheriff’ interview with Phil Hay, he claimed to have turned down offers from four big companies to buy Leeds United: “I told them I wouldn’t sell for 100 billion. They said ‘for 1 billion, you will.’

“I tried to explain to them, what is going to change if I sell for one billion? I don’t have time to drink a glass of water so if I have one billion, so what? One kilo of caviar, 100 kilos of caviar … I’ll work for my soul and the satisfaction of bringing this club back. How much is that worth? There’s no price.”

Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of the life lesson he gave Simon Austin three weeks ago but hey, times change, things change, and Massimo – as we know well by now – changes.

Over here on the sidelines where we have only a fraction of the information, despite the importance of our club to us, we’re reduced to watching for the changes and their outcomes, because no matter how closely we watch and analyse and predict, we’ll never arrive ahead of an individual as volatile as Massimo Cellino or a corporation as enormous as Genting because we have no way of knowing where they’re going.

That surface calm, the apparent serenity, the continued good work of Redders and the youngsters; then the boardroom resignations, the statements from Kuala Lumpur and Miami. We can say which we prefer, but we can’t which is true, and we can’t actually say what each one really means. We can’t guarantee that Leeds United will beat Blackburn Rovers in the next game, because that’s football; we can’t guarantee who will own the club in three months, because that’s football now, too. I guess we just enjoy the sun on our faces and the breeze on our backs, for now.

There was one other nice detail in the reporting of Genting’s denial this week. Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, carried the statement on its newswire.

“Leeds United is currently positioned at 13th place in the English Championship table with 14 wins, 10 draws and 15 losses, after playing 39 games so far,” it added, to give readers some context. There was one more concluding sentence: “The club was established in 1919 following the disbanding of Leeds City Football Club.”

Well, yes. That’s all true. But I can spot one or two gaps in that story.

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