Meet the Man Who’s REALLY Saved Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson


Elland Road

Leeds United, saved at last

These past few years, during a time when it’s been obvious for the most part that Leeds United really did need saving, there have been more or less extravagant claims on behalf of various parties who, their supporters would have us believe, have been the saintly figures behind various rescue acts to preserve the Yorkshire giants for their grateful fans. Such claims do not hold water. The men and the motivations behind the alleged rescue operations have been decidedly dodgy, with the “rescues” invariably accelerating United’s downhill plummet, as well as emphasising their shocking loss of credibility within a game once dominated by the heroes of Elland Road.

It’s pointless going over old ground again here, save to emphasise this blog’s viewpoint that, far from “saving Leeds United”, the various incarnations of ownership since the turn of the century have had in common their gross mismanagement of the club and its reduction to a laughing stock. For most of the time since relegation from the top flight, the story has been one of deterioration and decay, a gradual and insidious loss of status and prestige, and the disastrous admission to the club of two of the biggest villains ever to sully the name of football in general and Leeds United in particular. And yet still these two characters – Bates and Cellino – have their adherents among supposed Leeds fans, people who will still try to tell you that, without their own particular conman of choice, United might not even exist. The fact is that a club of Leeds’ stature will always eventually find a saviour, just as even the darkest night ends with the rising of the sun. It was simply our misfortune that, in the decade or so after the post-Ridsdale implosion, we managed to attract two men so inimical to the true interests of the club, and the game in a wider sense.

Enough of them. It’s with much greater optimism that we now view our club as its resurgence gathers a momentum that seems set fair to become unstoppable. The change of ownership started things off in the best possible way, in that it saw the end of Cellino (albeit to some bewildering peeps of protest from some quarters). But Massimo was gone, and we had a quite different Italian in charge; one who began to do novel things like keeping promises, investing in the team, recruiting football men to do football business – stuff like that. Andrea Radrizzani has overseen, in really a very short time, a total transformation of the club, the stadium and the playing staff at both first team and also – crucially – at U-23 level, where last season had been an unmitigated farce. So, can we point at Andrea and say, “Here is the man who saved Leeds United“? There’s quite probably a case for just such a conclusion to be drawn.

But really, you have to look back further, right back to the start of the process that would eventually see Massimo move out and Andrea move in. From this beginning, everything else has flowed. It’s the catalyst for Radrizzani’s Leeds United takeover that we’re really looking for, when we seek to identify Leeds United’s actual saviour.

And the thing is, it’s such an unlikely name, a man with only the most fleeting and tenuous connection with Leeds United, when he appeared as a veteran in the white shirt during John Charles’ testimonial in 1988, playing alongside Michel Platini and helping set up a pre-Leeds transfer Ian Rush for a hat-trick against Everton. Other than this brief glimpse of magic in a Leeds shirt, our man spent most of his career with old enemies north and south of the Scottish border, earning legendary status first at Celtic and then at Liverpool, where he’d been set the unenviable task in 1977 of replacing departed Kop hero Kevin Keegan. Naturally, he went on to surpass Keegan; success and the attainment of legend status was, after all, simply second nature to him.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I give you the true saviour of Leeds United – not Bates, not Cellino, not even (though I would willingly kiss his Italian shoes) Andrea Radrizzani. The man and the motivation behind The Italian Job, whereby one Signor was replaced by another, is none other than Scotland hero and perennial thorn in the side of Leeds United and many others, Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish, MBE. Dalglish it was who, at a social gathering before a Champions League quarter final between Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, spoke with enthusiasm to Radrizzani of Leeds United, of the size of the club and the passion of its fanbase; of how the whole place was a project just awaiting fulfillment, ready for the right person to go in and revive football’s archetypal sleeping giant.

“It was a casual chat at lunch with friends, it was my first time meeting him,” says Radrizzani. “We were talking about many things and for two minutes we talked about Leeds, the sleeping giant, the opportunity for someone coming here. He mentioned about the great opportunity if someone had a concrete project with a vision to bring back the passion. He also mentioned about how the city is passionate about the club and this is what I’m finding out.”

