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Leeds clinch long-awaited return to the Premier League

West Brom’s defeat to Huddersfield on Friday night secured Leeds’ promotion.

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Leeds’ players celebrate with fans outside Elland Road (Nick Potts/PA)

Leeds’ players celebrate with fans outside Elland Road (Nick Potts/PA)

Leeds’ players celebrate with fans outside Elland Road (Nick Potts/PA)

Leeds have been promoted to the Premier League after a 16-year absence.

Second-placed West Brom’s 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield on Friday night means Championship leaders Leeds are assured of a top-two finish with two games remaining.

Leeds moved on to 87 points on Thursday following their 1-0 home win against Barnsley.

West Brom, who remain on 82 points, have one game remaining and will drop out of the automatic promotion places if Brentford avoid defeat at Stoke on Saturday.

It has been a long and often tortuous road back for Leeds, who were relegated from the Premier League in 2004 amid a spectacular financial meltdown.

The West Yorkshire club have spent 13 seasons in the Championship and three in League One after dropping into the third tier for the first time in their history in 2007.

Leeds’ debts had spiralled to over £100million in 2003 under former chairman Peter Ridsdale and there were fears the club could go out of business.

They were forced to sell all their players and other assets, including Elland Road Stadium and their Thorp Arch academy, and have since stumbled from crisis to crisis under a succession of different owners.

Leeds went into administration in 2007 under Ken Bates and fared little better under subsequent owners GFH Capital before the arrival of controversial Italian Massimo Cellino.

During Cellino’s chaotic three-year ownership Leeds had seven different managers, but current owner Andrea Radrizzani bought a 50 per cent stake in Leeds in January 2017 to signal the dawning of a new era.

Radrizzani purchased the remaining 50 per cent from Cellino the following May and Leeds made a bold statement of intent by appointing Marcelo Bielsa in the summer of 2018.

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Leeds fans celebrate outside Elland Road (Nick Potts/PA)

Leeds fans celebrate outside Elland Road (Nick Potts/PA)

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Leeds fans celebrate outside Elland Road (Nick Potts/PA)

It was an expensive gamble, but Bielsa proved an instant hit, transforming the same squad he inherited into genuine promotion challengers in his first season.

That ended in disappointment when Leeds fell short in the play-offs, but Bielsa and his players have bounced back.

Leeds have continued to light up the Championship with Bielsa’s exciting brand of football and few could begrudge them their place back among the elite.

Their promotion was greeted with joy by a host of their former players.

Former goalkeeper Paul Robinson told Sky Sports: “It’s been long-awaited and very long overdue. When I played that last game in 2004, 16 years ago, you never envisaged that Leeds United would be out of the top flight for so long, and even dropping to the third tier of English football.

“From what Marcelo Bielsa inherited two-and-a-half-years ago – a team that finished 14th in the Championship – to now automatic promotion to the Premiership, it’s absolutely fantastic.

“The biggest thing Leeds did at the end of last season was keep the manager.

“We’ve heard plaudits from many managers, Pep Guardiola to name one, that name him as a mentor or guru.

“He’s an oddball, he’s a scientist, he’s a professor of the game.

“We’ve seen that with spygate and everything else that comes with him, but it just all adds to the Leeds United history. Love them or loathe them, they’re back in the Premiership.”

Former defender Dominic Matteo also hailed Bielsa, saying: “Every player who plays for Leeds United, he’s made better. There’s not many managers you can say that about anywhere in the world.”

Liverpool midfielder James Milner, who started his career at Elland Road, tweeted: “Congratulations LUFC. #backwhereyoubelong #MOT”

Former Leeds goalkeeper Nigel Martyn posted: “Congratulations to everyone at @LUFC on promotion, so pleased for the management, players and most importantly the fans. The football has been amazing to watch and it’s fully deserved. Now go and win it outright!!”

Ex-Leeds winger Aaron Lennon said on Twitter: “Finally!!! Back in the Prem. Congrats @LUFC, What a day for everyone associated with the club and the city. Leeds Leeds Leeds.”

Former Leeds midfielder Vinnie Jones tweeted: “Congratulation to @LUFC a long 16 years but now back where they belong! Welldone all the players and coaching staf, Leeds will be bouncing tonight! I’m getting up there!”

PA