Leeds and Man City's contrasting fortunes since last league meeting

Relegation, billionaires and financial meltdowns: In 2004, Mark Viduka’s penalty saw a doomed Leeds edge past Kevin Keegan’s Man City. They meet in the league today for the first time in 16 years after two VERY different journeys

  • Leeds United and Manchester City last met in the league back in March 2004
  • Steven McPhail saw his first-half goal cancelled out by Nicolas Anelka
  • But Mark Viduka’s contentious late penalty saw Leeds take all three points
  • However, the Yorkshire side would suffer Premier League relegation weeks later
  • The intervening 16 years have seen very difference fortunes for both clubs 

If there was any contact at all it was slight. It may well have been outside the box. Actually, it looked as though Alan Smith had tripped himself up.

But referee Alan Wiley pointed to the penalty spot and flashed a red card at Daniel Van Buyten. Leeds United, so desperately in need of some good fortune, weren’t about to complain.

Mark Viduka stuck away the penalty and Leeds led Manchester City 2-1 with just 14 minutes remaining. The roar of the Elland Road crowd got them over the line.

Alan Smith tumbles under the challenge of Daniel Van Buyten to win a late Leeds penalty 

Mark Viduka converted the spot-kick to earn Leeds a 2-1 victory in their last league meeting with Manchester City – until this Saturday

Relegated in 2004, it took Leeds 16 years to return to the top-flight under Marcelo Bielsa

In the same time period, City have been transformed by the billions of Sheikh Mansour

Leeds were off the bottom of the FA Barclaycard Premiership, two points from safety with nine games to play.

Until this Saturday, that was the last time Leeds United and Manchester City had met in league competition. It was March 22, 2004.

Nobody watching that night would have known it but the two clubs would be flung onto very different trajectories in the intervening 16 years.

Any Leeds optimism from that win proved short-lived. Six weeks later, having lost five of those remaining games, Leeds were relegated from the top-flight.

That was just the start of their troubles. The Yorkshire club was over £100million in debt and staring down the barrel of oblivion.

Having been Champions League semi-finalists in 2001, they would be a League One club by 2007, starting the season with a 15-point deduction.

The road back to Premier League respectability has been long and arduous, the club burning through 15 permanent managers, several changes of ownership and further financial strife.

Smith celebrates with Seth Johnson as Leeds took the three points – but they were ultimately relegated from the top division a few weeks later

Stephen McPhail celebrates with James Milner after opening the scoring back in 2004

Leeds since 2004 

2004 Relegated from the Premier League

2006 Lose Championship play-off final to Watford

2007 Relegated into League One following 10-point deduction for entering administration

2008 Finished fifth in League One despite 15-point deduction; lose play-off final to Doncaster

2010 Promoted back to the Championship

2014 Massimo Cellino takes over the club

2017 Andrea Radrizzani completes his buy-out of the club

2018 Marcelo Bielsa appointed manager

2019 Leeds lose in the play-off semi-finals to Derby

2020 Leeds win the Championship and return to the Premier League

Man City since 2004

2007 City are taken over by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

2008 Sheikh Mansour completes £200m takeover 

2011 City win their first silverware of the Abu Dhabi era, beating Stoke City to lift the FA Cup

2012 City win the Premier League for the first time thanks to Sergio Aguero’s dramatic last-minute goal

2014 A successful season sees the club win the Premier League title and the League Cup

2016 City win the League Cup, beating Liverpool on penalties. They also reach the Champions League semi-finals; Pep Guardiola becomes manager

2018 They win the Premier League with 100 points and also the League Cup

2019 A season of domestic dominance sees Guardiola’s team win the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup


Nicolas Anelka had drawn City level at Elland Road just before half-time in the 2004 meeting

City weren’t a great deal better at that time. It was only their second year back in the Premier League having themselves slipped into the third tier in the late 1990s.

They’d finish 16th – in the end comfortably above the relegation places – but a team containing bargain basement signings like Michael Tarnat and Antoine Sibierski wasn’t likely to set the top division on fire.

City very much made up the numbers back then. A top-half finish was regarded as a fine achievement, with the main aim to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle.

They couldn’t possibly hope to compete in the transfer market with the elite of Manchester United and Arsenal, or nouveau riche Chelsea.

Nobody ever imagined they would be transformed overnight into a global powerhouse by Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi United group in 2008.

Anelka celebrates with Paul Bosvelt (left) and Richard Dunne (right) after finding the net

The hundreds of millions lavished on the club since have put them very much at football’s top table and delivered four Premier League titles, seven domestic cups and yearly Champions League participation.

The kind of team Kevin Keegan fielded that March night at Elland Road, with all due respect to those involved, feels like a distant dream compared to the superstars that grace the Etihad Stadium now.

So two very different trajectories since that last league meeting. The ironic thing is that not long before, Leeds had been the big-spenders of English football.

Around the turn of the millennium, everything was rosy for Leeds and their chairman Peter Ridsdale.

The English game was riding the crest of a wave, with TV revenues, gate receipts and every other measure on the balance sheet heading upwards.

City’s Shaun Wright-Phillips is challenged by James Milner of Leeds during the 2004 game

David James makes a brave save to deny Leeds striker Mark Viduka 16 years ago

With exciting young players like Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate coming through the ranks and a reliable manager in David O’Leary in charge, the Leeds board understandably believed success was within their grasp.