From this small beginning, the seed was sown that has brought us to where we are today, with Leeds United, so recently a basket case of a club, now showing the unmistakeable signs of growing vigour, health and confidence. A journey of a thousand miles, so they say, begins with a single step – and there’s no denying that Kenny Dalglish, on that blessed day for Leeds, applied the initial, gentle push that started Radrizzani off on the project he’s now conducting so well.

It’s frightening to contemplate where we’d now be, and in what sort of mood or depths of despair, if that chance meeting and casual conversation hadn’t taken place. Destiny took a hand, fate came a-calling, and when the two men met, Dalglish – a man of other clubs and different allegiances – spoke warmly of Leeds, of potential untapped and an institution of the game ripe for salvation. It was enough to set us on the road to recovery. Dalglish, bless him, was there when we needed him, and he said what we needed him to say.

At some future time when, we must fervently hope, (but now with much more confidence) we are truly back at the top table of the game – well, we’ll know that it’s our due, that we’re finally back where we belong. And in the still further distant future, when trophies are back on the sideboard and we’re stomping the fields of Europe again, it might be time for a few more statues to be erected around the fully-refurbished, highly impressive and club-owned Elland Road mega-stadium. It’s how we say thanks to our legends and our saviours, after all.

Laugh if you will, but consider the role played by Leeds United’s most identifiable saviour of recent years, think of the contribution he has made towards our recent, spectacular revival and resurgence. It’s no exaggeration to say that this man, in that one casual conversation, has made a pivotal difference to Leeds United history. It would be entirely fitting, in this humbly grateful blogger’s view, for one of those new statues – in some unspecified future year that I hope but don’t expect to see – to represent Celtic, Liverpool and, yes, Leeds United hero Kenny Dalglish.

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30 responses to “Meet the Man Who’s REALLY Saved Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Brilliant article Rob. I heard this very same story some time ago and what a great tribute to the club from a truly great of British Football. As a Leeds fan of some fifty years and along with many of my generation we have witnessed so many highs and lows and experienced just about every emotion the human body can conjure up. People say we have to move on, the game has changed and we have to live with it but unless you have personally witnessed the past you just cannot just brush it aside, it becomes part of you, it’s carved into your soul. Football is not a game, it’s a way of life, once famously quoted. I have lost count in the last ten years I have said “enough is enough”. I’m fed up of being let down and yet it’s like a drug, you know it’s going to make you miserable but you need your fix
    I really believe our long awaited saviour has arrived and yes it’s early days, even the thought of Christianssen having a real problem deciding our starting eleven is an exciting one. No what? I would gladly welcome a statue of Kenny Dalglish alongside our Billy, two legends together embracing what is really great about this game we all love. MOT

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    • Thanks, it’s a story that blew me away when I first saw it. I always respected Dalglish, and I was in awe of his ability and the way he saw openings – but I never really liked him. Big fan now though. I really think he’s been the spark that lit this fire.

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  2. We greatly appreciate KD advice to AR . AR has kept his promises of making Leeds United a great football team again. He has invested by bringing in new recruitments and a new manager. Leeds united with its loyal supporters belong in the premier league of english football. We wish the team and the manager all the best of luck for 2017/18 season and hopefully next year we hope to see our team playing in the premier league . KD is a true football legend and his sound advice will once again wake a sleeping giant in leeds united football club.

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  3. pattayarag

    Rob,

    You have to ask yourself if AR, on Dalgllsh’s recommendation, would have bought a club reportedly losing £1million a month, a club with millions of loan debt on the books but little cash, a club with no brick/mortar assets, a club with season ticket and catering revenue sold forward and a team languishing 15th in the league.

    If there’s any chance you think he wouldn’t have bought that club then the saviour lies elsewhere as much as you don’t want to admit it and as much as your post tries to expunge him from the record books. I thought ‘round earthers’ were visionary and ‘flat earthers’ blinkered……

    The savior is the guy, warts and all, who tackled all the tough issues listed in the first para above so that the club was attractive to AR when he looked our way. You have to be in denial to suggest otherwise.

