Leeds United FC: the fall of Icarus and the worst year for the team in the history of the English Football League
Truth is in the next: the higher you take off, the harder it is to fall. The history of Leeds United, resembling a sine wave, is filled with both bright and rapid ups and painful falls. In principle, from the point of view of the development of something, this is quite a normal and natural process – for example, in the memory of many clubs there were failures and embarrassments, then reorganization and a triumphant return to the football sky. Unfortunately, for the time being you cannot say the same about Peacocks – from the moment when United entered a steep and, it seems, fatal peak, almost thirteen years have passed.
The drawing of the English Premier League 2003/04 turned out to be truly unique – which is worth only one phenomenal championship of the London Arsenal. And while Arsene Wenger bathed in glory, inscribing his name in golden letters in the history of English football, and Roman Abramovich was resting with Jose Mourinho on a multimillion-dollar yacht, deathly silence reigned three hundred kilometers from the capital – it was a local Leeds, hitting a debt pit, fell in Championship
It was painful to look at United – a team torn to pieces, with vague prospects for the future and, surprisingly, for the first time with a broken character. Wait, it’s Leeds! Isn’t that the team that personally awarded the champions medals in May 1999 to the worst enemy in the red part of Manchester? Then, David O’Leary’s “chicks” in their home walls, thanks to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s only goal, knocked out his teeth beautifully to the aforementioned Gunners and allowed Sir Alex Ferguson to get closer to the design of the famous demanded.
Past and future
Admit, that daring, but incredibly charming Leeds fell in love at first sight and, it seems, forever – crowds of fans, before refusing to fill the stands of Elland Road, were full of joy from playing completely “green”, thrown into the battle practically from Alan Smith’s school bench. We all know such names as Jonathan Woodgate, Ian Hart and Harry Kewell. Lukas Radebe watched the quick-tempered and hungry youth to win, as if the educator watched a seasoned captain helped O’Leary “wedge” newbies into the lineup and motivate them correctly. And, as we see, the South African was able to motivate quite well – the Peacocks amazed with their uncompromisingness, a fusion of youthful max and experience, as well as a desire to be realized in the eyes of the football community.
Do you remember the 2000/01 Champions League? On the adventures of the Yorkshire club in Europe, you can safely make a film, because in the role of victims were Milan, Besiktas, Anderlecht and Lazio, with Spanish and Barcelona facing real and unexpected rebuff. As a result, Leeds rushed headlong into the semifinals of the most prestigious club tournament of the Old World, but sadly stumbled on Hector Cooper’s Valencia – the double of Juan Sanchez and the goal of Gaiski Mendieta put an end to Belykh’s dreams.
According to most critics and experts, that year was the peak in the modern history of Leeds, after which there was a recession. Well, if he was in the football players and their psychology, but O’Leary himself, and Peter Club Reedsdale, the chairman of the club, put less weight on the wheels of United.
The functionary, relying on a succession of successful results, decided to issue a series of credits and thus complete the team, and pay off with the bankers the profits from the Champions League performances. You do not find this act very risky? Hoping for a team is such a complex and changeable mechanism, largely dependent on the manager and circumstances — stupid, unprofessional and adventurous. Especially Ridsdale, feeling the will to money, treated the acquisitions with waste – the purchase of Rio Ferdinand cost £ 18 million (world transfer record for the defender as of 2001), Olivier Dakura – five, and striker Mark Widuke – 6 million pounds Sterling. Costly replenishment entailed an increase in wages for the “old guard” to avoid disagreements among the rest of the wards – O’Leary thought that he would take care of the microclimate in the locker room.
And indeed – United gave just unreal, memorable season of the Champions League, but they failed, much to the chagrin of the fans, to book himself a place in the next rally, finishing in the Premier League on the fourth line. The most annoying thing is that from the third place where Liverpool Gerard Houllier is comfortably located, Leeds fell behind only one credit point. The Reedsdale plan for payments, like a house of cards, has collapsed. It was soon announced that the club’s negative balance was eighty million pounds.
The land beneath Ridsdale was burning, but Peter, trying to save his own skin, put out, as he thought, at the moral tearing of the press and O’Leary fans. “After four years of successful work in our David O’Leary club, under the influence of external factors, we made a joint decision that a change of coach would benefit the club,” he said. But the coach’s alleged flogging did not take place – David’s authority was so great in the eyes of the fans of the Yorkshire club. “Now many people remember my work in the Premier League, and I only remember this: Leeds and 40 thousand people who applauded me when I was walking along the field. I left them in the top five teams in the country,” O’Leary admitted, recalling the feeling of parting with the team, the stadium and the people he loved.
Fortunately, fate put everything in its place – despite the fact that David has long been on loose bread, he is very honored in Leeds, where he is a true living legend. What can’t be said about Ridsdale – in 2012, the former chairman of Belykh, who had nearly ditched, and in turn did not let Barnsley and Cardiff City around the world, got into a tax-evasion scandal and, until 2020, was not entitled to hold the position of general director in any another club or structure. However, this man has not retired from football-related matters – at the moment Peter is working in Preston North End, since he is listed there as the “football director”.
At the time of Reedsdale’s departure in April of 2003, Leeds firmly sat down at the bottom of the standings and trudged in fifteenth place, even then, miraculously avoiding relegation, while the debt did not decrease, but on the contrary increased by another twenty million. Newly elected President John Mackenzie was unable to take effective action, but he had to say goodbye to Woodgate, fearful referees and opponents on the field, Lee Boyer and Kewell. It became clear that Leeds was teetering on the edge of the abyss, although they still tried to keep up the good work at the club. But someday it should have ended. Agony Pavlinov lasted until the thirty-sixth round of the Premier League season 2003/04 – April 2, 2004 Alan Smith cried. The reason is very simple – it was Bolton at home that with a confident victory with a score of 4: 1 deprived Leeds of the mathematical chances of preserving the desired “registration” in the elite.
“Tears in the eyes of one of the key players of Leeds, Alan Smith, announced that along with the defeat from Bolton the club lost its last chance to save a place in the Premier League. Fourteen years, Leeds has played recent roles among the strongest teams of Albion. It is hard to believe that three years ago the club was not inferior to the main characters of the Champions League. However, the disastrous financial situation, which forced the management to sell most of the stars, did its job.
You know so well what happened next. With the hammer went all – training fields, base, stadium. Almost all the players left, except for Gary Kelly and Radebe, who, like a true captain, with a sense of duty, went with the ship to the bottom. And tell me – many players who left Elland Road, still shone? Leeds was strong gang, spirit and light in his eyes.
There is no doubt that Leeds’s downfall was a revealing and even instructive lesson for the entire Premier League – the championship instantly lost a magnificent team, but in return, it changed significantly when huge money-raises made by various Abramovich or Sheikhs finally appeared on the horizon. The unsuccessful, chaotic policy of the Peacocks’ leadership and the absence of a sane business plan entailed changes in the general attitude of functionaries to football – now, in order not to “fly out”, as some have done, it is necessary either to calculate every step more thoroughly or to have real dividends. The same Arsenal, which gave us a magnificent and legendary season, eventually realized that without serious financial injections it is quite difficult to keep a high or at least satisfactory level. Agree, in today’s conditions of the sports factor sometimes frankly not enough – in the era of television rights, contracts and transfers bordering on insanity, problems are much better solved with a full wallet. Sorry, those are the realities of the market. Together with Leeds, the Premier League lost its romance, but gradually it became a new stage of development. It is possible that this is why we, ordinary fans, who are starving for the very same romance, kept their fists behind Leicester City so much last year.