Football Features

What each Premier League manager was doing the last time Leeds Utd were a top-flight club

By Ben Green

Published: 17:30, 18 July 2020

Leeds United are back! The Premier League is about to crank it up a notch with the three-time English champions finally out of the wilderness and the pure enigmatic madness of Marcelo Bielsa bringing an added degree of intrigue. 

For 16 years, the West Yorkshire club have been scrapping it out in the lower divisions, even dropping as low as League One in 2007. But those dispirited afternoons at Elland Road are now a thing of the past with Leeds finally returning to the big time after nearly two decades.

During that time a lot has changed in football. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have left Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, Leicester City clinched a fairytale Premier League title and Manchester City have emerged as a global powerhouse.


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Things have changed quite a bit for the current Premier League managers as well. The last time Leeds were tussling with the heavyweights of the top-flight some were still in the prime years of their playing careers, while other were just starting out in the dugout.

Here we go back to 2004 and revisit what each current Premier League manager was up to.

Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)

  • Where: Rangers
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 22

Arteta joined Rangers from Barcelona in 2002 after a successful loan spell at Paris Saint-Germain, where he played alongside the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Ronaldinho and Jay-Jay Okocha, and he immediately impressed in the Scottish Premier League.

Such was his form at Ibrox that Real Sociedad acquired his services in the summer that Leeds went down. The idea was for Arteta to form a midfield partnership with childhood friend Xabi Alonso, but he left for Liverpool that summer and the current Arsenal boss eventually departed for Everton in January that season.

Dean Smith (Aston Villa)

  • Where: Sheffield Wednesday
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 33

This was Smith’s penultimate season on the pitch and he marked it by captaining the Owls to safety in the third tier. Sheffield Wednesday had slipped down to the old Second Division (now League One) the season prior, and Smith helped them avoid back-to-back relegations by just three points in 2003/04. He left that summer for Port Vale, where he finished his playing career.

Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)

  • Where: Swindon Town (on loan from Portsmouth)
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 26

Incredibly Mr. Bournemouth was not at Bournemouth when Leeds plummeted down the food chain. However, normality was restored just a few months later when he joined the Cherries from Pompey on loan before completing a permanent switch. But in 2003/04, Howe spent the second half of the season at Swindon.

Howe was famously Harry Redknapp’s first signing at Portsmouth but injuries beset his stint at Fratton Park, leading to a temporary move to Swindon, for whom he failed to make a single appearance as he tried to recapture his form and fitness. He subsequently returned to Portsmouth that summer.

Graham Potter (Brighton)

  • Where: Macclesfield Town
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 29

Potter spent the 2003/04 season with three separate clubs. The former Southampton defender joined Boston United at the start of the campaign before moving to Shrewsbury Town on loan and, eventually, Macclesfield on a free transfer in February 2004. Potter spent one more season on the pitch and eventually hung up his boots with the Silkmen in 2005, where he began his academic career before moving into coaching.

Sean Dyche (Burnley)

  • Where: Watford
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 33

By the time 2004 came around Dyche had forged a very respectable career in the lower divisions as a hard-hitting centre-back. He had played under esteemed tacticians, ranging from Brian Clough to former England assistant Ray Lewington and would be skippering Watford in 2004/05 against Leeds in the Championship. One of the up-and-coming academy products he was captaining that season was a certain Ashley Young. Very odd imagining these two sharing a pitch together.

Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

  • Where: Chelsea
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 26

Where was Lampard when Leeds were relegated from the Premier League? Well, he was right there, at Stamford Bridge on the final game of the season as Leeds suffered a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea. Their relegation had already been confirmed, but this was just one final twist of the knife as the Premier League waved goodbye to the once dominant West Yorkshire club.

‘Lamps’ was already in his third season as a Chelsea player after moving from boyhood club West Ham, and he marked that campaign with his first Premier League double-digit haul, throwing down the gauntlet for many more years of goalscoring excellence in west London.

Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)

  • Where: United Arab Emirates
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 56

Hodgson was well travelled by the time 2004 came around. He had just left his position as manager of United Arab Emirates in January of that year and joined Norwegian club Viking in July, this being his 13th non-English job. Hodgson was dismissed from his position in charge of UAE after overseeing a dismal 16th Arabian Gulf Cup campaign, in which his side placed fifth in the round-robin tournament. 

Carlo Ancelotti (Everton)

  • Where: AC Milan
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 45

The 2003/04 season was a formidable one for Ancelotti, whose famed ‘Christmas Tree’ formation was flourishing on Italian soil as his AC Milan side went the entire campaign with just two defeats and cantered to a Scudetto in fine fashion. The Italian coach already had a Champions League title to his name and was tutoring illustrious names like Kaka, Clarence Seedorf, Andriy Shevchenko, Paolo Maldini, and well, you get the point.

Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City)

  • Where: Reading/Chelsea
  • Role: Academy director
  • Age: 31

Rodgers saw his playing career cut short prematurely by a genetic knee condition and eventually moved into a coaching role with the youth ranks at Reading. It was at the Madejski that Rodgers garnered the attention of top clubs in England for his work in youth football, and he was eventually recruited by Chelsea in 2004 after Jose Mourinho spotted his coaching potential.

