The way Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds are going they might be a Champions League force again by the end of the decade.
But for now Yorkshire’s finest will have to make do with memories of Leeds’ run to the semi-finals in 2000/01.
Remember all this?
1 Qualification was unnecessarily stressful
David O’Leary’s men were 2-0 up against 1860 Munich at Elland Road with 15 minutes remaining; it should have been cakewalk.
But then Olivier Dacourt and Erik Bakke were both shown harsh second yellows, reducing the hosts to nine men.
Munich grabbed a late goal to take back to Germany and Leeds literally only had Lee Bowyer in terms of eligible midfielders for the second leg because of injuries and suspensions.
Thankfully Lucas ‘the Chief’ Radebe was a man mountain at the back as Leeds won 1-0 away in Munich with a squad padded out with unknown youth players.
The campaign had already shredded plenty of nerves, if only Leeds knew what awaited them…
2 Easy draw for group stage? Nope, no chance…
Milan, Besiktas and Barcelona.
How about that?
With a midfield that included Ian Harte and Stephen McPhail, the group stages got off to the worst possible start when Leeds were humbled 4-0 at the Nou Camp.
Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert strutted their stuff to maximum effect.
3 But then the fairytale started
Milan had Oliver Bierhoff and Andriy Shevchenko up front but still couldn’t find a way past Nigel Martyn between the sticks.
It looked as if Leeds had held firm for a heroic draw…
Then, after 89 minutes, Bowyer let fly from 35 yards and the ball squirmed between Dida’s wet gloves causing Elland Road to erupt with impossible noise.
Leeds followed up that win with a 6-0 demolition of Besiktas which featured a rare Darren Huckerby goal as the cherry on the top. Incredible scenes.
4 A taste of their own medicine… followed by a trip to Italy
Leeds came so close beating Barcelona at Elland Road. So, so, close.
Just as Bowyer had snatched a win against Milan, World Player of the Year Rivaldo rescued a draw for Barca with only ten seconds remaining.
Leeds fans still sing about their trip to Milan to this very day.
“Dom Matteo scored a f***ing great goal, in the San Siro”
The Scottish centre-back headed home on the brink of half-time, sparking delirious scenes in the away end.
Serginho fired past Paul Robinson for the equaliser but the night belonged to Leeds; the draw meant they had qualified for the second group stage (which was a thing back then).
An hour after the final whistle, the Leeds players emerged from the tunnel and walked over to their fans who had been kept inside the stadium for security reasons.
Yorkshire lad Alan Smith and club legend Gary Kelly led the chanting as players and fans joined as one to celebrate an incredible achievement.
5 Well done… now do it again!
With the San Siro and the Nou Camp already ticked off the list, the second group stage gave Leeds fans a cracking away day in the form of the Bernabeu.
Leeds lost 3-2 in Madrid, a brace from Raul (one of which was a blatant handball) and freak cross-shot goal from Luis Figo denied the vistors’ any points but Smith’s opener and Mark Viduka’s powerful equaliser gave the travelling fans two special moments to savour.
Back-to-back wins over Anderlecht (including a masterful 4-1 win in Belgium) and Alan Smith’s composed finish away at Lazio meant O’Leary’s young superstars had once again defied the odds to qualify for the next round.
Oh yeah, Jason Wilcox scored in the home fixture against Lazio in a 3-3 draw — nobody got the ‘dead rubber’ memo.
6 Next up, La Liga champions
Deportivo’s team oozed class at the turn of the century.
Roy Makaay had fired them to domestic glory and they had their sights set on a tasty European semi-final after labelling Leeds as the competition’s ‘weakest link’.
Underestimating the influence of a deafening Elland Road proved to be a naive mistake.
A trademark Ian Harte free-kick opened the scoring after 26 minutes and Leeds never looked back.
Harry Kewell glided past defenders with ease and Oliver Dacourt held no prisoners in the middle of the park as Deportivo crumbled under the pressure.
Smith’s seventh goal of the campaign came before Rio Ferdinand’s first goal for the club as the Whites smashed their way to a convincing 3-0 win.
The sound of 40,000 Leeds fans chanting ‘3-0 to the weakest link’ will live long in the memory for those that were present that night.
7 It had to end somewhere…
Valencia, equipped with the likes of Gaizka Mendieta, Kily Gonzalez and Roberto Ayala, were always going to be tough opponents to dispatch with a place in the final of the world’s biggest club competition at stake.
A tense 0-0 draw at Elland Road was followed by a cruel 3-0 defeat at the Mestalla.
Juan Sanchez opened the scoring in controversial fashion as he appeared to use his arm to divert a cross past Martyn. And from that moment on it was clear the luck had dried up.
Smith got himself sent off for a frustrated lunge at Vicente in the dying moments and that was that.
All on David Batty’s 500th club appearance as well.
Still, the inexperienced Leeds side had exhibited their talent and spirit to the whole of Europe.
For the fans that got to experience bellowing out ‘Marching on Together’ at the San Siro, Bernabeu and Nou Camp, it was a wonderful time to be alive.
Sooner or later, they’ll be back.