Leeds United: an unlikely comeback

When Yvonne Todd was unveiled as the new finance director of Leeds United last week, financial executives must have been scratching their heads in bewilderment. What on earth could possibly possess someone who has already burnt her fingers in football to ever do it again?

Todd’s last engagement with the chaos that is football finance was when a certain Russian oil tycoon bailed out Chelsea FC, which had been under Todd’s financial directorship since 1988, from the brink of monetary ruin.

It was fully expected that Todd, having waved in the Abramovich lifeboat faster than you could say replica kit sales, would have pointed her hands skywards giving thanks for football-loving billionaires, and vow never to go anywhere near a club shop ever again. As it turns out, it has taken Todd just a few months to get involved in the sport once more.

Once Todd has finished unpacking her belongings at Elland Road, however, she will face the challenge of turning around a club that hit a financial wall far more imposing than anything Chelsea faced – no premiership, no Europe and no Damien Duff.

Leeds United has sold off its best talent at cut-price figures, faces a massive debt of £25m and is languishing in Championship mid-table – outside the play-off places that hold the promise of the cash nirvana that is the Premiership. The financial benefits of gates and TV rights from European football – a near certainty at Stamford Bridge – are a distant dream up north.

But if epic debt and irregular income streams were not worrying enough, Todd will face the added challenge of having to shake off the perception that she is nothing more than a lap dog for new Leeds chairman Ken Bates, who was also her boss at Chelsea.

Todd has never enjoyed a high profile – even in the days when Chelsea was listed on the London Stock Exchange. Her name was never prominently displayed or mentioned in Chelsea plc’s regulatory news announcements.

Her anonymity is such that Accountancy Age was unable to source a single photo of her, and after repeated calls to Leeds, there don’t seem to be any at Elland Road either.

When one considers all the publicity that the likes of Arsenal’s David Dein and the ever-present Peter Kenyon – people who have held similar positions to Todd – have received, it is unusual that the former Chelsea FD was not more prominent. With Bates at the helm once again it seems inevitable that questions surrounding her authority might surface.

But with Leeds in the dire situation that it is, Todd may be forced to step out of the shadows and provide some much needed financial leadership for the struggling Yorkshire club.

Laying low while big Ken captains the ship all on his own might not cut it this time.

July 2002:
Leeds sell Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United for £30m to ease debts.

August 2002: Robbie Keane is sold to Spurs for £7m.

January 2003: Robbie Fowler leaves for Manchester City for £3m and Jonathan Woodgate joins Newcastle for £9m

April 2003: Chairman Peter Ridsdale resigns from Leeds plc.

July 2003: Harry Kewell departs for Liverpool for £5m. Olivier Dacourt walks 24 hours later as Roma purchase him for £3.47m.

October 2003: Leeds reports a pre-tax loss of £49.5m for the year ending 30 June 2003. Turnover drops 21% and tangible assets fall from £109m to £60m. Debt is estimated at over £100m.

March 2004: Garry Wilson and Alan Bloom, partners at Ernst and Young, are appointed as the joint administrators of Leeds United PLC. They sell the club to a consortium lead by local businessman Gerald Krasner for £30m.

27 April 2004: Leeds United plc’s listing on the LSE is cancelled.

2 May 2004: Relegated from the premiership. Paul Robinson (£1.5m) and Alan Smith (£6m) sold.

July 2004: The haemorrhage of talent continues as James Milner goes to Newcastle for £5m and Mark Viduka is sold to Middlesborough for £4.5m.

January 2005: Krasner, after reducing debts to below £25m, sells the club to former Chelsea supremo Ken Bates, who appoints Yvonne Todd.

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