(Reuters) – Leeds United returned to the Premier League after a 16-year absence on Friday as West Bromwich Albion’s loss at Huddersfield Town guaranteed them a top-two finish in the Championship.
A huge favour from Leeds’ Yorkshire neighbours, who won 2-1, meant the celebrations could start in earnest at Elland Road.
The club’s Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani will also be toasting promotion which is worth an estimated 170 million pounds.
Leeds have 87 points with two games remaining, five more than second-placed West Brom who slumped to defeat at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday and have one game left.
Leeds are six points ahead of third-placed Brentford, who have also played 44, and a point from their last two matches will ensure Marcelo Bielsa’s team rejoin the elite as champions.
They could even claim the second-tier title on Saturday if Brentford fail to win at Stoke City.
“It’s unbelievable and it’s still not properly sunk in,” captain Liam Cooper told the BBC. “Our club, our fans and our players have sacrificed so much — we’ve been in the doldrums for 16 years.
“To be part of this team and to lead this team to promotion back to where we know we’ve always belonged is unbelievable.
“We deserve it — we’ve been the best team all season on a consistent level and we’ve got the job done. We set out to get promoted and now we want to go and be champions and lift that trophy.”
The success will be doubly sweet for Leeds who missed out on promotion last season in the playoffs despite looking favourites for automatic promotion for much of the campaign.
It also comes less than a week after the death of one of the club’s greatest players — England World Cup-winning centre-half Jack Charlton.
Three times English champions, Leeds were relegated from the Premier League in 2004 after hitting financial trouble and being forced to sell a host of big-name players such as Robbie Keane, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer.
The problems were only just starting though and after three years in the Championship they slipped to the third tier and into administration with the future of the club in doubt.
While they eventually regained their place in the Championship in 2010 they never really challenged for promotion until the enigmatic Bielsa took charge in 2018.
They have been transformed under the former Argentina coach and can now look forward to renewing old rivalries with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.
Former skipper Dominic Matteo, who was part of the Leeds side that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2001, paid tribute to the 64-year-old Bielsa.
“This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Matteo told Sky Sports. “Bielsa and the team have been incredible. Everything they have done from start to finish has been done the right way.
“What Bielsa has brought to this football club has been outstanding. He’s got a bit of magic and you can see the passion in his body. He brings the best out of everyone and makes every player better. All credit to him and his staff.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Additiona reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; editing by Ken Ferris)