London (AFP) – Leeds United were promoted to the Premier League on Friday after West Bromwich Albion’s 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield ensured the Championship leaders will end their 16-year exile from the top-flight.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side were able to celebrate promotion without kicking a ball as second placed Albion’s failure to take three points guaranteed Leeds will finish in the top two.
West Brom fell behind to Chris Willock’s early goal and although Dara O’Shea equalised, Emile Smith-Rowe won it for struggling Huddersfield in the 86th minute.
“We are back. Leeds United are Premier League,” the club said on their Twitter account moments after the final whistle.
Leeds are points five clear at the top and they can clinch the Championship title with a draw against Derby at Pride Park on Sunday.
A tense 1-0 win over Barnsley at Elland Road, secured by Michael Sollbauer’s own goal, had moved Leeds to the brink of promotion on Thursday.
Now they can look forward to renewing old rivalries with Manchester United and Chelsea next season.
Bielsa has earned iconic status in west Yorkshire after the Leeds boss finally put his club back on the football map.
Leeds are one of England’s biggest clubs, with their legion of fanatical fans following them around the country and regularly attracting home crowds of over 30,000 despite years of underachievement.
Their long-awaited return to the top tier completes a turbulent journey that saw them become a laughing stock when they languished in third tier obscurity.
Leeds have been away from the Premier League for so long that Twitter and Instagram didn’t exist the last time they played in the top-flight.
Leeds went through 14 different managers following their 2004 relegation from the Premier League, until the sleeping giant was awoken by former Lazio and Marseille boss Bielsa.
He led Leeds within touching distance of promotion in his first season, but they crumbled in the final weeks and were beaten in the play-of semi-finals by Derby.
Notorious for working his players so hard in training that they often burn out by the end of the season, Bielsa has benefitted from the coronavirus hiatus allowing his players to come back refreshed for the final furlong of the promotion race this term.
– Moment to savour –
In typically contrary style, the 64-year-old Argentine said he wouldn’t watch Leeds’ rivals on television to see if promotion would be wrapped up.
But no matter where Bielsa heard the news of Leeds’ return to the big time, it was moment to savour after such a long period in the shadows.
Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Don Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.
But since being relegated from the top tier, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.
Describing the club’s ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had “lived the dream.”
Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.
No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa, nicknamed El Loco for his intense personality, is so beloved after just two years in charge.
Bielsa has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the ‘Damned United’ by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as ‘Dirty Leeds’ in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Revie era.
Leeds’ Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani has embraced that chequered past and now his club can do battle with the elite once again.
“For Leeds, we have a history of being ‘Dirty Leeds’ and we actually channel that,” Radrizzani told FIFA’s Professional Football Journal recently.
“All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds player.”
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