EFL Championship: As Leeds United secure promotion to top flight, a look at club's highs and lows

With Leeds United back in the Premier League after a gap of 16 years, it is worth looking back at their major highs and lows.

FP Sports July 17, 2020 17:16:16 IST
EFL Championship: As Leeds United secure promotion to top flight, a look at club's highs and lows

Sixteen years after their disastrous relegation from the English top-flight that led them to financial troubles and a player exodus, Leeds United have secured promotion to the Premier League.

Leeds currently sit atop the EFL Championship table, with 87 points from 44 games with two left to play, and they are five points clear of West Bromwich Albion who lost their last match against Huddersfield 2-1. Brentford are currently placed third, with 81 points from 44 games.

EFL Championship As Leeds United secure promotion to top flight a look at clubs highs and lows

Leeds United sit atop the Championship table with 87 points. Twitter @LUFC

With Leeds United back in the Premier League after a gap of 16 years, it is worth looking back at their major highs and lows.

Early Premier League era

In a season where Arsenal’s Invincibles celebrated their historic Premier League triumph, Leeds United were enduring another extreme - the despair and tensions of relegation.

They had won the First Division back in 1991, and took part in the newly-formed Premier League from the 1992-93 season. Their first season in the Premier League under manager Howard Wilkinson was disastrous, with Leeds bowing out of the UEFA Champions League in the early rounds and finishing 17th in the table, narrowly avoiding relegation. And despite maintaining the fifth place in the two seasons that followed (1993-94 and 94-95), they endured a finish outside the top 10, finishing 13th and 11th in the two seasons that followed. As a result, in the 1996-97 season when they finished 11th, Wilkinson had his contract terminated, and was replaced by George Graham.

Graham’s appointment as Leeds boss was controversial in a way that he had previously been handed a one-year ban from The Football Association for getting illegal payments from a football agent. However, controversies aside, Graham got in talented youth players such as Dutch forward jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and also helped Leeds qualify for the UEFA Cup in the 1997-98 season after finishing fifth.

However, in October 1998, Graham left Leeds for Tottenham Hotspur and was replaced by assistant manager David O’ Leary. Leeds enjoyed a fine run of form during O’ Leary’s tenure, and never finished outside the top five. Their best Premier League finish to date, a third-place result, came in 1999-00, and they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup the same season. They continued their impressive run in Europe, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League the following season, while they ended fourth in the Premier League.

Struggles abound

Leeds had purchased loans under chairman Peter Ridsdale against the prospect of TV share rights and sponsorship revenues from the Champions League qualification. However, their failure to qualify for the tournament in two back-to-back seasons meant that Leeds did not get enough income to repay the loan.

The sale of former England defender Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United from Leeds was one of the early signs of Leeds United’s financial crisis. In July 2002, it was announced that Ferdinand would complete a then-record £30 million to rivals Manchester United. This led to a fallout between club chairman Peter Ridsdale and manager O’Leary, soon after which O’Leary was sacked and replaced by former England boss Terry Venables in the same month.

However, matters turned from bad to worse after Leeds crashed out of both League Cup and UEFA Cup in December, and were languishing in the bottom half of the table, however, narrowly avoiding relegation. Leeds went onto finish the season in 15th position.

Further controversy erupted in 2003 when defender Jonathan Woodgate was sold to Newcastle United in an attempt to pay off the club’s rising debts. Venables, in fact, was unaware of this and had threatened to leave club if Woodgate was sold, but chairman Peter Ridsdale persuaded him to stay.

However, Venables was eventually sacked in March 2003 with the club in tatters, languishing in the bottom half of the table. Peter Reid replaced him as manager, but endured a forgetful tenure, being sacked following a poor run of form in the 2003-04 season. He was then replaced by Eddie Gray, who took over as caretaker manager.

Later, Gerald Krasner, an insolvency specialist, led a consortium of businessmen who took over the club and monitored the sale of club’s assets. In that season, Leeds were relegated to the Championship after 11 seasons in the Premier League. They finished 19th with 33 points - same as Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were also relegated.

The club was sold to British businessman Ken Bates for £10 million. Leeds eventually reached the Championship playoff under Blackwell, where they lost to Watford, amid several players leaving the club following relegation to the Championship that season.

James Milner, a current Premier League winner with Liverpool, was among a long list of players to have quit Leeds following their relegation. Milner joined Newcastle United for a fee of £5 million, while Australian Mark Viduka left for Middlesbrough after four years at Leeds, where he made 130 appearances.

Irish footballer Andy Keogh, who plays for Northeast United in the Indian Super League, made just one appearance for Leeds before leaving midway through the 2004-05 season. He then returned for a short loan spell in the 2011-12 season, where he made 24 appearances scoring two goals.

Another departure was that of Leeds’ premier goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who joined Tottenham in 2004. He would go onto make 137 appearances for Spurs, where he would spend till 2008.

Amid financial struggles, Leeds entered into administration were further relegated into League 1 in 2007-08 following a 10-point deduction, but returned to the Championship in 2010-11, and have been a part of the second tier ever since until their promotion was guaranteed on Friday.

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