Their policy was to create a squad that would enable them to take that next step but with the transfer funds essentially on credit, borrowed against the expectation of future windfalls, prize money and that rising revenue.

The transfer fees – £4m for Danny Mills, £4.5m for Michael Duberry, £5m for Michael Bridges – seem like peanuts today but caused a stir at the time.

Not that it mattered. In 1999-2000, Leeds finished third in the Premier League and qualified for the Champions League, which would earn them at least £15m.

Consequently, when O’Leary asked in the summer of 2000 for three more signings he was given Olivier Dacourt for £7.2m, Mark Viduka for £6m and Dominic Matteo for £4.25m.

Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale had ambitious plans for the club but borrowed enormous sums to build a competitive squad against the expectation of future windfalls

Ridsdale welcomes British record £18m signing Rio Ferdinand to Elland Road in 2000

They didn’t stop there. In November 2000, Leeds broke the British transfer record to sign defender Rio Ferdinand from West Ham for £18m.

Leeds had borrowed and borrowed to fund these signings, constantly restructuring their debt, with everything stakes on continual qualification for the lucrative Champions League.

Trouble was, although they reached the semi-finals of the competition in 2000-01, their fourth-place finish in the Premier League wasn’t at that time good enough for a return ticket.

It didn’t take long for the club’s swollen wage bill – which had risen by £12m in a year to £38m – and net debt – up from £9m in 1999 to £39m in 2001 – caught up with them.

Leeds reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 but lost out to Valencia

The club made enormous strides with David O’Leary as manager but couldn’t sustain success

What’s extraordinary is that, despite these warning signs, Leeds continued to spend, spend, spend in the belief that as long as they got back to the Champions League, everything would be fine again.

Striker Robbie Keane came in from Inter Milan for £11m, then Liverpool forward Robbie Fowler for the same amount and Derby midfielder Seth Johnson for £7m.

No matter because in the January of 2002, Leeds were top of the Premiership, playing excellent football and in with an excellent chance of winning the title.

Match facts 


Premier League; March 22, 2004 

Leeds United: Robinson; Kelly, Caldwell, Matteo, Domi; Pennant, McPhail, Seth Johnson, Milner; Smith, Viduka

Substitutes not used: Carson; Harte, Radebe, Lennon, Simon Johnson

Manager: Eddie Gray

Scorers: McPhail 23; Viduka 76 pen

Booked: Viduka, Seth Johnson

Manchester City: James; Van Buyten, Dunne, Distin; Tarnat, Sibierski, Wright-Phillips, Barton, Bosvelt (Sun Jihai 82); Fowler, Anelka

Substitutes not used: Arason (GK); Sinclair, Macken, Wanchope

Manager: Kevin Keegan

Scorer: Anelka 44

Booked: Jihai

Sent off: Van Buyten 75

Referee: Alan Wiley

Attendance: 36,998

Then it all unravelled. A collapse in form would see Leeds finish only fifth. That June, the club’s net debt reached £82m and the wage bill was £53m.

The good times Leeds had so readily embraced had now become a downward spiral of losses and debt. It reached the point where one economist predicted Leeds needed £50m just to continue trading.

Inevitably, there followed a firesale of top earning players. The 2002-03 season saw Ferdinand, Keane, Bowyer, Woodgate and Fowler all offloaded to raise vital funds.

By the time Ridsdale stepped down in March 2003, the club’s debts has reached the £103m mark.

Leeds barely avoided relegation in 2003 and by the following season the club was in full crisis.

Chartered accountant, insolvency practitioner and Leeds fan Gerald Krasner led a consortium in a £30m takeover of the club and became chairman.

‘The debts were just over £100m, which doesn’t sound a lot now – one centre-forward. In 2004, it was ginormous,’ Krasner told the BBC earlier this year.

‘You sit there and watch a goal go in and you are a million quid ahead, one goes against you and you are a million quid down.’

Little wonder Krasner, sat in the Elland Road stands with a club scarf around his neck, was out of his seat cheering when Viduka tucked away that winning penalty in March 2004.

The Leeds team that night had a few remnants of their fleeting glory – Matteo, Johnson, Smith, Viduka – but was increasingly reliant on youngsters like James Milner.

It was Stephen McPhail whose curling free-kick deceived City keeper David James to give Leeds a 23rd-minute lead.

But City equalised just before half-time when Nicolas Anelka picked up a flick from Sibierski and drilled the ball past Paul Robinson.

Leeds chairman Gerald Krasner (left) celebrates three points for Leeds at the final whistle

With 15 minutes left and City bossing the game, Smith charged through and was fouled by Van Buyten right on the edge – or quite possibly outside – the box.

City’s protests fell on deaf ears and to compound matters, Van Buyten was sent off. Viduka scored the penalty to earn an unlikely win.

The term ‘Doing a Leeds’ actually entered football parlance though it took a few more years for the full consequences of that reckless spending to become clear.

It’s any club that builds up large debts in the pursuit of success, only to suffer financial meltdown when it doesn’t materialise.

As Leeds prepare to take on Manchester City as equals for the first time in 16 years, they’ve finally recovered from that extraordinary time.

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