Football has a rich lore to present when it comes to the histories of great football clubs and the giants that graced their pastures. However, the beautiful game is also full of fables that narrate the downfalls of a couple of clubs in the recent times, the most striking examples, in this case, being the likes of Inter Milan and AC Milan. While the Italian giants are pulling out all the stops to reconquer their former glory, their tale is pretty much in tandem with that of Leeds United.
England has seen a number of brilliant teams taking birth on its soil and it is fair to say that Leeds are one of them – or they were. The demise of the Peacocks at the turn of the millennium is one of the most interesting stories in English football folklore. As such, the reasons behind the doom has aroused curiously in the minds of a number of football connoisseurs, who, on their respective parts, have tried to decode the reasons behind their fall from the pedestal.
After clinching the last First Division title in 1992, everyone expected Leeds to go on to dominate the Premier League – the new edition of first-tier football in England. With David O’Leary appointed as the club manager, the club continued being one of the best teams in the country and reached their high point in season 2000-01, when they crashed out in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals against eventual runners-up Valencia. Back then, few would have thought of the impending doom that lay in the store for the club.
Initially, chairman Peter Risdale took lump-sum loans believing that the club would earn handsome amounts with TV rights and Champions League qualification. However, no such thing happened and the debts started to rise. As history has always shown before, the best way to recoup money to pay the debts was to sell promising players; Rio Ferdinand‘s departure to Manchester United was the first sign that showed the club’s financial troubles were on the rise. Jonathan Woodgate, James Milner, Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer and many others, who formed the spine of the club, followed Ferdinand’s footsteps out of the club.
Moving further, a host of managerial changes also proved to be the downfall for The Peacocks. Following David O’Leary’s sacking, the club had 19 managers in the dugout at the Elland Road, including 7 caretaker managers. The string of managers includes well-known tacticians like Terry Venables and Peter Reid to Simon Grayson and Darko Milanic.
However, the club now seems to be coming back on track with Argentine maestro Marcelo Bielsa at the helm. The former Athletic Bilbao coach who also serves as an inspiration to Pep Guardiola has brought an exciting brand of attacking football at the Elland Road, the positive results of which are clearly visible.
With the help of a much-required financial backing from chairman Andrea Radrizzani, Leeds cracked some interesting deals and signed players like Patrick Bamford, Barry Douglas, Kiko Casilla and Mateusz Klich, coupled with a bunch of loan signings from various clubs.
Having started his tenure since August 2018, Bielsa guided Leeds to nine straight wins, being perched atop the league table for most of the time in the first half of the season. However, a blip in the form at the turn of the year saw Leeds lose their grip, eventually finishing 3rd and being pitted against Derby County in the playoffs.
Derby emerged winners in a thrilling contest over two legs, winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate. They might have lost, but Marcelo Bielsa’s men missed out on Premier League promotion by whiskers. It has been fifteen years since Leeds plied their trade in the top tier of English football. In Marcelo Bielsa, the supporters at Elland Road seem to have found their silver lining amidst the dark clouds. With the Argentine steering the wheel at the club, there’s no shadow of doubt Leeds United will make it to the Premier League in the coming years and try to conquer their lost glory.