Championship: Leeds United FC promoted to Premier League after 16-year absence



Leeds United have been promoted to the Premier League after 16 years away.

Their place in the top flight for next season was confirmed by West Brom’s 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield Town on Friday.

Leeds will now be crowned champions if Brentford do not beat Stoke on Saturday or the Whites then take a point from Sunday’s visit to Derby County.

Argentine Marcelo Bielsa has led the Yorkshire side to promotion in his second season in charge after finishing third in the Championship in 2018-19.

Even allowing for the enforced break because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a campaign where Leeds have never really looked like repeating mistakes of previous seasons and they have not been outside the top two since November.

They had seemed set to win promotion last season only for back-to-back defeats by Wigan and Brentford to leave them third behind Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United, before a dramatic 4-3 play-off semi-final defeat by Derby.

After that setback, fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst about the future of Bielsa and the talented group of players he had assembled.

But he opted to remain with the club and together they have reaped the rewards.

The lowest of lows

It has been a long and often painful journey back to the Premier League for Leeds and their fans, who had seen their team reach the semi-final of the Champions League in 2001.

The club was in a dreadful financial position when they were relegated to the Championship in 2004 and though Kevin Blackwell – the first of 15 managers employed by Leeds since they were last in the top flight – steadied the ship initially and nearly took them back up in 2005-06, they were placed into administration in 2007 and went down to League One.

Worse was to come in the form of a 15-point deduction to start the following campaign and it took them three seasons to eventually win promotion back to the second tier under the management of Simon Grayson.

The revolving door

Grayson eventually made way for Neil Warnock, who lasted just a year before Brian McDermott was brought in.

McDermott came with a good reputation after bringing success to Reading but controversial new owner Massimo Cellino decided he wanted a head coach, not a manager, when he took over in 2014 and appointed former Forest Green boss David Hockaday.

He lasted just six games, as did Hockaday’s replacement Darko Milanic.

Neil Redfearn, Uwe Rosler and Steve Evans all quickly came and went before Garry Monk fell just short of getting the team into the play-offs in 2016-17 and promptly left.

Dane Thomas Christiansen started well but faded badly and was replaced by Paul Heckingbottom, who endured a difficult four months in charge.

El Loco brings stability

The appointment of world-renowned coach Bielsa in June 2018, by owner Andrea Radrizzani, brought a new spotlight to the club.

The veteran had been widely praised by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino for his techniques and meticulous nature and had worked with Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao during his long career.

Leeds started the 2018-19 season brilliantly with few teams able to cope with their high tempo pressing and incisive passing.

Even allowing for the controversy that occurred in January, when Bielsa admitted he had sent a member of staff to watch all the other clubs in the division train, they seemed set to end their long wait for promotion.

However, they fell away badly at the end of the regular season before the Rams got the better of them in a play-off classic.

There was to be no denying them in 2019-20 though and they once more find themselves back in football’s elite.

‘The best manager in the world’ – Leeds players celebrate promotion

One of the key figures in Leeds’ success this season has been homegrown midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

The 24-year-old told BBC Radio Leeds he was struggling to put the promotion feeling into words.

“It’s crazy,” Phillips added. “When the manager first came in I never thought I would be in this position two years down the line.

“The manager and the coaching staff are a massive part of that. He’s the best manager in the world. There’s no manager I would rather be under than Marcelo Bielsa right now.

“At an age when I’m trying to develop, he’s the perfect manager to have. The Premier League is the best league in the world and, after 16 years, we’re back in there.”

Captain Liam Cooper said promotion took Leeds back to “where we’ve always belonged”.

“It’s unbelievable and it’s still not properly sunk in,” he told BBC Radio Leeds. “Our club, our fans and our players have sacrificed so much – we’ve been in the doldrums for 16 years.

“To be part of this team and to lead this team to promotion back to where we know we’ve always belonged is unbelievable.

“We deserve it – we’ve been the best team all season on a consistent level and we’ve got the job done. We set out to get promoted and now we want to go and be champions and lift that trophy.”

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