Angry Leeds fans turn on owner and players as pain of relegation bites again

Leeds United's Liam Cooper reacts to going 3-1 down during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur at Elland Road on May 28, 2023 in Leeds, England - Getty Images/Alex Dodd

Leeds United spent 16 long, hard and divisive years trying to get back into the Premier League, but after just three in the top flight it is over. They have fallen apart again.

For a long time the expression “doing a Leeds United” was shorthand for catastrophic failure as a Premier League club after they dropped down to League One against a backdrop of financial problems and boardroom upheaval.

The worry – no, the fear – now is that Leeds are going to do it all over again. Just as it was 19 years ago, this could be the start of the pain rather than its peak.

After a brief display of Yorkshire defiance; grit and fight, against Tottenham, Leeds surrendered and eventually crumbled to another heavy defeat.

The pre-match show of unity was exposed as a lie, as supporters turned on their team and the people who own it. There was a lot of anger and the brief threat of things turning ugly as supporters in the South Stand tried to invade the pitch after the final whistle.

There were chants abusing their own players, boos and jeers, as well as even louder calls for owner Andrea Radrizzani to sell up and head home (this is the polite version) to Italy.

As things stand, Leeds have no idea who their owners will be when they kick off in the Championship next season, let alone who will be manager. Telegraph Sport has been told that the owner issue will be resolved before the Championship opens its transfer window on June 14th but why would the San Francisco 49ers want to buy them now?

They are no longer guaranteed access to the Premier League’s riches and will have to clear up the financial mess and psychological damage caused by relegation to the Championship. Leeds know better than anyone that nothing comes easily in the second tier and big names are regularly humbled and trapped within its clutches. As things stand, both Southampton and Leicester City look more stable and far better suited to making an immediate return to the Premier League and there are plenty of competitive teams waiting for them too.

Certainly, the 49ers, who are already large stakeholders and have talked excitedly about their vision for growing the club, will need to negotiate a new price because nobody pays £420m for a Championship outfit, let alone one in the state Leeds are in.

Leeds United manager Sam Allardyce celebrates their first goal scored by Leeds United's Jack Harrison - Reuters/Scott Heppell

The fans do not want Radrizzani and his cronies in charge of their club any longer, but the level of vitriol directed at the current board may well have scared Americans who do not often - if ever - see these sorts of scenes on the other side of the Atlantic.

This is not the happy, united club it was when the 49ers were first intrigued by the idea of buying it. It is a club divided and soured by discontent.

The summer break will allow some of the wounds to heal, but there is so much to sort out off the pitch before things can be put right on it.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Radrizzani was once a hugely popular figure, people loved and praised him. In truth, though, it was the decision to appoint Marcelo Bielsa as manager that transformed Leeds, not him.

It was Bielsa who pulled everyone together and it was Bielsa who got a team full of Championship players promoted in 2020 and kept them playing some of their most exciting football in England.

Leeds sacked the Argentine in February last year at the end of a long winless run and relegation fears mounting. Yet, nobody has come close to replicating what he had here. Leeds have had four different managers, including caretakers, in the dugout since and all have failed to build on the legacy he left. Tellingly, the fans spent a considerable amount of time during the defeat to Tottenham singing the name of their hugely popular and still revered former manager.

They would love him back, it is highly unlikely to happen. The attitude towards the current incumbent, Sam Allardyce is tepid. He has done nothing to improve Leeds in the short time he has been manager, taking one point from his four games in charge.

“I can tell them what I think needs to be done,” Allardyce said. “But we have to see how the club moves forward in terms of the ownership. That needs to be sorted before anyone speaks to me or anyone else about being the manager.”

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur at Elland Road - Getty Images/Alex Dodd

The 68-year-old knows what it has taken to get a big club promoted from the Championship before, having done it with West Ham and Bolton Wanderers before that, but he looks old fashioned and out of step with the modern football world. He would argue against that, until he was blue in the face, but Leeds know they need to win back hearts and minds and is he able to do that? Appointing him would be a risk, but that is true of anyone coming in in this sort of situation.

Leeds have players they can sell, led by Jack Harrison and Tyler Adams, to raise funds to reinvest. That will help the rebuild, whoever is in charge, but the club needs to be united to achieve anything. It felt like the polar opposite of that as Spurs scored inside two minutes at the start of both the first and second half. They also scored a third less than two minutes after Harrison had pulled a goal back.

Everton’s victory over Bournemouth meant it did not matter what Leeds did here, but losing 4-1 in front of their own supporters poured extra salt all over the wounds.

The home fans had tried to keep spirits up by mocking their predicament, belting out a rendition of “Leeds falling apart again… and “That is why we are going down.

You either laugh or cry at moments like these. Or you get angry and they did that in the second half - serenading the players with chants about not being fit to wear the shirt, abusing Weston McKennie’s body shape, before turning their anger on the board. When a Leeds fan invaded the pitch and was removed only with the help of eight stewards, the home fans taunted the players with “he’s got more fight than you, he’s got more fight than you.”