By 90Min
October 09, 2019

Astonishingly, it's been 15 years since Leeds United, Champions League semi-finalists in 2000, were relegated from the Premier League.

15 long, gruelling, tumultuous and desperately disappointing years if you're a Leeds United supporter.

But also a long 15 years for neutrals, who only years before had been thrilled by the emergence of a team bristling with fearless young talent who seemed destined to fire the club to the very top of English football.

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Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Michael Bridges, Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Keane, Paul Robinson and Ian Harte to name just a few of those former prodigies.

Sadly, the promise that was shown towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s failed to yield any silverware, and instead Leeds faded into the footballing wilderness after years of financial mismanagement and abysmal decision making.

Bankrupted and backed into a corner by the resulting firesale of playing talent, Leeds' crown jewels swiftly departed Elland Road and within four years of reaching the last four of European football's premier club competition, they were relegated.

To make matters worse, their free fall didn't stop there.

Just a year after losing out in the Championship playoff final to Watford, the Whites were relegated to the third tier of English football after finishing the 2006/07 season plum last.

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This sad state of affairs left the club a shadow of its former self, and the heady days of greats like Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner and Peter Lorimer a distant memory. Fingers were, and can still be,pointed at many figures off the field for the club's demise, but what's never been called into question has been the passion and loyalty of their fanbase.

Travelling up and down the country, either at a weekend or in midweek, Leeds' supporters have continued to back their side in their droves by selling out away allocations and offering vociferous support from the sidelines. Even at their lowest ebb over the past 15 years, the club have averaged home support in excess of 20,000.

Now, under the guidance of the methodic and, at times, absolutely hilarious Marcelo Bielsa, they are primed to push once more for another crack at the big time - backed by a near capacity crowd of 37,890 each week.

In Bielsa, they have a managerial maestro in charge - but not a man who shies away from controversy. For he is a man who walked out on Lazio after just two days in the job - prompting a €50m lawsuit to be launched against him for a breach of contract. 

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He is also a man whose next appointment at Lille ended in similarly acrimonious circumstances, as Bielsa was accused of telling senior players that he wanted to leave before the Ligue 1 season had even begun.

He is also a man who was, allegedly, confronted at his house in the early 1990s by a group of Newell's Old Boys ultras (a side from his native Argentina) following a 6-0 defeat - only for Bielsa to open the door with a grenade in his hand, threatening to pull the pin.

And if that wasn't enough, he was the man embroiled in the really quite funny 'Spygate' scandal involving Championship rivals Derby County during the 2018/19 Championship season.

Quite the footballing rap sheet.

But those mild indiscretions aside, Bielsa is also box office for all the right reasons - and appears to have offered the club two things they desperately needed. 

Stability and an identity.

His infatuation with the Dutch totaalvoetbal (Total Football) style of play, coupled with his never-say-die attitude to winning, has seen him achieve many things in his career - both at club and international level.

Leeds are the latest beneficiaries to his entertaining brand of football, though their progression has not come without hard work. From rank outsiders for promotion - in some circles at least - when he took charge, the 63-year-old has transformed Leeds into outright title favourites - continuing the good work carried out by Garry Monk during his solitary season in charge.

Really, last season should have been the coronation of Bielsa's side as champions, only for a late dip in form - and a real surge at the right time from both Norwich and Sheffield United - to cost them dearly. They were even railroaded out of the playoffs by, you guessed it, Derby.

This season, bigger and better things are expected of Leeds. At the time of writing, they sit fifth in the Championship on 20 points, trailing leaders West Brom by two. In fact, only four points separate the top ten after 11 games. Tight to say the least.

But the advantage Leeds have over their adversaries is having Bielsa at the helm. He's never been phased by anything in his career, and that's unlikely to start now. His players will work harder than anybody else, and continuity in selection could be the key in delivering a long overdue return to the top flight.

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In the words of Ander Herrera, who played for Bielsa at Athletic Club: "Our legs said 'stop'. We used to play always with the same players and were not at our best in the finals. We were a completely different team than we had been before because, to be honest, we were physically f****d."

"We played amazing football. Marcelo Bielsa should always be in football, because the view he has about football is amazing."

Continue applying those principles this season, and one of English football's sleeping giants could be ready to reclaim their seat among the elite.

For more from Toby Cudworth, follow him on Twitter!

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