Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Princes and the paupers

A TALE OF TWO TEAMS Chelsea are flying high thanks to the bottomless pockets of owner Roman Abramovich, but cash-strapped Leeds are stuck to the foot of the table


One team tops the English standings, is in the last 16 of the Champions League and has money to burn. The other is last, appears headed for relegation and is close to going into financial administration.

While Chelsea is on the up, life for Leeds United just gets worse.

Leeds fans are convinced their team should be where Chelsea is right now. After all, only three seasons ago, their club was in the semifinal of the Champions league having placed third in the domestic championship.

But the loss of top players in a vain bid to wipe out mounting debts has sent the team tumbling down to the foot of the Premier League.

By contrast, Chelsea has a new owner who has injected ?200 million (US$354 million) into the club enabling manager Claudio Ranieri to buy 13 top players with the near certainty of more to come.

The gulf between the two will come into focus when they meet at Elland Road today with Chelsea a point clear at the top and Leeds in last place.

Not so long ago, Leeds would have been a strong favorite to win the game.

But it has sold Rio Ferdinand, Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate, Robbie Fowler, Lee Bowyer and Olivier Dacourt to try and reduce the growing debts. Only strikers Mark Viduka and Alan Smith remain.

Leeds remains some ?78 million (US$134.2) in debt and has warned it may have to go into administration. But there are signs of a financial revival with a wealthy sheik from Bahrain saying he's considering a takeover bid.

By coincidence, Chelsea had similar debts before Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich came on the scene and bought a controlling interest in the club from Ken Bates.

After wiping out what the club owed to creditors, he handed Ranieri some ?120 million (US$206.4 million) to spend with the result that some of the game's big names -- Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo, Claude Makelele, Geremi, Damien Duff, Adrian Mutu and England stars Joe Cole and Wayne Bridge -- moved to Stamford Bridge in just two weeks of buying.

Most of these will be on the field at Elland Road today with Leeds fans still ruing the departure of their own stars.

Having parted company with Terry Venables and Peter Reid in eight months, the club is also searching for a new manager with coach Eddie Gray given the job on a temporary basis and leading the team to a 1-0 victory at Charlton last Saturday.

Viduka hopes he carries on.

"They should give Eddie the job permanently," the Australian said. "Eddie has put a lot of energy into the side. He's a winner, and there's nobody who loves this club more than he does.

"He's as good as anybody else in the game as a coach, and the players are working very hard in training. I hope we can build on the win we achieved at Charlton and remain positive throughout the team."

If today's games go true to form, Chelsea will stay top and Arsenal and Manchester United will remain the only other realistic title contenders.

The Gunners go to promoted Leicester while the Reds host Aston Villa, which only just climbed out of the relegation zone last week with a 1-0 beating of Southampton.

Newcastle and Liverpool, two teams who should have been among the title contenders, meet at St. James' Park.

Liverpool, which lost its League Cup title when it was beaten 3-2 at home by Bolton on Wednesday, lies sixth, 14 points off the lead, while Newcastle is seventh with 15 points to make up.

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