Friday, 26 November 2010

Are Leeds United ready for the Premiership?

When you’re sat in fifth position in the Championship, it’s easy to begin fantasising about the Premier League. Indeed, many claim that by Christmas the league has sorted itself out. Those at the top will stay at the top, with high team spirit ready for the final push in April; those at the bottom will scramble around in despair in effort to avoid relegation.

Leeds are currently at the top, and it’s fair to say they probably still will be come spring time. So the question must be asked: are they ready for the Premiership?

It’s a difficult question to answer, as the heart certainly differs from the head. The glory of promotion – especially through the playoffs – to the halcyon seas of the Premiership is just too tempting a bait for the heart. As a Leeds fan myself, of course I want to see glory with my club, but at what cost?

We’ve seen it all before, with Watford, Derby, Sheffield United and Reading all popping up for a season or two, show their face, take a photo at Old Trafford, and effortlessly slide back down to the Championship. This cannot happen to Leeds.

Getting promoted this season could be catastrophic. Take Hull for an example: managed to get through the playoffs but realised the squad wasn’t nearly strong enough for the Premiership. The solution: spend money and gamble staying in the top flight.

The gamble didn’t pay off, and now Hull are riddled with huge debts, a large wage bill and an ailing squad. Leeds may well do the same, as relegation won’t even be seen as a possibility if they get promoted. Leeds will spend big to keep their heads above water, and if that fails… well, I need not remind anyone what a complete farce that turned out to be last time.

The heart yearns for promotion, but the head looks over to South Yorkshire, where both Sheffield clubs are stuck in financial problems. United recently announced annual losses of £19m, while Wednesday are going toe-to-toe with the HMRC in court, and could be out of business in weeks.

It’s taken seven years to turn round the marauding relegation juggernaut Leeds once was. Simon Grayson has done a fantastic job to bottle the momentum of last May’s promotion from League 1 and apply it in the minefield that is the Championship. An early surge to the Premiership could be beneficial, but it could also be deadly.

One beacon of hope is Ian Holloway’s Blackpool; a team seemingly run on perpetual motion, not influenced by money, trophies, potential riches. Even if they get relegated this season they may make a profit out of it all. Could Leeds suppress their wallet if they got promoted? Probably not. Sadly, the incessant need to stay at the top will be too much for Leeds United.

So it’s down to chance. If they spend big and cross their fingers tightly, they may just be able to cling on up there.

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