    And as for a statue….. FFS.

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  4. Growing up there were two players ‘of other teams’ that I admired, Glen Hoddle, and Kenny Dalglish. Both amazing players.

    I heard the story about Dalglish telling ‘someone’ about Leeds being a fantastic opportunity a couple of years ago. I didn’t at the time know who it was, or even if the rumour was true. I just remember believing it because Dalglish is one of those types of footballing people that you can admire even as a fan of another club.

    I am so happy with how things are going.

    Over recent years I’ve lost track of what’s been happening in the Premier League, been focussing on the Championship. I found myself taking interest in Premier results and teams the other day. Why? I wanted to see who we’d be playing next year.

    I haven’t felt this good about a Leeds team in the second tier since the ‘sh*t or bust’ season under Wilko.

    Thanks to Mr Radrizzani, and a tip of the hat to Mr Dalglish. Gentlemen, I salute you.

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  5. Well said mate and thank you KD for showing faith when you dont even support us.

    MOT

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  6. Great write Rob.
    My dad’s a reds fan which meant until I was 12 I was too but then my brother took me to Elland Road and well, it was the Super Whites for me all the way.
    I think the best footballers and sportsmen in general tend to be even better as men, think you have to say Kenny is in that mould – he’s a bit special. Mot in China (am trying to educate the Chinese that there’s not just one “United” in England!)

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  7. You’ve always hit the nail on the head regarding that crook Cellino Rob, even though I used to kiss his arse I can see that now – and that means it must be blindingly obvious. Because I am one thick get 😆

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  8. David Smith

    Another excellent blog Rob and I can’t argue with you on the importance of Mr Dalglish’s initial recommendation to Andrea Radrizzani and the fact it came from a highly respected football brain, with an opinion not necessarily biased by a previous close association to our club. However, what has surprised me is the speed & impact Mr Radrizzani has had on Leeds in the relatively short period of time and whilst you and I are not going to fall out over this, I do feel that some credit needs to be acknowledged to Cellino for sorting out the cesspit of a mess left by Bates & GFH Capital ?

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    • We disagree, but cordially and courteously, which is fine by me – I only fall out with the ones who feel they can express themselves in abusive terms and still have their comments published. Go figure. As for Cellino, we’re in a better place now than when he was here – but I think his reign is notable for missed opportunities, futile legal cases and a tendency to micro-manage football people.

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  9. David Smith

    OK then Rob we agree….maybe not a statue for Cellino, but a modest shrine !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great article Rob. Things are going well on all fronts, for once in a very, very long time and with 12 million left from the Wood transfer money and high earners of the wage bill, Leeds can stay well within the financial fair play rules and hopefully use some of that money for the January transfer window, to freshen up the squad.
    I always liked Dalglish as a player and saw him play against Leeds at Elland Road in 1980, 81 and 82, as well as seeing him play in the John Charles Testimonial game in 1988. A class act !

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  11. Jezaldinho

    Excellent article Rob.
    I’d like to shine a particular light though on the idea that Bates and Cellino are villians of the same calibre. My view is that they are quite different, in that the Cellino chapter is far from black and white, and to simply put him in the same envelope as Bates (who in my mind was far, far worse than Cellino) is a bit clumsy.

    Cellino will always be symbolic of a time when LUFC was arguably at its most chaotic. All the stories of the Color purple, the number 17, the nonsense that the conveyor belt of coaches had to endure under him, they all serve to see him vilified as the complete nutter that he was. Only looking back does it become truly clear why the FA were so determined not to let him take control. They must have known more than the rest of us.

    However, there is more depth and intention to Cellino than initially meets the eye. In spite of his madness, he DID want to see the club win matches. He DID want to achieve promotion. He DID appoint Gary Monk (and yes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day). And possibly the biggest point here is that he did instigate a significant turnaround in the clubs financial viability. A process that, granted he undertook in a far from careful and considered way, would have left whoever the task fell to looking like a panto villian.

