Leeds United saluted after sealing ‘long overdue’ promotion back to Premier League

Former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson declared the Premier League a more attractive competition now Leeds United are back in it for the first time since his Elland Road days.

Robinson and his captain in the Leeds side relegated in 2003-04, Dominic Matteo both paid tribute to coach Marcelo Bielsa after the Whites regained their place in the top flight.

Huddersfield Town’s motivation in beating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium yesterday evening was to secure their place in next season’s Championship, but in doing so they confirmed Leeds’s elevation back to the top flight.

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“It’s been long-awaited and very long overdue,” said Beverley-born Robinson. “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 Premier League, it’s absolutely fantastic.

“A Premier League with Leeds United in it is a much more attractive fixture than many others.”

Robinson and Matteo both knew who to give the most credit to.

“Every player who plays for Leeds United, he’s made better,” Matteo said of former Argentina and Chile coach Bielsa. “There’s not many managers you can say that about anywhere in the world.

Players celebrate with Leeds United as fans celebrate their promotion to the Premier League at Elland Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“All credit needs to go to Marcelo Bielsa and his staff and all the people who have backed him because he knew his stuff inside out and he’s so thorough.

“There’s nobody happier than me tonight. He’s been an incredible character. I love him. Every time he speaks we want to listen.

“The (Jurgen) Klopps and the (Pep) Guardiolas – he’s at that kind of level. People love to hear what he has to say, even though we can’t understand him sometimes!”

Bielsa’s Leeds fell short last year, when by common consent they were the best footballing team in the division, but a late-season collapse saw them beaten in the play-off semi-finals. There had been doubt after that if he would return for another season at Elland Road, but the idiosyncratic Bielsa has fallen in love with the club and his Wetherby home.

HERO: Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“The biggest thing Leeds did at the end of last season was keep the manager,” said Robinson. “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 Premier League.”

A mid-season wobble which saw Leeds win just two of 12 matches threatened a repeat of the disappointment of 2019-20, but they recovered their poise to see the job through.

Leeds United fans celebrate their promotion to the Premier League at Elland Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

All season long they and West Brom have looked a class apart from the rest, but since the resumption of football after the coronavirus outbreak, Brentford have emerged as the form team and closest challengers. Last night’s defeat means West Brom can no longer catch Leeds and afterwards manager Slaven Bilic sounded resigned to the play-offs.

Leeds will win the title if Brentford fail to beat Stoke City today, or if the West Yorkshire club take a point from their final two matches, at Derby County tomorrow, and at home to Charlton Athletic on Wednesday.

Huddersfield manager Danny Cowley is another big admirer of Bielsa’s, and set aside local rivalries to praise his team.

“Credit to Leeds, they’re a top, top team,” said Cowley. “Them, West Brom and Brentford, they’re the standout teams in this division.

“I know it’s not easy for us as Huddersfield people to credit our rivals. As a football person I’ll be looking to see how they perform next season.”

Luciano Becchio, who played for Leeds in League One in the intervening years, paid tribute to owner Andrea Radrizzani on Twitter.

Leeds United Director of Football Victor Orta celebrates with fans outside Elland Road after Huddersfield Town beat West Bromwich Albion. Picture: Nick Potts/PA.

“So emotional... after 16 years this great club is back where it deserves to be,” he wrote. “Thanks Marcelo, thanks boys, thanks Andrea. And thanks to the fans for the unconditional support.”

Former homegrown winger Aaron Lennon added: “Finally! Back in the Premier League. What a day for everyone associated with the club and the city.”

City of Leeds deserves promotion: Page 3

Leeds United fans celebrate their promotion to the Premier League at Elland Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson