the square ball week: twenty percent of total trashBack
It’s time to stop talking about Revie, Bremner, Collins, Charles. We can talk about them again later, but not now.
Howard Wilkinson knew this in 1988, when he cleared Elland Road of reminders of the glory years. The old days couldn’t help us then, and they can’t help us now. We have to do what people like Revie, Bremner, Collins and Charles did, and build a football club from nothing, from clay and dust, until we have something again that is worthy of their names. First, we need the chance, and we need to clear out the trash.
Leeds United have begun to be good on the pitch again in the last few games, but The Telegraph’s investigations into corruption in football inevitably involved Leeds United this week, and brought into focus yet again not only the instability at the heart of Leeds United Football Club, but how little regard its current owner has for what he owns.
Whether Massimo Cellino broke FA or Football League rules is almost a side issue. The point is that a group of Telegraph journalists, posing as an investment group, proposed a third party ownership scheme to Cellino that clearly would have broken rules. Cellino didn’t take that bait, sure. But instead of sending these unscrupulous chancers packing, or even notifying the FA himself of what was being attempted, he instead offered to sell them twenty percent of Leeds United Football Club; to make LUFC part of, in his words, “The recipe to do a job that cover[s] you.”
What Cellino was proposing is, in its way, worse than third party ownership. In that model, a group part-owns the ‘economic rights’ to a player, and profits from his transfers; the group can then influence the player to move clubs more often, generating more money. But that is business between the player, his agent and the third party.
What Cellino offered was to let the third party become part of Leeds United Football Club, so that rather than hope to influence a player to move around, they could use Leeds United to buy and sell players and generate cash. They can’t own, under FA rules, twenty percent of Player X. But by buying twenty percent of Leeds United, they can use Leeds United as a fund to sign the player, then dictate when the player leaves — even if, or especially if, he’s making a vital contribution on the pitch — so that they can collect their profit.
That would erode Leeds United as a sporting organisation. That’s all the damned club is, at the end of the day: an organisation that puts the eleven best footballers it can find on a pitch to compete against eleven others, for the entertainment of the public. And that’s what should dictate transfers: will buying Pontus Jansson improve our team? Will selling Giuseppe Bellusci improve our team? Football decisions.
When the decision processes about players include maximising profit for a group of investors who bought a minority stake of the football club so they could avoid third party ownership rules, avoid the hassle of running an entire club themselves, and extract as much profit as possible as quickly as they can, then we’re all being fleeced, aren’t we?
In the scenario Cellino was proposing, we’re no longer turning up to Elland Road to watch a game of football. We’re turning up to watch some key assets appreciating in value until they reach market maturity and are sold on. And screw whether we win the sodding league.
You could argue that football has always had that element, of knowing when to buy or sell a player to get the best return. That’s good football management. But it’s not football when the return is not being spent on replacement players, but sloughed off to minority investors who are only investing to exploit a loophole in the regulations.
If an example is needed to show why this would be a bad thing, look at the destruction of Blackburn Rovers, where fans have uncovered documents and testimony that allege undue influence from football agent Jerome Anderson’s company SEM-Kentaro. A letter from members of Blackburn’s board to its co-owner Anuradha Desai asked her to clarify what role SEM-Kentaro had at Ewood Park, as they seemed to them to be wresting control of transfers away from the Rovers board itself:
“Finally, our football secretary has, this morning, been instructed by SEM to issue a mandate to a third party without any reference or approval from the board. We are not familiar with the player concerned nor is he one that has been mentioned to us by the manager. Could you please, therefore, clarify the role of SEM in our transfer policy.”
Speaking to supporters, former Blackburn full-back Michael Salgado alleged that he, Ryan Nelson, Jason Roberts, Keith Andrews and Brett Emerton were offered 80% contract pay-offs to leave: “They wanted to save money and make business by signing some crap players from Anderson inflating the commissions.”
Blackburn Rovers have always denied that SEM-Kentaro have any formal involvement in running the club, which would break FA rules around an agent’s involvement in running a club — that can’t happen. They wrote to the FA to clarify the situation in 2011, stating there was no formal or informal agreement in place, but that there was a non-exclusive agreement for ‘consultancy services’.
In 2011 their manager was Steve Kean, an SEM client. Current boss Owen Coyle is also an SEM-Kentaro client; as is his own agent, Dave Sheron, who Rovers fans allege is involved in choosing transfer targets. And there Blackburn Rovers are, 22nd in The Championship.
Fortunately Leeds United are several places further up the league than that, but the main takeaway from The Telegraph’s sting of Cellino should be how easy it would be for us to be back down there. While it would be great if someone would take one hundred percent of Leeds United away from Cellino, it shouldn’t be as easy to get hold of twenty percent as to walk into Elland Road with a plan to break rules and make money.
The one constant in the conversation was just that: make money. Any ‘investment group’ that opens a conversation by saying it wants to profit from your football club through illegal means ought to be shown the door; instead Cellino showed them alternative ways to make money out of Leeds United.
Because that’s what Leeds United is to Massimo Cellino: a way to make money. “‘If you don’t do what you love, love what you do,’ my father told me,” said Cellino in interview in October 2015. “I don’t love football.
“Football clubs are for making money, and have a duty to bring a businessman profits.”
Cellino’s only problem is that he doesn’t have enough money to make money out of Leeds United. That’s what lets the freaks in the door to talk about third party ownership, and that’s what lets them leave with an offer to own part of a football club in their pocket. Cellino is desperate for investment so he can get back his own investment, and he doesn’t care where he gets it.
That might not be against any rules, but that’s not the point. The point is that if our skint owner takes investment from every shady company that comes through the door, our football club will end up screwed. If you don’t think that’s enough to be concerned about, I don’t know what else to tell you.
Alongside Howard Wilkinson, when he broke down our football club to build it up again, was Bill Fotherby, the managing director, who loves to regale people with tales of how he pulled off his big transfer coups. Gary McAllister is a favourite: the club had to get him signed before the World Cup sparked a bidding war, but it didn’t have the money. Fotherby did the rounds of the club sponsors and benefactors, switching on all his charm and sparkle to get them to underwrite the cost of the club’s second million pound player of the summer; its second ever.
What he didn’t offer, in return, was profit. There was never any mention of cutting the sponsors in should Gary McAllister move on for more than a million. What Fotherby offered, instead, was glory. If Leeds United sign Gary McAllister, Leeds United will have a better football team; with a better football team, the club’s profile will grow; with a higher profile, your sponsorship will be worth more, your association with the mighty Leeds United will look even more impressive and more people will know about it. And that promise of glory was enough to get sponsors to sign a new cheque.
But that was back when Leeds United had a name, and a football club that was working hard to live up to it — and succeeding. And people were desperate to be involved. Right now our name is trash and our club is run by trash, trash that is desperate to make money and doesn’t care how it gets it. And until the trash is cleared out, this football club will only be an imitation of the club we owe to Revie, Bremner, Collins and Charles.