Growing Trees Rather Than People TSS April 4, 2012 Leeds United My biggest gripe with Ken Bates is his failure to adequately fund the first-team squad enough to secure the long overdue return to the Premier League Leeds United fans (quite rightly) consider to be a minimum requirement for paying the fifth highest prices in the country. As the 2010-11 accounts of Championship clubs show, Leeds United spend a lower percentage of turnover on the playing squad than any other team in the division – around half of what UEFA suggest is a reasonable percentage to spend on the squad. This could of course be considered fiscal responsibility, especially when you take into account that Leeds United are the only Championship club to post a profit for 2010-11. Considering how low this profit was, some fans could – and no doubt will – argue that we simply can’t afford to spend anything else on wages, but I think we can safely reject that argument based on the amount of funds Leeds United have spent on ground improvements over the past few seasons (circa £20m in all). If it was simply a case of Leeds United being unable to afford additional investment in the first team squad then no one would be complaining. As Ken Bates loves to remind us, Leeds United have gambled before and the result was absolutely devastating (ie. we ended up with Ken!) But that’s not what anyone is asking for here, a club with our turnover doesn’t need to gamble. It’s always been a matter of misguided priorities that many – myself included – would cite as the ultimate problem. Take the £20m spent “improving” a stadium we don’t own for example. Had that money been invested in the squad over the last couple of seasons, we’d be one of the most financially competitive teams in the division, capable of matching the demands of the highest quality of players instead of losing out on Keith Andrews to the mighty Ipswich Town and seeing a whole host of key players walk away for pittance. Take for example, the 2010/11 wages. Had Simon Grayson been given an additional £10m he would have had a £21.6m fighting fund, which is up there with the highest in this division. That budget would account for roughly 70% of our turnover, in-keeping with the wages cap UEFA have suggested and still a lower percentage of turnover than almost every other team in the Championship. The trade-off would be no Pavillion, no East Stand executive boxes and no museum, but does anyone really go to Elland Road for any of that? I’m 100% certain that we all managed to get suitably drunk before Ken Bates came along, and I don’t recall anyone demanding a museum and more executive boxes – we couldn’t fill the ones we had! That’s not to say these things are a particularly bad idea, they’re just poorly timed. Executive boxes for example are a status symbol for the overly wealthy who care little for Championship football – hence our inability to fill them. A museum will be well-visited initially, but the curator will struggle to keep people interested long term with only 93 years of history to work with and limited to the niche subject of Leeds United. The bars and restaurants meanwhile will always get some trade, but profit margins for these businesses will always be pennies in the grand scheme of things and they would be much more useful to a Premier League team than one that can’t even half-fill their ground most weeks. You have to invest in the playing squad first, generate the success necessary for these facilities to be worthwhile, then use the additional funds to improve the stadium and add additional facilities. Ticket sales account for the vast majority of Leeds United’s turnover, yet Leeds United’s expenditure doesn’t fairly reflect this. The supporters pay to see a team they can be proud of, they care not for executive boxes most could never dream of being able to afford, and even less for a Valentine’s day lunch at a football stadium – most of us would be in the bad books for weeks following a stunt like that! There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes something along the lines of; “If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people” If the grain is Peter Ridsdale’s approach, then Ken Bates’ approach is probably the trees. But growing people was never a big deal to either of them. Ridsdale failed to recognise the value of the players we already had and indulged in pointless transfers and an eye-watering wage bill. This ultimately led to Ken Bates, who refused the quick-fix approach and instead looked a little further ahead by diverting a huge percentage of the clubs resources into building work and ignoring the playing squad completely. Neither of these two men tried the third option – the Norwich City, or even the Manchester United approach. These two teams recognised the value of the players they had, did everything they could to keep the team together as they rose to prominence and did so without spending recklessly on quick fixes and bodge jobs. It’s also worth noting that Manchester United didn’t build a 75,000 seater stadium and the accompanying facilities in anticipation of their success, they did so as a response to it. Leeds United meanwhile failed to nurture a team that was capable of achieving back-to-back promotions with a little investment, some long-term contracts and the right set of priorities.