For football fans the summer is always a time for optimism. You're awaiting the first game of the season, a few new players have arrived and you've got a couple of pre-season friendlies under your belt. The signs point to it being your year this year. Unfortunately as a Leeds United fan we have been brought back down to earth with a massive bump.
Player sales, lack of signings, a mad Italian man doing his best to upset absolutely everyone are just a few of the things that have prematurely ruined the summer for us. This year, however, there has been an increase in positivity from both the fans and the club itself. This got me thinking about previous years, about the ins and out, managerial changes, ownership structures, everything.
With qualification for the still-prestigious UEFA Cup assured, Howard Wilkinson's task was to to bring in some stronger squad players. Having been on an excellent run from January through to May the previous season it looked as though the starting line-up would pick itself. What Leeds were still missing was quality depth. A look at The White's team photo from the start of the season will show just how lacking we were in experienced players outside of the usual suspects.
Despite being a part of the team photo, David O'Leary would shortly after hang up his boots. Having joined two years earlier, the Irishman had been hampered by injuries and after making a number of attempts to return to first team football he decided to call it time on his playing career.
The only other departure of note during the summer was that of Chris Fairclough. Another of Sgt Wilko's title winners, Fairclough had found opportunities harder to come by at this stage. After establishing himself under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forrest Fairclough had moved on to Tottenham Hotspur for two season before Wilkinson brought him to Leeds on loan in 1989. The deal was made permanent at the end of the season and Fairclough instantly slotted in to the team. He would form the title winning partnership with Chris Whyte and be a regular in the starting line-up for a number of years. With the emergence of David Weatherall, Fairclough found his spot under threat and began to drop out of the side. He would make the move to Bolton and would gain promotion to the Premier League with them in 1997.
The list of signings during the summer was just as long as that of the departures. Somehow in the search for players with the quality to make Leeds a force in Europe, they ended up bringing in Paul Beesley from Sheffield United. Having spent most of his early career at the lower end of the Football League, Beesley had been a regular for Sheffield United in the Premier League and First Division.
Despite no longer seeing Fairclough as a first team player, Leeds struggled to find a replacement partner for Weatherall and he found himself partnering Pemberton, Beesley and November signing Richard Jobson who had a number of injury problems.
One signing that did see to hint that Leeds were looking at the right players was the £4.5m capture of Swedish international Tomas Brolin. Having won several domestic and international honours in Italy with Parma, Brolin arrived with confidence high amongst fans that he, like Yeboah the year before, could help take Leeds to the next level. That didn't quite happen.
Fan favourite Noel Whelan would see his time at the club brought to an end in December as he was sold to Coventry for £2m. The addition of Brolin to the squad saw Leeds now possessing a number of strikers with Deane, Wallace, Yeboah, Brolin, Masinga and also emerging young forward Andy Gray. As a local lad it had always been Whelan's dream to play for his favourite club but it wasn't meant to be. He would have a number of spells across the Premier League, Football League and Scotland before retiring. He went in to youth coaching with Nottingham Forest and Derby and can now be heard screaming "get in" every time Leeds score.
This would be the season where everything would start to unravel for Howard Wilkinson. After a promising start to the season, with Yeboah scoring one of the best goals you'll ever see against Liverpool, Leeds would quickly fall back to their inconsistant ways of the previous season, but this time there would be no saviour. Leeds did earn themselves a trip to Wembley in the form of the League Cup final but they were humiliated by Aston Villa in a 3-0 defeat. In Leeds' first cup final since the 1975 European Cup final, Wilkinson opted to give start to Mark Ford and Andy Gray, both inexperienced, whilst Brolin and Deane were on the bench, a sign of things to come for Brolin.
In the UEFA Cup Leeds got off to a flyer with Yeboah scoring a hat-trick away at Monaco, showing the world just what he was capable of. Unfortunately this would be the high point. Monaco won the second leg 1-0 to set Leeds up with a second round tie against PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch side embarrassed Leeds at Elland Road in a 5-3 win and then won the second leg 3-0.
Leeds would finish 13th in the League that season and this would be the beginning of the end for Howard Wilkinson. Big changes were needed at Elland Road and not just with the on-field personnel.