England — On the touchline, a member of the coaching staff had leapt into the arms of the defender Stuart Dallas, and was hanging onto him for dear life. Andrea Radrizzani, the team owner, was standing by the tunnel, embracing every player who approached him. In the stands, Victor Orta, the technical director, was pumping his arms and screaming into the sky.
Leeds United was almost there. For 16 years, the club has been yearning to regain its place in the Premier League: a decade and a half of humiliation, chaos, false dawns and even falser prophets in the perpetual sunsets of English soccer’s second and third tiers. And now, a fraught, narrow victory against Barnsley on Thursday had brought it to the cusp: not mathematically, not officially, not quite, not yet, but spiritually, nearly.
After 16 years away from English soccer’s top division, an era marred by sporting and financial batterings, Leeds United finally claimed a spot in the Premier League on Friday.
Leeds’ small squad means their budget is concentrated on fewer, more talented players, and they have become a tight-knit unit capable of playing Marcelo Bielsa’s style of soccer and becoming more than their individual parts.
But a few injuries could easily have derailed Leeds’ season like it did in 2018-19. Injuries, and not the “Bielsa Burnout”, was the reason why Leeds started so brightly that season but couldn’t quite get over the line. Next season’s Premier League schedule will be more compact than usual, meaning rotations will be needed to avoid injury.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Under the expert and meticulous eye of Marcelo, Leeds have proved without doubt that they are a truly outstanding team and more than worthy of promotion this season.”
Today Leeds United are promoted after 16 years and I look back at these 16-18 years. An acclimatizing period that made me grateful and content.