Saturday, August 08, 2020
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Dirty Leeds Get Clean?

Marcelo Bielsa (via Indian Express)

 

With the fiscal state of football again making the news, & perhaps the best-known example of such mismanagement reaching its centenary year & being on the cusp of automatic promotion back to the promised land, helped by a 3-1 win at fellow former Premier League stalwarts Blackburn on Saturday), what better time than now to take a metaphorical walk past the imposing statues of both Don Revie & captain Billy Bremner outside Elland Road. Permanent reminders of former glories, & a time when the men in white were far from pearly…

  

 

The rot began setting in at the dawn of the new millennium against a backdrop of two narrow failures to finish in the Champions League places. Costly failures indeed given that then chairman, Peter Ridsdale, had taken out loans staked against first making it to Europe's top table & then progressing further. But while their record under David O'Leary, who had replaced George Graham after the Scot decided to return south & take the Tottenham job, was commendable up to that point, the fairy-tale of never finishing outside the top five in the league & getting to the semi-finals of both the UEFA Cup & Champions League during his tenure couldn't last.

 

 

How spectacular the implosion would be continued to be felt long after the Irishman was sacked to make way for Terry Venables following a public falling out with the chairman over the handling of the eventual sale of the club. The promotion of O’Leary from assistant manager, once Graham departed, began with a fourth place finish in the 1998-99 season, securing a first taste of modern day European football before bowing out to Galatasaray in 1999-2000.

 

 

It was a knockout blow overshadowed by the murders of Kevin Speight & Christopher Loftus in shocking scenes of violence in Istanbul before the match. The culmination of a run which had seen them past Partizan Belgrade, Lokomotiv & Spartak Moscow, Roma & Slavia Prague, curtailed in a contest that probably felt like an afterthought given the circumstances.

 

 

Domestically there was some cheer at least as a third place Premier League finish brought with it the carrot of the Champions League, with the resulting 2000-01 campaign finding them unlucky semi-finalists once more in losing to Valencia. Finishing fourth in the Premier League in its wake was bad news for Ridsdale, who had at that stage borrowed around £60 million.

 

 

If there was any ill feeling behind the scenes, at this point it was well hidden. Leeds started the 2001-02 season in just about the best possible fashion, finding themselves at the summit of the league by 1st of January 2002 before something of a slump in the second half of the campaign saw them drop into fifth- meaning another UEFA Cup place & most likely cold sweats in the boardroom....

 

 

Nevertheless, by June of the same year O'Leary had spent around £100 million in just under four years in the Elland Road dugout with precious little return in terms of trophies. He had also hardly helped himself in the wake of Lee Bowyer & Jonathan Woodgate's much-publicised Leeds city centre assault on an Asian student by writing a book, unsubtly titled Leeds On Trial, which the chairman & some supporters saw as an attempt to make money off the back of bad publicity for the club. Hardly surprising, perhaps, that by the summer he was gone.

 

 

Yet despite his acrimonious departure he bore them no ill will in hindsight, even saying he would jump at the chance to return to the Elland Road dugout after Ridsdale had turned tail & fled!

 

 

Many of the younger players he had promoted to the first team soon followed him out of the door having been reared on the pressing game he favoured during his tenure. The likes of Paul Robinson, Steven McPhail, Alan Smith & Harry Kewell given senior starts alongside signings like David Batty, returning home in a sense from Newcastle, Michael Duberry from Chelsea, Danny Mills of Charlton Athletic following in Bowyer's footsteps in swapping the Valley for Elland Road, Celtic's Mark Viduka & reluctant departure from Liverpool Robbie Fowler joining former team-mate Dominic Matteo among others, over the course of many openings of Ridsdale's chequebook during his tenure.

 

 

Prophetically, the first inroads into trying to sort out a club by then running on a net loss of around £15 million was the sale of a player whose purchase had heralded the start of the spree. Rio Ferdinand left West Ham in November 2000 for a fee of £18 million, which at that point made him the world's most expensive defender. He got that particular record back upon the agreement of a £30 million transfer to Manchester United in July 2002- £20 million the fee to secure the move with the rest in add-ons as originally agreed before dire straits forced Leeds to accept a single payment of £34 million after he had made 54 appearances in two seasons as a Whites player, scoring two goals.

 

 

Within two years his old club were relegated, Woodgate's sale to Newcastle for £9 million the following year starting something of a managerial merry go round as then incumbent Venables walked away having been assured by the man who appointed him that the player would not leave the club. He was followed by Peter Reid initially as caretaker & then a permanent appointment before he too bit the bullet, Eddie Gray following on as caretaker basis before the fall through the trapdoor into the Championship at the end of the 2003-04 season was the spur for a massive rebuilding project under his successor Kevin Blackwell.

 

 

Forced to rely on free transfers having seen the majority of the club's final Premier League playing staff either sold or released on frees of their own- Elland Road itself & the Thorp Arch training ground leaving the club's hands just to hammer home the feeling of freefall after a lucky escape in 2002-03- Viduka hitting the winner in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Highbury in the penultimate game, which kept them up.

 

 

Lessons failed to be learnt, though, as Leeds eventually fell even further both into the hands of Ken Bates & League One after disastrous spells as manager for both John Carver & Dennis Wise, forced to rely on loans & free transfers once again.

 

 

Arguably, stability has only now returned under the much heralded stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa, current owner Andrea Radrizzani keeping the faith after another helter skelter with Massimo Cellino holding the reins & Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanič, Neil Redfearn, Uwe Rösler & Steve Evans among those thrown off.

 

 

Garry Monk fell on his sword after a seventh place Championship finish in his sole season, following the most recent takeover on 25 May 2017. And now ‘dirty Leeds’ are finally getting clean, we might say, & bouncing back in suitable style under El Loco- a neat nickname & indeed summing up of what went before.

 

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