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TO ELL-AND BACK The fall and rise of Leeds United provides a cautionary tale for all Premier League clubs


Marcelo Bielsa brought Leeds up as champions (Tim Goode/PA)

Marcelo Bielsa brought Leeds up as champions (Tim Goode/PA)


Marcelo Bielsa brought Leeds up as champions (Tim Goode/PA)

THREE key ingredients are required to concoct a winning sporting mix – and Leeds United offered up a glaring example of what can go wrong when one is missing.

If players win matches on the pitch, and managers mastermind their success, the Leeds story has highlighted what can happen when a poison is injected into the mix from the boardroom.

They may be back in the Premier League at last, but the tale of how they fell from their perch and threatened to drown in their own misery should be used as evidence that even the mightiest can fall when given a push.

Leeds will take on Chelsea on Saturday evening in a match that will stir so many distant emotions for supporters, with memories of the oft-mentioned a tough-tackling 1970 FA Cup played out between the two sides a snapshot of football from a different era.


Marcelo Bielsa (left) and Frank Lampard have endured a tough relationship (Simon Cooper/PA)

Marcelo Bielsa (left) and Frank Lampard have endured a tough relationship (Simon Cooper/PA)

Marcelo Bielsa (left) and Frank Lampard have endured a tough relationship (Simon Cooper/PA)

The city is the biggest one in England by population with only one football club, and the people of Leeds are immensely proud of, and loyal to, the side taken to the heights by Don Revie half a century ago.

Back then, the Elland Road club was a member of the Premier League’s original ‘top six’ and had a vast fan base to back up their reputation.

Yet, while so many of their rivals have thrived in the Premier League era, Leeds blew their chance to cash in on their potential.

Instead, they slumped into a deep depression on and off the pitch that threatened their very existence.

Such was the level of financial mismanagement at Elland Road, that the final champions of the old Football League First Division title in 1992 came close to a desperate demise barely a decade-and-a-half later.

The name of former chairman Peter Ridsdale will forever be etched in infamy, as his misguided and naive spending splurge failed to take Leeds to the promised land. Instead, it edged them to the brink of extinction.

Relegation to the Championship symbolised the first stage of their financial collapse in 2004, and, with insolvency experts safeguarding the future of one of the great names of English football, saviours were required to bring Leeds back from the edge of the abyss.

Sadly, just at the moment when it seemed as if their plight could not get any worse, second and third waves of a menacing virus swept through the club and left a trail of utter devastation in its wake.

The abrasive Ken Bates was the first unsuitable candidate to acquire Leeds for a cut-price fee in 2005, and, having driven Chelsea to the brink of financial ruin before he found a buyer in Roman Abramovich, he oversaw a similarly calamitous story at Leeds.

Administration and relegation to the third tier of English football followed and the crisis did not improve as yet more boardroom mismanagement reached farcical levels during the shambolic reign of Massimo Cellino as the Leeds owner between 2014 and 2017.

Seven managers came and went in double quick time under the dubiously-qualified Cellino, with the sickening roller-coaster ride no Leeds fans enjoyed ending when Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani was announced as the new owner in May 2017.

Chairman and owner of broadcasting group Eleven Sport, Radrizzani brought a pragmatic and much more financially prudent approach to Leeds that had been sadly lacking during the previous 15 years of mismanagement.

Having made his fortune as he learned the inner workings of football through his business that oversaw the sale and distribution of TV rights for the game around the world, Radrizzani immediately served up a long-term vision on how Leeds should be run.

Financial planning and caution in the boardroom was a policy mapped out by Radrizzani, with his appointment of legendary Argentinian tactician Marcelo Bielsa the masterstroke that inspired a Premier League return for Leeds last summer.


Chairman Andrea Radrizzani is not after a quick fix. Photo: Alex Dodd/Getty Images

Chairman Andrea Radrizzani is not after a quick fix. Photo: Alex Dodd/Getty Images

CameraSport via Getty Images

Chairman Andrea Radrizzani is not after a quick fix. Photo: Alex Dodd/Getty Images

Yet, that moment of glory was not the trigger for Radrizzani to return to the old ways of boom-and- bust transfer activity.

They had learned their lesson. Leeds no longer feel that their name alone makes them worthy of a place among the game’s elite.

“First of all, we wanted to get Leeds back into the Premier League, and now we are here, the plan will not change too much,” stated Radrizzani in a lengthy zoom call with reporters.

“I would say we will be similar to Sheffield United and what they have done in the last couple of seasons, and that means running the club sensibly.

“It’s not only about the money. We must keep the structure and the foundation we have built over two years. I hope we can stay in the Premier League for two years, that is the first target.

“After that first cycle of two years, I think we will be ready to step up and close the gap with the bigger teams. Obviously, my objective, if I look at a period of three, five years, is to be just behind the top six, but that is the future.

“Even if we do well – and I believe we have a team that can do well – our ambition is to be stable in the Premier League, nothing more for now.

“You don’t win all the points we have in two seasons in the Championship, and stay in the top-three positions for two years consecutively, if you don’t have a good foundation and good players at the club. So we don’t want to change too much,” added Radrizzani.

“The past has shown the teams who change too much are not succeeding often – and why should we change if we have a good, competitive team?

“For me, the club is my priority, not myself. I want to be the leader and the custodian of this club, but my priority is to bring this Leeds to where it belongs.”

Owners tend only to capture the headlines when supporters are looking for a scapegoat for failure, yet the mastermind behind the Leeds comeback should certainly be lauded for a very different reason.

So, while Bielsa deserved to be hailed as the footballing hero who led Leeds back to the promised land as they lifted their Championship crown, Radrizzani deserves to be equally saluted for playing a seriously significant part in the story of the Leeds United revival.

It was a long time in the making.

Online Editors