Premier League team Leeds United returned to the first-tier of English football after an arduous wait of 16 years. Though a majority of people weren’t sure how they would settle in as a Premier League team, Leeds have started the 2020-21 season on a high, with their fans slowly witnessing their beloved club on their way to become a footballing superpower in England again.
The 101-year-old football club has gone through ages – both glorious and gloomy over the last one century and with the empire rebuilt now heading in the right direction, the Whites will look to avoid the mistakes that had taken them down in the first place.
GRAND ENTRY INTO PREMIER LEAGUE
When the Football Association had decided to form the Premier League starting from the 1992-93 season, Leeds United were the big daddy amongst the 22 clubs that had joined the breakaway top division league competition. They were the last club to win the Football League Division 1 before it was replaced by the Premier League and were competing in the UEFA Champions League as well, under the brilliant Howard Wilkinson.
Leeds United’s rise to prominence was scintillating as they had turned from second division strugglers to first division champions in a matter of seasons. Wilkinson had taken charge of Leeds where they were reeling in the 21st place of Division 2 in 1988 and his first challenge was to prevent their relegation into the third division. Not only did Wilkinson achieve that but he also turned Leeds into Second Division champion in 1989–90 to gain promotion. The light could now be seen at the end of the tunnel and after Wilkinson managed a fourth-place finish in the First Division in the 1990-91 season, Leeds wasted no time in clinching the title the very next season.
FALL FROM GRACE
That was, however, the peak for Wilkinson as Leeds saw a steep fall from there. While they saw an early exit from the UEFA Champions League in their first Premier League season, they ended up in the 17th position in the points table as well. The Premier League team finished 13th in the 1995-96 season and after a poor start to the 1996-97 season, Wilkinson had to step down. Wilkinson’s successor George Graham pulled Leeds back to the UEFA Cup next season while Graham’s successor David O’Leary kept Leeds a part of the Premier League’s top five with both UEFA Cup and Champions League a regular competition.
However, this consistency made Leeds’ management more ambitious and they took large sums of money as a loan against their bright prospect in European football. They failed to qualify for the UEFA competition in the 2002-03 season and had to sell off their stars to meet the financial crisis. Ineffective management was met by unsuccessful managers and the club’s standard saw a pitfall in 2003-04 when they were relegated into the second division again.
Relegation to the second division wasn’t the end of tragedy for Leeds. Eyeing to meet the financial demands, the club was forced to sell their training ground as well as the stadium in the autumn of 2004 before the board sold the club to Ken Bates for just £10 million. However, that wasn’t enough, and the club had to enter administration in the 2006-2007 season, thus incurring a 10-point league penalty. The penalty made it impossible for a struggling Leeds side to stay up in the Championship (second division) and they were further relegated to League One – which was the first time that Leeds had been in the third tier of English football.
Leeds’ financial breaches knew no bounds even then and they were on the verge of getting expelled from the Football League altogether before they agreed to stay in League One with a 15-point penalty in the 2007–08 season. Though the penalty didn’t cost them another relegation this time, it cost Leeds their promotion back to the Championship.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Leeds United finally finished second in League One to get promoted into Championship in the 2009-10 season and thus started a decade-long fight to return home – the top-tier. After an encouraging start in the Championship at the turn of the decade – where they finished seventh – Leeds saw a string of mid-table finishes. Their next finish in the top 10 of the Championship came in the 2016-17 season (seventh place).
However, Leeds followed that with a 13th place finish in 2017-18 season before the board went ahead and persuaded Marcelo Bielsa to take over the reins. Though it took the Argentine two seasons, after Leeds narrowly missed out on a promotion, Leeds finally became a Premier club after sixteen long years of struggle. And given the way they have started their 2020-21 season, they seem capable of surviving the onslaught.
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