Leeds eye week of Yorkshire pride in Cup
Just over decade ago, Leeds United competed in the Champions League semi-finals; few could have predicted the fate that would befall the club in the years that followed. Relegation from the Premier League and then the Championship, going into administration - it was one disaster after another. They gambled on becoming a sustained force in Europe and lost, badly. They finished just behind Newcastle in the race for a Champions League spot in 2002 and that was it; the roulette wheel came up one off their number, but it may as well have been a million miles away. Mismanagement was at the heart of the fall from grace and the one good thing to come from it is that a warning was sent out to all clubs that there should be a limit to the risks you can take.
As someone who played against Don Revie's great Leeds side, with the great players they had, it has taken a bit of getting used to having the club out of the top division. No matter what has happened or will happen, though, Leeds will always have that rich history and I can remember plenty of bruising encounters against them when I was at Liverpool. Usually teams have one or two physical lads but Leeds had six or seven, though importantly they were all talented footballers too - if you ever came away from Elland Road with anything there was a lot of sweat on your shirt and plenty of cuts on your legs.
It may not be quite as gruelling a trip these days, but Tottenham Hotspur will have to have their wits about them when they head up there in the FA Cup this weekend. It's a super game to have on ESPN as there's every chance of an upset and despite the gap in class that exists, I'm sure Spurs would have been wishing they'd got an easy draw. Leeds' form at Elland Road has been excellent this season and it can still be an intimidating ground to play at – those home fans can lift their players, who will certainly need lifting coming up against the Gareth Bales, Aaron Lennons and Jermain Defoes of this world.
If Neil Warnock and his players are looking for inspiration to cause a major cup shock, they only need to glance down the road to Bradford. The two cities are a stone's throw from each other and the rivalry between them will surely provide motivation for Leeds, who watched their League Two neighbours remarkably reach Wembley this week after beating Aston Villa over two legs in the last four of the League Cup. Bradford beat three Premier League sides - Wigan, Arsenal and Villa - in the competition and it is an amazing achievement for a club from the fourth tier.
Bradford have had their own difficult history, what with the Valley Parade Fire back in 1985 and going into administration in recent years, and it's great for the club and its fans to have something to get excited about. Imagine if Leeds made it all to the FA Cup final, too - what a year that would be for Yorkshire!
Things are at least looking up now for Leeds. They are only a step away from the Premier League and although that is a pretty big step, they have got new owners in from Dubai and the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to fit together again. Neil Warnock's done a decent job as he was restricted during the long search for new owners and had to sell players - good players - while trying to keep the ship moving forward which is never easy. I felt sorry for Neil at QPR because after getting them up he deserved a better chance – no managers like to see one of their own treated that way. With a bit of financial support from the owners, I think there's every chance he can take Leeds back into the Premier League in the next couple of years.
Taking on Tottenham will be a good test of the club's credentials and they've got some ex-Premier League players who will be chomping at the bit to impress. Michael Brown used to play for Spurs, and along with the likes of El-Hadji Diouf, offers some big-game experience. They'll both probably wish they could they could turn back the clock to their top-flight heydays, but it will be important to settle the nerves of some of their less experienced team-mates.
I think Leeds will have a good go and whether that's enough we'll have to wait and see. The pace Tottenham have got is amazing - I wouldn't like to race the full-backs for my wages, never mind Bale or Lennon. Neil and his players will be working on combatting that, trying to keep it narrow and tight, just as QPR did successfully recently, and restricting the space in behind. A draw would be a great result for Leeds, and a replay would be a welcome boost to the finances.
Spurs are looking a bit more consistent of late and it looks like they may well finish in the top four; after early doubts about Andre Villas-Boas this season, he seems to have found a group of players that are listening to him and playing the way he wants them to play. It's been great to see Villas-Boas leading the way by putting out strong teams in the cups, too. Premier League clubs they are suddenly realising that they need to treat the knockout competitions more seriously if they want to win some silverware and the FA Cup has certainly got its lustre back now. We're in for a real treat at Leeds for the fourth round, but they've got their work cut out if they are to deliver a second memorable upset for Yorkshire this week.