Europe’s elite clubs could learn a thing or two from Leeds United

AS a football fan, it’s rare that you get the chance to sit back and simply enjoy a match without the gnawing, existential dread of what the result could ultimately mean; as a Leeds fan, it’s practically unheard of.

Saturday, 8th May 2021, 4:45 am
Europe's elite could learn a thing or two from Leeds United. Picture: Rui Vieira - Pool/Getty Images

And yet here we are, comfortably safe with games to spare and, save the odd blip here and there (who wants to beat Brighton anyway?), going toe to toe with the cream of the Premier League crop.

After decades of tumult and torture, it’s oddly unnerving to be luxuriating in the warm waters of top flight safety, secure in the knowledge that on stepping from the pool there’ll be a beaming, bespectacled Argentinian waiting to swaddle us in soft towels before reassuring us, in soothing tones, that everything is going to be alright.

Ok, maybe the towels were a fever dream too far, but it’s impossible not to get carried away with our sensational form against the self-proclaimed ‘Big Six’; draws with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and the Salford Reds coupled with a stunning unbeaten record versus Manchester City (a feat accomplished by none of the other 29 teams they’ve faced in England or Europe this season) demonstrate what a successful formula Marcelo Bielsa has struck upon. The ‘Big Six’, in contrast, find themselves treading shark-infested waters in which they themselves are both the hapless sharks and flailing swimmers.

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The supremely ill-conceived European Super League, which lasted all of 48 inglorious hours (the same duration, incidentally, as my current deodorant claims to work) has highlighted a number of awkward truths. The most awkward, of course, is that despite having not won a league title since 1961, Spurs still consider themselves a big club.

There are more pressing concerns that project ESL raised too: the jaw dropping debts Europe’s biggest clubs are racking up in pursuit of on-field success; the closed-shop approach of a league that favours preservation of an elite minority over the highs and lows of sporting competition; and most worryingly of all, the complete lack of consultation with supporters regarding what would have amounted to a seismic shift in the sport we all love.

Understandably, many Leeds fans were quick to call for sanctions on the rebellious six. Hefty financial penalties, points deductions and ritualistic humiliation have, until all too recently, been the order of the day at Elland Road.

Heck, we even got fined for sending our resident ornithologist on a field trip to Derbyshire.

Whilst I’d revel in such punishments meted out in the direction of a certain Lancashire outfit, it strikes me that what’s really needed is a sea change in the philosophy underpinning football clubs at the highest level.

And for a shining example of how this already works, look no further than Leeds United.

Having been shunted from one shyster to another over the past decade-and-a-half, its taken current owner Andrea Radrizzani and his passionate, sensitive approach to finally steer us back to the kind of football some feared would never grace Elland Road again in their lifetime.

Spending within our means, striving to understand the culture of the club and above all listening to fans has been the underpinning of Radz’s success, and the transformation has been startling. For the first time in a generation, fans once more feel like an integral part of the club rather than an asset to be exploited and maligned. Both on the pitch and off it, pride has been restored.

It’s a lesson that Europe’s elite would do well to heed.