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)

  • Where: Mainz 05
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 37

The 2003/04 season was the making of Jurgen Klopp. Having spent three seasons as Mainz’s manager, he helped stabilise them in the 2. Bundesliga, where he guided the Carnival club to successive fourth-place finishes, and in 2004, he masterminded an unthinkable promotion to the German top flight for the first time in the club’s history.

Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

  • Where: Al-Ahli
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 33

Having rejected Manchester United, Guardiola opted for a move to the Qatar Stars League with Al-Ahli in 2003/04. The Catalonian was just beginning to wind down his career after 11 trophy-laden years with Barcelona, as well as brief stints at Brescia and Roma. Guardiola spent two years with the Brigadier before finishing his career in Mexico under now-assistant coach Juan Manuel Lillo at Dorados de Sinaloa.

We couldn’t get a picture of his time in the Middle East, so here is one during a match for Spain around the same time.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United)

  • Where: Man Utd
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 31

The 2003/04 season was the beginning of the end for the “Baby-faced Assassin”. He began the campaign as Fergie’s unorthodox winger, but a injury sustained against Panathinaikos in September sidelined the Norwegian for several months. He recovered to play 19 games that season, including a late cameo in the 2004 FA Cup final win, but that summer he would require major surgery from which he never properly recovered.

Steve Bruce (Newcastle)

  • Where: Birmingham
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 43

Bruce was in charge of Birmingham in the Premier League during Leeds’ collapse. The former Manchester United defender played his part in Leeds’ subsequent relegation as his Blues side did the double over the Whites in the 2003/04 season. At Elland Road, a Robbie Savage penalty and a late Mikael Forssell strike secured a 2-0 victory, while four goals, including braces from Bryan Hughes and Mikael Forssell, put the sword to Leeds at St Andrew’s.

Daniel Farke (Norwich)

  • Where: SV Wilhelmshaven
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 27

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather Franz, who won the German title as a player and donned the yellow and black of Borussia Dortmund, Daniel Farke spent most of his career in the lower divisions of Germany before moving into coaching. The self-proclaimed “slowest striker in the whole of Western Europe” was playing for SV Wilhelmshaven by the time Leeds’ dropped out of the Premier League.

Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)

  • Where: Halifax Town
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 36

The current Sheff Utd boss was in the second of a six-year spell with the Shaymen. He presided over the reins in West Yorkshire for more than 300 games, during which time he tried to sign Jamie Vardy, but couldn’t afford the fee. Vardy later joined Halifax in 2010 after Wilder had already left.

“I don’t think I could afford the £10,000 that Halifax Town bought him for!” Wilder recently joked.

Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)

  • Where: Bayern Munich II
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 36

If you glance at Bayern Munich II now you’ll find illustrious up-and-coming names like Joshua Zirkzee, Michael Cuisance and highly coveted English teenager Jamal Musiala. But, back in 2004 an ageing Ralph Hasenhuttl was finishing his playing career for the Bavarian giant’s reserve team. The eight-time Austria international called time on his career on the pitch that summer after two years for Little Bayern.

Jose Mourinho (Tottenham Hotspur)

  • Where: Porto
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 41

This was the summer where English football would change forever. With Leeds exiting the Premier League, a certain “Special One” entered the frame and began his reign as Chelsea’s transformative tactician, guiding the club to Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup titles galore. But, that 2003/04 will always remain a glittering footnote on his CV as Mourinho masterminded a truly remarkable Champions League win with Porto. Cue obligatory snapshot of the Portuguese sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline…

Nigel Pearson (Watford)

  • Where: West Brom
  • Role: Assistant coach
  • Age: 40

Pearson was officially unattached at the time of Leeds’ relegation, having not coached at a club since 2001, but he was snapped up in 2004 by the Baggies to function as Bryan Robson’s assistant coach. That season West Brom survived relegation by the skin of their teeth, and Pearson eventually took over as caretaker coach following the sacking of Robson in 2006.

David Moyes (West Ham)

  • Where: Everton
  • Role: Manager
  • Age: 41

West Ham’s ‘Moyesiah’ looks to have performed his duties as the club’s go-to escapologist once again, but he will now be hoping to form some consistency and build a project similar to his one at Goodison Park. That started in 2002, and like Bruce for Birmingham, Moyes’ Everton did Leeds absolutely no favours in 2003/04 as the Toffees picked up four points against them, including a 4-0 win on Merseyside.

Incredibly, Everton finished just outside the relegation zone in 17th. Had Leeds reversed those results against the Goodison Park club, they would have stayed up and Moyes would have sunk with the Toffees. It is a game of fine margins football.

Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves)

  • Where: Porto
  • Role: Player
  • Age: 30

In the same month Leeds were condemned to the Championship, Espirito Santo was sitting on the bench as Porto scooped the Champions League trophy against Monaco. The Wolves manager was picked up by Mourinho in 2002 as a back-up goalkeeper and performed that role well as the Dragons went on to sweep European football and achieve the unthinkable.

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