Where did it all go wrong for Leeds United?

David O''Leary

In the heart of Yorkshire, there is a question burning inside every visitor to Elland Road, home of League One side, Leeds United Football Club. What has happened to our mighty, white army? Their fall from grace has to be one of the most interesting stories in English football.

Leeds United are still regarded as a Premier League 'classic' outfit, well as far as the history books go.

After winning the Division One League title in 1992, everyone thought they'd be pushing on for the new elite league crown - the Premier League as it was known then.

They had charismatic captain, Eric Cantona, the Frenchman who soon after winning the league with the Yorkshire team joined fierce rivals, Manchester United. It turned out to be a wise decision, as Cantona went on with his United team mates to dominate the English League for the nineties until his eventual retirement in 1998 and immortalise him as a Premier League legend.

A whole host of other names covered over Cantona's departure - Tony Yeboah, the scorer of two wonder goals that are replayed so often from the 1995-96 season which propelled the team to top spot for a month; Lucas Radebe, the strong presence at the back and Brian Deane, goal machine.

Although they didn't hit full league potential, they were producing some exciting displays throughout the nineties and early noughties, with so many key moments impacting other teams - Mark Viduka's late winner at Highbury effectively handing Manchester United the title in the 2002-03 season is one of the most key.

They had some outstanding young and promising players - Paul Robinson, Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Ian Harte, James Milner, Harry Kewell and Alan Smith to name a few. And when they reached the 2001-02 Champions League Semi Final against Valencia, every Leeds United fan dared to believe they could go all the way with an exciting team of young players led by manager, David O'Leary.

But then the cracks began to appear, and what transcended was a decade of financial crisis and relegations.

So what went so wrong?


OK, so it was before O'Leary's sacking but I believe this was pivotal to the demise of Leeds United's status at the top level of English football. Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, two of the rising stars were implicated in a street attack on a 21-year-old man in 2001.

After two trials, Woodgate was handed 100 hours community service and Bowyer was cleared. The club said it would deal with the matter further internally.

Jonathon Woodgate and Lee Bowyer of England

This court case over shadowed the club and to show solidarity to their players, the club forked out to pay for their defence fees. Although Woodgate and Bowyer paid this back eventually, this embarrassment to the club signalled not all was well with the Elland Road outfit and that the players were not disciplined enough off the field.


Leeds dismissed David O'Leary, and since have 19 appointments to the manager post, including 7 caretaker managers.

The names have ranged from the established to the unknown, with men like Terry Venables and Peter Reid to Simon Grayson and Darko Milanič.

Leeds United manager Terry Venables faces the press

This incredible change of management is sure to unsettle any club, with each man bringing in his own ideas, philsophy and tactics. In the case of Darko Milanič, he was only appointed for one month before Neil Redfern took over following his six games in charge without a win.


In 2007, Leeds United were relagated to League One following a 10 point deduction for going into administration after unpaid debts of £35 million.

The club was bought by a company named 'Leeds United Football Club Limited' which had three way ownership, one of them being Ken Bates.

Bates, known for his involvement with Chelsea Football Club pre-Roman Abramovich, was disliked by the fans. Although they were now effectively 'debt-free' his manner in owning and chairing the club was not how the fans thought it should be run.

Leeds United Press Conference

Protests were formed against him, putting pressure on him to resign.

This sort of pressure in a football club can have a massive effect on players, when instead of supporting the team on the pitch during games, the fans are going to war with the owners. Any promotion teams need strong leadership and harmony in the ranks.


I think probably the biggest issue at Leeds United has been the sale of it's promising stars.

When the debts started rising, they needed to start selling players to balance the sheets. Leeds Chairman, Peter Risdale took out huge loans on the belief that they would get huge TV rights and qualification to the Champions League. Neither happened, and when Leeds failed to qualify for Europe, the problem of dissolving the debt became clear.

Robbie Keane

The team that they had worked so hard to build up was being ripped apart. Rio Ferdinand went off to Manchester United, Lee Bowyer to West Ham, Robbie Fowler to Manchester City, Robbie Keane to Tottenham Hotspur, Harry Kewell to Liverpool . . . the list just goes on and on.

This sort of mass sale across two or three seasons completely destroys the foundations of a team and Leeds have felt the full effects.


Leeds United are a mountain away from where they should be with their rich history of football, and if we want to see them return to the big time, they will need a huge slice of luck, some good investment and a consistency with management.

News Now - Sport News