We all know the punchline.
“Pulling a Leeds.”
It wasn’t funny for the fans of the club, watching the club’s finances melt down after reckless spending done by Peter Ridsdale and his crew. Nor was it funny when the club avoided administration by selling off nearly the entire first team at cut rate prices after relegation, with the final insult being Alan Smith sold to, of all clubs, Manchester United. The sale of Elland Road, in what will go down as a laughably awful deal, for £8 million another nail in the coffin of what had been a return to the glory years of the 1970s.
Ken Bates was not creator of the problems, nor was GFH Capital, or even Massimo Cellino. However, they did almost nothing to solve the problems. Promises were made, tales were told, and it all resulted in absolutely nothing. No promises were kept, and any criticism of the ownership of the club either fell on deaf ears or was angrily dismissed.
So when the deal was announced that Cellino was selling his stake in Leeds United to Andrea Radrizzani, at first 50% of the club, with the full purchase completed this past May, many Leeds fans were cautiously hopeful. This new owner said all the right things, but would the fans be burned again?
Kick Off between Coventry City and Charlton has been postponed due to supporters from both teams throwing plastic pigs onto the field again— Stopspot (@ElStopSpot) April 15, 2017
After all, dodgy owners seem to plague football. With plastic pigs thrown on to pitches at Coventry City, to a fan protest and a pitch invasion at Leyton Orient, last season alone saw plenty of fans up in arms at the ownership of their beloved clubs. Leeds fans know all about owners collecting paychecks and profits in the good times, only to cut and run when things go south.
But this time, after all, maybe things are finally different.
Leeds fans have gotten used to seeing the club’s best players sold off, with the club losing players like Sam Byram to West Ham United, Lewis Cook to AFC Bournemouth, and Ross McCormick to Fulham with little or no investment going back into the squad. So during the summer transfer window, with Chris Wood having a Championship season for the ages, Leeds fans were just waiting for the rumors to start and the eventual press conference where the owner and/or manager blamed the player. But it never happened. Instead, the rumor mill has gone silent, and instead of an exodus of quality players, Leeds instead is buying new players left and right.
However, the most important investments have not come on new players for the first team. The team hiring former Real Madrid executive Ivan Bravo was the first sign that the new owner would be different. Radrizzani cited Bravo’s experience running the Aspire Academy in Qatar as the key reason that he was hired at Leeds. Radrizzani also said in the same interview that the days of selling young players were now over.
The next sign that this ownership group would be different was the signing of Ronaldo Vieira to a new contract. Securing the future of a youth player that had jumped up to perform at a high level for the first team isn’t a dramatic event, unless your team has a pattern of selling its promising youth products like Leeds. The commitment to youth and investing in the future is critical for Leeds to make the Premier League and stay in the league, so moves like this show intent by the team to make a permanent stay in the top flight, not merely be a tourist.
This week has shown the next two biggest steps in making Leeds United a proper football club again. First, the team righted a wrong and brought the Leeds Ladies team back into the fold at the club. The Ladies team had been thrown out into the cold by Cellino after a they had a few successful years, making multiple cup finals. The ending of the club’s sponsorship did not deter the team, as they continued on for a second time without the support of the club. Bringing them back home was not only a good move PR wise, it also shows savvy investment in the future of football.
And yesterday, Radrizzani literally put his money where his mouth was, buying back Elland Road in a deal that Phil Hay of The Yorkshire Evening Post reported was worth in the neighborhood of £20 million. Talk is cheap. Radrizzani is not. In one move, Andrea Radrizzani has delivered more than any of the previous owners since Ridsdale in less than two months. While Leeds fans have been burned before by dodgy owners looking to make a quick buck, it appears that the real deal has finally arrived at the club. Let’s hope that the next season brings more joy to the hearts of Leeds fans and long awaited return to the Premiership.