Are Leeds Back for Good?
20 Jul 2021 03:51 pm, by YorkshireSquare
After a long time away from the top flight, 2020-21 saw Leeds return to the Premier League for the first time in nearly two decades. In the club’s opening game, it nearly caused upset having challenged reigning champions, Liverpool, in a game that ultimately finished 4-3 but had been neck and neck until an 88th-minute penalty put the reds ahead. But should Leeds fans be on tenterhooks, in fear that history could repeat itself? Or are Leeds back in the Premier League for good?
What Do Oddsmakers Think?
At present, the bookmakers don’t seem to think Leeds will suffer in 2021-22. In the Premier League relegation futures market, the Yorkshire side has similar odds to West Ham at 11/1, while Aston Villa has been given 9/1. Leeds fans that are a bit more optimistic, may prefer to look at the “Top 4” market. The club has been given odds of 12/1, putting it on par with Everton. Rising from 9th into 4th may be a big ask, but it has been done in the past. Many fans that do back the club this year will likely choose to take advantage of free bet promotions when they place their wagers to get more value.
Of course, bookies employ huge teams of oddsmakers, pundits, and statisticians to help them make predictions about the Premier League, and if you’re a Leeds fan you will be buoyed by the conclusions they’ve come to. But will they be right?
“Doing a Leeds”
In 2003-04, Leeds United were relegated from the Premier League after more than a decade in the top tier of English football. The year before the creation of the Premier League, the club won the Division 1 title, and after poor form, the following year, had a number of strong seasons, including a 3rd place Premier League finish in 1999-2000 and several appearances in European competitions.
Much of this performance came from heavy investment through the late 1990s and early 2000s in the hopes that success on the pitch would deliver greater financial returns. While it initially worked, the team missed out on qualifying for the Champions League by finishing 5th in the 2001-02 Premier League season. Unfortunately, losing out on the Champions League wasn't (and still isn’t) just a missed opportunity to pick up silverware. It is a huge financial blow, as just appearing in the competition pays a lot of money. In the upcoming 2021-22 season, all teams in the group stages will receive €15.64 million (£13.5 million) just for turning up.
Of course, back in 2002, that figure would have been less, but the figures are similar when you adjust for inflation. In contrast, appearing in the group stages of the Europa League today earns teams just €3.63 million (£3.1 million), a huge drop in income. It’s this hole that created problems for Leeds, forcing it to engage in a fire sale of players to service its debt repayments. This, naturally, created a vicious circle of decline for the club, as fewer talented players led to a decline in on-pitch performance and its ultimate relegation. The club had further to fall still though, entering administration in 2006-07, taking a 10-point deduction, and being relegated to League One, the first time the team had been in the third tier of English football. Leeds was an unfortunate test case for other clubs to learn from and the term “doing a Leeds” has been coined for when other teams have suffered a similar fate.
Over the following decade and a half, Leeds has slowly worked its way back up. In the early 2010s, it looked as though the club would soon be returning, but hopes were dashed as it hovered mid-table in the Championship until the 2019-20 season when it won the league and earned promotion back into the Premier League. After an explosive first game against Liverpool that set the tone for both clubs’ 2020-21 seasons, Leeds had a number of great games, including 4-3 victory over Fulham, a 1-0 win against Sheffield United, and a 1-1 draw against eventual title winners Manchester City. The club went on to beat Everton, Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, and Burnley before the end of the season.
Leeds fans walked away from the 2020-21 season pretty happy with how their first year back at the top of the pyramid went. Few are worried about relegation, and many are hopeful that it could provide a springboard to further progression in the coming seasons. Justifiably so too, and as we’ve seen, the bookies seem to agree with them right now.
Marcelo Bielsa has been making some changes over the summer, with several weeks left before the transfer window closes, more are expected. Júnior Firpo is the most expensive transfer so far. The left-back joins the club from Barcelona and has cost Leeds £13.50 million. Joining him in defence will be Jack Harrison. The 24-year-old left-winger had been on loan to Leeds from Manchester City, but after 119 appearances and 18 goals since 2018, Bielsa has decided to keep him for a fee of £11.52 million.
Several other players have been linked with a move to Elland Road. One of these is Noni Madueke, a right-winger with dual English and Nigerian citizenship. He currently plays for the Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, but it is believed the club is asking upwards of £20 million to give their blessing to his departure. It doesn’t look like Leeds are planning to make wholesale changes to the squad, and nor should it. After all, the current lineup is clearly working well and no one wants a repeat of the past.
The chances of Leeds “doing a Leeds” are certainly not nil, it’s impossible to predict the future, but the club does look like it’s in a strong position for the upcoming season and possibly the next few years as well. Are Leeds back in the top flight of English football for good? We certainly hope the bookies are proven right