Leeds United were once counted amongst the Premiership elite, who could give European giants like AC Milan and Real Madrid a torrid time at Elland Road.
From almost achieving European glory to getting relegated, the Whites have fallen from aspiring champions to just another club fighting for promotion in the Championship.
Of course, Leeds fans still hate former chairman Peter Risdale, whose plan to gamble on taking massive loans for regular European football and big star signings was largely responsible for their downfall!
Leeds, during their golden run in the Premier League and in Europe, had players such as Mark Viduka (rescued Leeds from relegation with a winner against Arsenal in 2002-03) and Alan Smith (faded away after showing early promise), plus signings such as Rio Ferdinand (an £18 million British transfer record at that time!), which ensured that the Whites had a squad capable of challenging Europe’s finest.
Leeds did reach their first European semifinal in 25 years in the 1998 UEFA Cup when they lost to Galatasaray. They followed that up with a brilliant showing in the 2001 Champions League, where they once again reached the semifinal stages before losing to Valencia.
That loss arguably started Leeds’ downfall, as that semifinal exit, coupled with their failure to qualify for Europe the following season, were the main reasons for Risdale’s gamble backfiring, as the club went into a financial crisis due to their inability to pay back investors.
Leeds were forced to sell off key players like Ferdinand, which left the club’s passionate fans fuming, given that the club was doing business with Manchester United, one of their biggest rivals.
Though they narrowly escaped relegation in the 2002-03 season thanks to Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka’s final day heroics against Arsenal, the inevitable followed the coming season, and Leeds were relegated to the Championship following a dismal Premier League season under then manager Eddie Gray.
Players like Viduka and Smith were sold off as free agents, and Leeds United moved from a club aiming for European glory to one battling to survive massive debts and player exits.
The club’s woes did not end there, as Leeds slipped down even further when they were relegated to the third tier of English football in 2007 following administration.
Leeds did manage to bounce back to the Championship in the coming years following some managerial changes, but the future for the Elland Road club surely does not look as promising now as it did in previous years.
While it may be too premature to predict whether Leeds can regain their glory of yore in the coming years, the first step for the Whites would definitely be to regain promotion back to the Premier League.
And who knows, a good run in the Championship plus promotion to the Premier League could just help kick-start a new era for the Elland Road faithful!