    So, in spite of all his unsuitability and incapability, somewhere deep down, I still personally believe his heart was in the right place. Cellino isn’t evil, he’s just properly insane.

    Bates however is a completely different animal. He’s a calm, cold, calculating and nasty man who quietly went about destroying the very foundations of the club from within. Asset stripping and systematically plundering cash over a period of time, before selling the club when it was barely able to stay afloat. Further more, he laughed at the club and the fans the entire time.

    So if there’s going to be fanciful statues of people who happen to have planted seeds in Radrizzani’s head, then let’s begin by putting the face of Ken Bates on every urinal and at the bottom of every toilet bowl and rubbish bin within a mile of Elland Road.
    @Jezaldinho

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Chris Nebard

    For the first time in 15 years, I feel a small kernel of hope sprouting from somewhere deep inside (at least I think that’s what it is). But, having been a supporter for 52 years, I am walking proof that it’s the hope that kills you.
    I’m so damaged by the events of this century, so far, that I’ve adopted the mental health preserving “it’ll all end in tears, it’ll never work” and “I told you so” philosophies. And, I’m still not sold on the continental style of management with, in this case, Victor Orta pulling the recruitment strings (see Middlesbrough’s recent history for reference, plus previous hand-wringing comments on your outstanding blog).
    However, the trouble is, Saiz, Alioski et al have been bloody marvellous; Grot looks like a superhero in the making, and the messianic Christiansen has resurrected other players who, some of us were convinced, didn’t have feet attached to their awkward, trembling legs. To cap it all, the deity that is Andrea Radrizzani has brought some soul, commitment, interaction with fans and an inclusive, communicative, positive feel, back to the club – he’s even bought back the sodding ground, making it increasingly difficult for me to maintain my strategy of denial.
    What the hell is going on?! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Hope springs again. What can possibly go wrong? Mind you, when it does, it’ll all be that bloody Dalglish’s fault 😀 😀 😀

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  13. NickB(50yrsLU)

    This is surely one of your semi-ironic articles, Rob, and no one else seems to get it. Yes, I heard that story a couple of years ago too, but I imagine Rad. dropped into a conversation that he was considering investing in a club and asked Dalglish what was the most down-at-heel, once-mighty club in Britain. Whilst there were quite a few big names languishing in the second and third tiers – and Rangers had already begun its amazingly swift restitution – there’s only one that had been in the Champions’ League semi-final fifteen years ago, in the top four season after season, and with myriads of passionate supporters worldwide who would stick with their club till their dying breath. Kenny will have remembered tremendous ding-dongs with Leeds in his playing days, and the special atmosphere at Elland Road. Many who can’t stand Leeds miss the fixtures with us to vent their spleens. The Premiership has been the poorer for the lack of the intensity of Leeds encounters – Stoke is the closest I can think of to a team everyone else loves to hate, but they haven’t had the clout of Leeds since the days of Stanley Matthews. Rad. could have asked any number of retired top footballers that question and received the same answer; it just happened to be Kenny. What if it had been Bobby Charlton ?! Can you imagine a statue of him at Elland Road, ahead of our Jacky ? Or it could have been that great philosopher, Eric Cantona ! No, your tongue must have been firmly in your cheek while you were penning this.
    As for the former owners – of little more than a near-extinguished brand – and the credit they might wish to take for our sudden resurgence in the past few months: Bates was a vile, Chelsea-loving crook who was set on humiliating everyone who cared about Leeds. When he’d had enough of tormenting us, he selected a bunch of buffoons that he knew would pull the Gordian knot ever tighter around Leeds’ collective privates. If ever there was an oxymoron, it’s a Moslem bank, because Moslems regard charging interest as an abomination, which must have tickled blue Kenny. Then, when the parent company called time on Haig’s ego trip, the only vulture circling happened to be a rogue Italian playboy who inherited daddy’s massive agricultural business, but who seemed intent on squandering his inherited wealth on publicity stunts which often involved barristers on footballers’ salaries. Then, when he found the majority of fans had seen through his smooth talk and empty promises built on funds that his relations who had control of the purse strings refused to sanction, and had to stay away from matches because of angry protests at the entrance, he was desperate to get rid and wreak his spoilt brat tantrums on another unfortunate club back in Italy. He didn’t give a damn about what happened to Leeds after him, and was prepared to offer the full hospitality routine to any delegation from China, America or anywhere else that might give him the cash to scarper. It was just our good fortune that Andrea proved to be our very own Italian Alexander who, at a stroke, flashed a length of steel which untangled the Batesian knot and left all the guardians of the hallowed turf and stands flummoxed. Everything that has happened since that casual conversation is entirely down to Radrizzani. He’s a media man who, I believe, created his own wealth through great intelligence and perspicacity, who has proven in a few short months to be a supreme judge of character in all his personnel decisions. Bizarrely, from our unaccustomed position of restored self-esteem, last night I felt a strong sense of compassion for those poor sods a hundred miles up the road who are lumbered with Mike Ashley for perhaps another two or three decades. For all the trials since Ridsdale, Bowyer, Woodgate et al. caused our plummet from grace – which seemed an eternity – at least for us it’s now in the past. For Newcastle, it’s past, present and foreseeable future ! Just as we had no say in who or where we were born (as far as we know !), the destiny of the clubs we chose to support is as amoral and mysterious as Nature and the Universe. Such is the meaning, and often, futility, of life. But for those who chose Leeds it will never have been futile !

