Leeds United must keep Archie Gray to inspire hopes of finishing off the Championship job with promotion in 2024-25

AFTER allowing everyone at Leeds United ‘to be disappointed’, in his own words, for a short while following the shattering events of Sunday, Daniel Farke knows he must be in the business of inspiring some hope again before too long.

A grieving process is the natural immediate by-product of defeat in the biggest and richest one-off domestic game in club football.

But as Leeds’ players and staff metaphorically pick up the pieces after their painful loss to Southampton, they must move on relatively quickly.

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The theory goes that losing a second-tier play-off final can take some getting over as Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday can testify.

Leeds United manager Daniel Farke (left) consoles Archie Gray after defeat in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.Leeds United manager Daniel Farke (left) consoles Archie Gray after defeat in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Leeds United manager Daniel Farke (left) consoles Archie Gray after defeat in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Yet the history books also provide some succour and show that since the Championship began in 2004-05, six clubs who lost in the end-of-season showpiece have cast aside the disappointment to deliver an emphatic response and be promoted in the following campaign. That’s a decent number.

Two have gone up as champions in Reading (2012) and West Brom (2008), while two play-off final losers have been promoted via the same route the next season in Brentford (2021) and Aston Villa (2019). Middlesbrough, who lost out to the 2015 finale, achieved automatic promotion a year later.

On the minus side, Leeds are likely to lose some key players this summer to balance the books - two who were substituted in the second half against Southampton in Crysencio Summerville and Wilfried Gnonto appear likely contenders.

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Summerville has two years left on his current deal and a second season in the Championship is likely to hold very limited appeal to Gnonto, given the noises he made to get away last summer.

The best piece of business Leeds will do - and need to do - is keeping hold of their jewel in the crown in Archie Gray.

The Championship’s young player of the year comfortably has the capacity to grab the main award in 2024-25, from his natural home of midfield.

Given his breakneck progress, it is nailed on that next season will be his swansong at this level, while incredibly still in his teens. If he stays, which he must.

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Generational talents like Gray won’t mess about in this division for too long. His mission to lead his beloved Leeds back to the big time next term is one that will sit well on his young, but remarkably mature shoulders.

Fresh options in the final third to hopefully add to the likes of Dan James and Georginio Rutter and finding a new defensive enforcer with Joe Rodon destined not to return will be imperative for Leeds.

Reduced parachute payments and still having to pay off £79m in backdated transfer payments mean that money will be tight. But the cachet of Leeds should still enable them to bring in the quality of players to make a difference at this level, permanent or on loan.

It’s a division which will be competitive next term, as always. Leeds, in truth, look the heavyweight contender and the level won’t be as strong as it has been, certainly not like the season just gone.

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Sheffield United face a major overhaul, while Burnley have lost Vincent Kompany. Luton will perhaps be the best of the rest, with Coventry, Hull, West Brom and Boro likely to be knocking around with a dark horse or two. Maybe Sheffield Wednesday.

After last summer’s upheaval, it’s important to remember that Farke’s Leeds travelled a fair way in 2024-25. Next season, he must go all the way.