On 2 May 2001, Leeds United faced Valencia in the first leg of a Champions League semi-final. Their appearance in the last four of the competition represented arguably their biggest achievement since lifting the league title in 1992.
A 0-0 draw at Elland Road was followed by a 3-0 defeat in Spain and, though Leeds’ decline wasn’t immediate, elimination from the competition and subsequent struggles to scale similar heights in the seasons that followed saw the club’s fortunes suffer a sharp downturn.
In this article, we will examine the recent history of Leeds United, including their relegation from the Premier League, multiple administrations and the long road to recovery, as one of football’s biggest names plots its return to the top level.
Relegation from the Premier League
Leeds were a founding member of the Premier League and had competed in every season since its inauguration in 1992. The Whites were the last champions before the creation of the new competition and hopes were high that the club would challenge for silverware again.
But despite that appearance in the last four of the Champions League, and reaching the League Cup final in 1996, Leeds were unable to add to their trophy haul. Chairman Peter Ridsdale spent huge amounts around the turn of the century to help turn the club into contenders, but this would ultimately be a key factor in their downfall.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League in 2001, 2002 and 2003 proved disastrous for Leeds and resulted in the club losing many of its best players. Challenges for Europe were replaced by a relegation battle and, after finishing 15th in 2003, the following season saw one of football’s biggest clubs relegated to the second tier.
ON THIS DAY: In 2004, Leeds were relegated from the Premier League after a 4-1 defeat vs. Bolton Wanderers. pic.twitter.com/C8F0kNSqA8— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 2, 2016
No immediate return
Following a disappointing first season in the Championship, Leeds finished fifth in 2006 and reached the play-off final, where they’d face Watford. But the Hornets were far too strong for Kevin Blackwell’s side and emerged 3-0 winners.
Defeat in the final dealt a hammer blow on the club’s financial prospects, with debts piling up and no Premier League money to service them. Leeds were placed into administration the following season and ultimately finished 24th, meaning relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history.
The financial problems would continue, taking several years to be completely cleared, and another points deduction was imposed as the Whites lurched from one disaster to another. The club’s policy of hiring and firing managers was also stymieing momentum and fans grew increasingly frustrated at the mess unfolding.
The road back
Ultimately, Leeds secured promotion back to the Championship at the third attempt, going up automatically after finishing second in 2010. And they enjoyed an impressive first campaign back in the second tier, finishing just outside the play-offs.
But the club was unable to build on that momentum and several seasons in mid-table would follow, before an improved showing in 2017 offered hope that Leeds could finally push for promotion back to the Premier League. However, there were further setbacks ahead.
Today, the Championship betting picture is crowded, with at least ten clubs regularly in the frame for promotion, although Leeds are clear of the pack and are favourites to win the title at 4/9. Back in 2018, a 13th-placed finish far away from the promot saw frustrations at Elland Road resurface, as the club continued its policy of sacking and replacing managers without hesitation. Leeds sorely lacked leadership in the dressing room, despite having assembled an extremely talented squad.
El Loco arrives
The recruitment of Argentine veteran Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa as the club’s new manager in 2018 proved to be a game-changer. Highly-regarded by many of the world’s top coaches, Bielsa transformed Leeds’ playing style and immediately had them challenging at the top of the table.
The Whites appeared certain to finally realise their ambition of a return to the Premier League in 2019, but an end-of-season collapse cost them automatic promotion, while capitulation in the play-off semi-final second leg against Derby saw the dream finally shattered.
But Bielsa has since remained at the helm and appears likely to deliver what the club’s fans have craved for more than a decade. 19 years on from that famous night in the Champions League, Leeds are ready to retake their place at football’s top table.