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    • Totally agree with you there Nick. Bates tried to scorch the earth when he left by appointing the clueless gfh. I remember that Hammersfan referring to them as the bank built on sand and how right he was. Bates and Cellino are incomparable in my view as both had entirely different motives. One man was malicious and calculating the other spoilt and incompetent. To think that the next edition of “Leeds United A Complete Record” will contain the names “Hockaday and Evans as well as Dennis Wise,doesn’t bare thinking about. Back to the main point,I too had heard the Dalglish story and i hope its true as I’ve always liked Dalglish. A genius as a footballer obviously but I also used to like the way he’d give curt replies to the cretinous questions reporters would ask him and be really difficult with them. Should we get promoted perhaps as a tribute we could all wear kilts and scouse wigs to our last away game. Or perhaps not.

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  14. I bumped into Cellino, or rather we were in the same room, a coffee shop in a friendly, but modest 4 star hotel in Cagliari that someone in his family owned. It isused by tourists off the beaten track, staff overnighting from air lines and cruise ships and some Gulf businessmen. We did not speak, Cagliari used it as their club house, there were trophies and photos in some modest cabinets. It has a nice restaurant on the eight floor with excellent views over the city. There are photos nothing sinister of Cellino leaving the hotel used in the Evening Post. It has a very modest entrance, more like an office building. I think the photo of Silvestri’s wife lounging beside a swimming pool was the hotel’s rather modest one. Sorry for the long explanation, but I am trying to set the scene. He bounced in like someone on speed, manic did not cover it.
    1. I do not think he has the money people think.
    2 He appeared to be eccentric, or on drugs.
    All this tenuously leads me to understand Cellino’s actions at Leeds.
    He did not have the money, to buy Leeds outright, definitely not to buy Elland Road, or Thorp Arch, all the actions of someone paying Billy Big Biscuit. He funded the transfer activities at Leeds while he was there by wheeling and dealing. Selling one player to buy some others. The sharp practices over staff and player’s contracts and cost cutting at Thorp arch seem to support the view.
    He wanted success at Leeds, he thought well of the club and its supporters, but he was on a knife edge financial all the time, Charlie Taylor’s contract is a case in point. He did improve the club, but it was not transparent. Probably totally wrong, but that one short sight of him takes a lot of rationalising away.

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  15. Cellino was maybe a necessary stop gap. He had the right idea with his many cut price signings to at least prevent relegation and any potential FFP blow back but that was about it. KB is just vile through and through end of. However these guys are history and the new owners have gone about business in a very professional and open way. It,s been a while but are not Leeds better run that Arsenal at the moment?

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  16. Incredible we owe old misery guts a debt as we sit proud on top!

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