Leeds United nostalgia: Bitter end after seven successful seasons

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Eirik Bakke’s exit from Leeds United made more headlines than his initial transfer.

The bitter manner of his departure in 2006 obscured the value of Leeds’ shrewd move to sign him seven years earlier.

Bakke is synonymous with an era of success and excess at Elland Road and his contract was a millstone that Leeds ultimately refused to carry.

But he was not responsible for breaking the bank.

A 21-year-old at the time of his £1.75m transfer from Sogndal in Norway, the midfielder went on to play in UEFA Cup and Champions League semi-finals, a quiet influence in David O’Leary’s purple patch.

He was built for the Premier League and for European competition – reasonably quick, strong in the tackle and a hard, aggressive runner on his better days. O’Leary liked him so much that he later took him on loan from Leeds to Aston Villa, relieving United temporarily of an earner they could not afford.

Bakke came to Leeds in 1999 as a Norwegian Under-21 international and the plan was to blend him slowly into an already strong midfield. “He was a player who I didn’t want to expose too quickly,” O’Leary said, “but he emerged with great credit.”

David Batty and David Hopkin succumbed to injuries soon after his move and Hopkin was later sold. In his first season, Bakke played 44 times though O’Leary admitted towards the end of that term that the midfielder had “hit the wall mentally.”

An under-rated presence whose skill on the ball sometimes outweighed the quality of his passing game, he scored twice in the second leg of Leeds’ fateful UEFA Cup semi-final against Galatasaray and was largely immovable during their Champions League run, starting 10 of the 18 games that United played in the competition proper.

He continued to make his presence felt in the post-O’Leary years but spent increasing amounts of time with Leeds’ medical staff as injuries consumed him.

More concerning for Leeds was the size of his salary and the challenge of paying it in the wake of their relegation from the Premier League. Bakke’s move to SK Brann in August 2006 was a long time coming and extremely public.

A few weeks earlier, United stated openly that they were no longer prepared to play Bakke, citing his £4,000 appearance bonus as a prohibitive cost. Bakke fought against attempts to move him on before the closure of the transfer window but eventually conceded that he had no active future at Leeds.

“More than anything it’s nice to be with a club where you’re wanted,” he said after ending a seven-year stint in Yorkshire. “That wasn’t the case at Leeds and I had no choice but to leave. I couldn’t afford to go for months without a game.

“Perhaps if they had come to me and talked about dropping my wages we could have sorted something out but that never happened. I think they’d decided they wanted me to go.”

Leeds United boss Paul Heckingbottom is under no illusions at the task ahead of him at Elland Road.

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