Promotion to Premier League is just the start for Leeds United

Leeds United’s ahead-of-schedule return to the Premier League “is just the start of the journey”, according to chief executive Angus Kinnear.

The Whites secured their return to the top division as champions after 16 years away at the weekend, and crowned the achievement with a 3-1 win at Derby County yesterday.

Kinnear joined in 2017 with a five-year brief from chairman Andrea Radrizzani to return the club to the Premier League and although he refused to predict where they will finish next season, he is not shy about saying the long-term aim is the top six.

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“I think the club have suffered from years of mediocre ownership,” said Kinnear.

Just champion: Luke Ayling of Leeds United, Stuart Dallas of Leeds United and Liam Cooper of Leeds United celebrate. (Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“We really had to start from the bottom up.

“Andrea set the target of getting back in the Premier League in five years, we’ve done it in three. For us really this is just the start of the journey, it’s the end of the beginning.

“This is base camp for Leeds United. Leeds United shouldn’t be a Championship side, they should be a Premier League side. So really the challenge starts now, it’s about competing in the Premier League. We know our supporters are immensely loyal but they’re immensely demanding as they should be.

“I spoke to one on Friday who said we have a honeymoon period until half-time in the first game and if we’re not two up they’re not going to be happy again and we know that’s the case, that’s the way it should be.

Guard of honour - Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez (left) and Gaetano Berardi emerge from the tunnel to a guar of honour from Derby's players (Picture: PA)

“Leeds are back playing in the forum they should be in and now it’s about building on that and making sure over the next few years we are competing at the level Leeds should be competing at. That’s the top six and that’s always been our aim.”

Kinnear admitted his relief that the expensive gamble Radrizzani made hiring world-renowned coach Marcelo Bielsa two years ago and retaining him last summer has paid off.

“It’s a huge relief,” he said. “There’s no secret that Andrea... he won’t let me say it’s a big gamble because he says he doesn’t make gambles, he makes calculated business decisions, but he made a calculated business decision that could have been easily confused for a gamble.

“He invested big but there’s no doubt if we hadn’t made it this year there would have been a financial reset to fall in with profit and sustainability targets (the Football League’s version of financial fair play).

Leeds United celebrate their 3-1 win over Derby County and promotion to the Premier League at Pride Park (Picture: Andrew Varley)

“But I think we had the confidence we would get things right and get it done on the pitch. We sat down with Marcelo (last summer), he gave us a review of the season and told us what he wanted to fix and as he left, I walked out with Andrea and Victor (Orta, the sporting director) and said: ‘We’re going to get promoted!’

“I think getting Leeds United back to where they belong, to make them great again, there’s no bigger challenge. If you’re a football romantic – which Marcelo is and that’s why he came on this journey – it’s what we’ve all been united to achieve.

“The responsibility weighs heavily because you feel the whole weight of the city on your shoulders. You go to a bar or a restaurant, it is all people talk about.

“Leeds should have a Premier League team and candidly Leeds should have a Champions League team and that is the vision.
“We knew that supporters’ patience was quite rightly running thin. They weren’t going to tolerate another year of failure. We are delighted we have been able to deliver for them.

“Up to this point, we were a Premier League team in everything bar name and we really have a fantastic platform with our fanbase to make an impact in the Premier League.

“The team will go out every week and play swashbuckling, attacking football, will show absolutely no fear, will show no team any respect, we’re not going to be scared and we’ll give Leeds supporters another year they can be proud of.”

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