Leeds United had an up and down 2017 on the pitch, starting with a run in the playoff places that ended with a thud in a loss at Burton Albion in April, keeping Leeds out of the playoffs. Instead, Leeds fans had to watch local rivals Huddersfield Town gain promotion to the Premier League. The manager that got Leeds to its highest position in over a decade, Garry Monk, left the club in murky circumstances to kick off the summer.
And while Leeds started off the 2017 season with a bang, going top of the league in August, again the team had a poor run of form that saw the team slide out of the playoff positions once again. The team has gotten past its latest run of bad form, winning five of seven and four straight before losing at St Andrews against Birmingham City in the last fixture of 2017 for the club.
The club sits in fifth place in the Championship table going into 2018, just as it started 2017. And while the playoffs shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion this season, as they seemed to be for much of the spring last season, the club still sits in a better place on the pitch than it has in years. However, that’s not the whole story about this past year for Leeds United.
News came out last year about this time that Andrea Radrizzani was buying a 50% stake in the club, and he bought out Massimo Cellino at the end of the season. Under the new owner, Leeds have seen an 180 degree chance in how the club is run, the relationship between the club and the local council has improved, plans for a new training ground as part of redevelopment of the area around Elland Road have been established, the Leeds United Ladies were returned to the Leeds family, and Elland Road is once again owned by the club, not a property developer looking to cash in.
For the first time in what’s seemed like years, there is hope at Leeds United, hope for the future. Hope that the club won’t sell its young stars on to “bigger” clubs for a pittance after transfer negotiations went horribly wrong. Hope that the Academy, which had been neglected for years under Cellino, is starting to build the foundation of something special, with a number of high-profile acquisitions in the summer. Finally hope, after Radrizzani has reached out to the Leeds United Supporters Trust and gotten Elland Road to be declared an Asset of Community Value, helping to ensure the future of the club in its home.
Even when Leeds were forced into selling a player, as Chris Wood forced a move to Burnley, the club did it the right way, something that has been sorely lacking in previous years. Radrizzani has brought in smart football people to make football decisions for the club. Despite some roster turnover, and the sale of Chris Wood after a career year from the big Kiwi, Leeds is still in the playoff places with a January transfer window opening up in the next few days.
While this season might finally be the one that sees Leeds United return to the Premier League, it might not. But whatever happens, Leeds fans can take heart that 2017 saw changes off the pitch that have made Leeds United a normal, functioning football club again. And that, more than anything, is priceless.