Leeds United: Making Sense of What Went Wrong in the Club’s Relegation

The last time Leeds United were relegated from England’s top-flight, overspending and ultimately missing out on the Champions League had financially crippled the club. Run-ins with administration, football’s pantomime villain Ken Bates and a second relegation had seen a club dazzling in Europe’s ultimate competitions swap away trips to the San Siro and Mestalla to Stockport County and Yeovil Town.


It would take the Whites nearly two decades to climb back to the Premier League, but fans’ nightmares were realised as the stay at the top proved to be a fleeting visit. This time, Leeds’ relegation had looked inevitable for large parts of the season, with a culmination of errors meaning the previous season’s final day stay of execution merely delayed the inevitable by twelve months.


“I don’t have any doubt that we’ll avoid a similar situation to last season, it’s impossible” boasted chairman Andrea Radrizzani at the start of the campaign after a busy summer transfer window slammed shut. “We made mistakes,” is how relegation would be addressed.


The club had spent money, using the funds raised by the sales of Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha to finally rebuild a squad in need of an overhaul. In theory, anyway. Whilst US skipper Tyler Adams proved to be a success in West Yorkshire, others did not. Compatriot Brenden Aaronson hit the ground running but quickly fell away; struggling to get to grips with the physicality of the Premier League.


Former Red Bull Salzburg teammate Rasmus Kristensen proved to be no better than the inconsistent Luke Ayling, whilst hindering opportunities for highly rated youngster Cody Drameh to impress. The full-back would go on to win promotion with Luton Town during a loan spell in the second half of the season. The signature of Colombia star Luis Sinisterra was however seen as quite the coup at the time.


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Registering 37 goal involvements for Feyenoord and being named the inaugural Europa Conference League Young Player of the Year, the explosive winger was the man to replace talisman Raphinha. Whilst Leeds fans did see glimpses of the 24-year-old’s talent, a season blighted by injury saw him make just 13 starts in 38 games. Fast forward to January and with the club deeply entangled in yet another relegation scrap, the chance to atone for previous recruitment errors and bring in the necessary quality for survival came and went. 


American midfielder Weston McKennie was snapped up on loan from Juventus with an obligation to buy should they stay up. With a very vocal backing on social media and arriving completely out of shape, the former Schalke man’s stay in England was only ever going to end one way. Badly.


With goals at a premium, the club smashed their transfer budget to capture French attacker Georginio Rutter from German side Hoffenheim for a reported £35m: a sizeable outlay for a then 20-year-old with just two Bundesliga goals this season. Perhaps even more startling was different managers’ reluctance to play the forward, starting just one game whilst the Whites desperately struggled for goals.


Whilst the since departed Victor Orta’s recruitment was distinctly sub-par, the club’s three managers throughout the season struggled to implement their styles and philosophies, with even the desperate employment of survival specialist Sam Allardyce failing to bear fruit.


Taking over from club icon Marcelo Bielsa was always going to be challenging for Jesse Marsch, who, despite relying on other results to keep Leeds afloat in the previous year, had earned a clean slate and to be judged on results after players suitable to his ideas could be brought in.


For a side renowned for their expansive, flowing football that was heavily dependent on the wings for its creativity under the Argentine, Marsch’s insistence on deploying his narrow 4-2-2-2 formation totally nullified the threat of the likes of Jack Harrison, and routinely gifted opposition team’s numerous gilt-edged chances at the back post should they get the ball across quickly enough.


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A soulless and uninspiring defeat away at relegation rivals Nottingham Forest saw Jesse receive his Marsching orders, but the change had been long overdue. Back-to-back wins in October and November had saved the American’s job, after Leeds had gone without a win since the third match of the season. A Crysencio Summerville winner stunned Anfield, 1-2, before the young Dutch winger grabbed the headlines yet again in the following match, rounding off a stunning 4-3 comeback in the dying embers against Bournemouth.


The World Cup break followed but their next win wouldn’t come until February, under the short tenure of Spaniard Javi Gracia. Following Marsch’s sacking, the club explored moves for Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola and Feyenoord’s Arne Slot, with both managers more open to a move in the summer. 


Former Watford boss Gracia was eventually given the nod and initially impressed, winning three of his first six games as he looked to be steadying the ship. Fortunes quickly soured however and after four defeats in the next five, conceding 17 along the way, the call was made for Allardyce to attempt to do the impossible.


The first decision made was to drop goalkeeper Illan Meslier. The undisputed number one for the previous three campaigns, the Frenchman’s form in recent months had come under increased scrutiny, and veteran stopper Joel Robles was drafted in between the sticks.


Despite impressing, on-field issues at Leeds ran much deeper than the goalkeeper, and after picking just one point up from his four-game spell, Sam rode off into the sunset with a £500k pay cheque for his efforts, as the club confirmed an unwanted return to the EFL after a three-year absence. 


With relegation inevitably comes departures, as several first-team players are expected to leave the club in the coming weeks. Now under new ownership thanks to the impending takeover by 49ers Enterprises, the recruitment this summer has to be an improvement over recent years.


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Work has begun with the appointment of Nick Hammond as interim football advisor to oversee the upcoming transfer window and managerial appointment, with former Norwich boss and two-time Championship winner Daniel Farke the reported front-runner.


Despite most recently struggling in his native Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Farke is known for his attacking and exciting football, regularly exceeding expectations at this level with Norwich despite any real financial backing. With assets to cash in on and new investment into the club, getting new faces through the door in both players and backroom staff early is a priority ahead of the long, hard slog of a Championship season.


By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Marc Atkins / Getty Images