WHEN IT COMES TO ENGLISH FOOTBALL, Leeds United are one of the most historic and iconic institutions and they attract fans from across the globe. From their success in the 1970s to the presence of a number of leading Socceroos players, Leeds have long been one of the most popular English football clubs with Australian football fans. But 15 years since a side containing Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell almost shocked the world on their way to the semi-finals of the Champions League, Leeds find themselves struggling in the second tier of English football and seemingly as far away from their glory days as they have ever been.
So what has happened to one of the most famous names in world football, and just how far away are they from making their long-awaited return to the Premier League?
Having spent above their means in search of Peter Ridsdale’s now much publicised “dream”, Leeds found themselves in League One after a financial meltdown that saw the squad that had come so close to winning the Premier League stripped bare. The loss of all the homegrown players who had been key to the club’s success, as well as the expensive signings that played a part in the financial issues, left Leeds all but starting again in the third tier of English football. After securing promotion back into the Championship in 2010, aside from a seventh place finish the following year, a string of mid-table finishes has followed, with Leeds facing the prospect of yet another season being all but over by March, with no possibility of some end-of-season excitement.
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With odds of around 200/1 with 32Red Australia at the time this article was produced to mount a late charge towards promotion this season, this is another year in which Leeds fans have been forced to watch as their team sit closer to the bottom of the table than the top. While there is still a chance Steve Evans’ men can sneak into the play-offs, based on current form, it could be a third 15th place finish in a row for the Yorkshire club. The Scottish manager took over from Uwe Rosler in October but has failed to turn around a season that has never really got going. Despite the loss of Sam Byram in the January transfer window, the club managed to hang onto the rest of the talented youngsters who have been the only real positive to come out of the past couple of years.
For those Leeds fans who wanted their club to be known for their exploits on the pitch rather than matters off it, Massimo Cellino’s purchase of the club in January of 2014 wasn’t what they needed. Renowned in his native Italy for his behaviour during his reign as Cagliari owner, he didn’t waste time in shaking things up at Elland Road. While it’s clear change was needed at a club that hasn’t been in the top tier of English football since 2004, there are only a few Leeds fans who wanted this sort of change. Having gone through five managers in just over two years in charge, the Italian owner has failed to deliver on any of the promises he made after taking over the club. The recent fan protests show the current discontent at Elland Road has only increased this year.
For those long suffering Leeds fans around the world, including Australia, the only real glimmer of hope lies at the feet on the latest batch of talented youngsters coming through the ranks at the club. Closer to the relegation zone than the playoffs, priced at around 50/1 with 32Red or NetBet to drop into the bottom three before the end of this season, unless there is significant investment, it’s hard to see just when they will return to the Premier League.
In Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt, Leeds have three of the most exciting young players in English football. The problem for the club in recent history has been the fact that it usually isn’t long before one of the Premier League big boys comes knocking. That could well be the case with this trio. Sam Byram was the first of the bunch to leave in January, and the right-back has already shown during his short West Ham career that he has what it takes to be a hit in the Premier League.