It’s been close to two decades since Leeds United collapsed and was relegated from the Premier League. The club and fan-base are desperate to shake off the image most soccer fans have when thinking about the Leeds squad that was relegated in the 2003/2004 season.
Leeds United Premier League Promotion
At the start of the 2,000’s, the club was having fantastic form from year-to-year. Leeds finished in the top five of the EPL every season starting in 1997 spanning through the 2001-2002 campaign. In that time the club also enjoyed semi-final appearances in both the Europa League and Champions League. The excitement was at a premium and the chairman Peter Ridsdale wanted to take advantage of it.
With income for the club and an all-time high, Ridsdale took out enormous loans that he was unable to repay promptly and subsequently sent the team spiraling into debt that harmed more than just United’s bottom line. The squad lost a great deal of its luster very quickly due to key players being shipped off just to try to salvage a sinking ship. What was once a formidable and historic club became the laughing stock in all of England after being demoted just one year after an appearance in the Europa League. A 19th-place finish in the 2003-2004 Premier League season would be the final nail in the coffin in what one of the most stunning collapses in the sporting world. So much so there is even a phrase used called “doing a Leeds” that means financially mishandling a soccer team so poorly it causes ruin.
The Road Back:
Leeds’ freefall wouldn’t stop just because they were sent to the Championship. In 2006, the club was one win away from re-entering England’s top tier of competition, however, the club was still in dire straits financially. The loss to Watford and failing to get into the Premier League were painful moments, but they paled in comparison to what was still in store. The following season Leeds would finish 24th league competition and be relegated again. This time the drop would land them in League One, due in large part to the 10 point deduction from filing for administration; similar to bankruptcy in the US.
With the cupboards completely bare for Leeds after years of turmoil, they had finally, if not mercifully reached their lowest point. Momentum for the club began to change in 2010 when they narrowly escaped League One with a second-place finish. The big highlight for the club was a young striker named Jermaine Beckford who had scored 75 goals in all competitions for the club in just three short years. The team also had a signature win, beating the behemoth Manchester United one-nil in their FA Cup showdown. Despite this feat, it would be another decade before they clinched a Premier League birth. This past season, Leeds has had a near immaculate run to end the elongated season finishing first in the championship with 93 points a full 10 clear of the nearest challenger. The squad won the last six matches and will hope to capitalize on that momentum with a short turn around before the beginning of the 2020-2021 campaign.
The New Squad:
The new faces of Leeds are for the most part not wide-eyed youngsters with unlimited potential. Instead, the club is composed of scrappy and experienced veterans with much still to prove to England. If Leeds wants to succeed and stay in the top division, it will have overcome what haunts the club to this day: money. Leeds United is no longer insolvent but their budget is much smaller than the average team, and with holes still to fill it will be interesting to see if the club can do more with less.
What Leeds has in abundance is experience. The center midfielder, Pablo Hernandez is a former Spanish national team member. He has spent time with top clubs previously and has had great successes over his long professional career. His compatriot Francisco Casilla made goalkeeping appearances for legendary La Liga club Real Madrid. The top goalscorer for Leeds has returned, at least for the time being. Patrick Bamford, while not currently seen as an elite striker contributed greatly to Leeds’ success scoring 16 goals for the club. The 25-year-old Englishman has already played for four different Premier League squads despite just now entering the prime of his career. The captain and starting center back Liam Cooper is the glue that holds together this squad. The Scottish national has been a member of Leeds since 2014.
Management will have to be creative in the transfer window to address the needs at scoring and a possible replacement for Casilla. The top defense in the championship will have to carry this squad through the early portions of this season and hope a youngster or a transfer steps up to help Bamford carry the load in the form of goals. For the sake of Leeds’ image, this may be the most important season in their history.