The timing could not have been worse. Leeds United‘s announcement of a 10 per cent rise in season ticket prices for next year landed just 48 hours after a toothless defeat at Stamford Bridge and with the tide turning against a board whose decisions have failed to convince since Marcelo Bielsa‘s departure a year ago.
“We appreciate that any increase in the current economic climate is unwelcome, particularly when it coincides with poor performance on the pitch,” an unattributed club statement read on Monday afternoon.
“The decision has not been taken lightly but we believe the new pricing is consistent with both our principle of running the clubs [sic] finances responsibly and maintaining our commitment to affordable football at Elland Road.”
In a nod to the barren run in which the club has won just once in nine matches, there was at least an incentive to fans to renew in a relegation battle: Leeds have promised they will refund the rise if they go down.
It is a theme at Elland Road, where the tantalising prospect of a transformative summer is hanging by a thread. i understands the long-anticipated £500m takeover by American consortium 49ers Enterprises, currently minority stakeholders in Leeds, is at an advanced stage and is likely to be rubber stamped on 1 July if all goes to plan. That would herald a new dawn, with fresh funds and new impetus on the much-needed stadium expansion project.
Relegation throws those plans into disarray because it knocks a chunk off the pre-agreed valuation and raises questions about who funds a rebuilding job in the Championship. The takeover could still happen if they go down, but the general feeling is that it all becomes much murkier.
It should not have come to this. The significant January outlay added to a squad that is loaded with more talent and potential than many of their relegation rivals but a lack of experience and goals have contributed to the mess they find themselves in.
Influential director of football Victor Orta finds himself in the crosshairs once more, having played a key role in the machinations of the last 12 months. It was his call to turn to Jesse Marsch after Bielsa and the club’s expensive transfer picks largely coalesce around scouting systems that he has diligently put in place over his six years leading football operations.
If the club are dragged back into the Championship he is vulnerable and there were rumblings about disagreements over direction when Marsch departed. For his part Orta believes Leeds have to take calculated risks and the squad certainly has enough saleable assets to ensure there would be no rough landing in the second tier.
The feeling among recruitment sources spoken to by i, though, is that while Leeds have bought well they haven’t had the right man to lead them. And many are dubious about whether Javi Gracia, appointed at the end of a tortuous search in which Leeds were turned down by all of their preferred candidates, is the man to draw the best out of a squad assembled to play high-octane, front foot, pressing football.
Gracia’s plan is to tighten up the defence and make Leeds harder to beat and they more than held their own at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. But with £35.5m record signing Georginio Rutter still finding his feet and Patrick Bamford’s fitness patchy, they don’t have the cutting edge to match their promise.
It has been a common theme for Leeds this season: playing well enough with underlying performance data suggesting that a corner is about to be turned. But the problem is that with 13 games remaining time is ebbing away and that promise isn’t enough. They need points.