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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Leeds pay ultimate price
By Paul Fletcher

Leeds striker Alan Smith and goalkeeper Paul Robinson console each other after the club's relegation is confirmed
Leeds' relegation is the Premiership's most stark example of how living the dream can create a nightmare.

Leeds spent millions they did not have to try and win the Premiership.

The Yorkshire club came close to fulfilling their ambitions with an expensively assembled team bursting with talent and energy.

But their gamble of spending on the premise of reaching the Champions League every season proved to be a disastrous decision.

When Leeds failed to qualify for the 2001-02 Champions League the pitfalls of their policy of spend, spend, spend quickly became apparent.

The lucrative financial rewards of qualifying for Europe's top club competition are huge - and without it Leeds' dream of success and silverware soon started to crumble.

Since the high-water mark of reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2001, Leeds have been battling against a debt that has threatened to drown them.

Trying to apportion blame is like trying to hit a certain bed on the Bullseye dartboard.

Some beds might be bigger than others but there are nevertheless many to aim at.

Former chairman Peter Ridsdale is often seen as a key culprit.

It may be true, but many others must share the blame.

The members of the Leeds board who seemingly did little to prevent ludicrous transfers - 7m for Seth Johnson being a prime example - and the managers who recommended players who have not performed all played their part.

The behaviour of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate cast a shadow over the club at a crucial juncture.

But wisdom in hindsight is all too easy and masks the truth.

It is easy to forget just how exciting it all was. Many of the club's supporters really believed Leeds were on the cusp of greatness.

And with a side boasting Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Harry Kewell, Robbie Keane, Mark Viduka and Alan Smith they had reason to.

Leeds fans were shocked and disillusioned by their sale of the club's top players
Leeds were forced to sell star players such as Jonathan Woodgate

As Leeds were beating the likes of AC Milan, Deportivo La Coruna and Lazio at the turn of the Millennium, the doomsayers were few and far between.

In truth it was only a matter of time before a club succumbed to the dangers of gambling everything on success.

The chasm between top and bottom in the Premiership is so wide that success-hungry clubs have spent beyond their means to try and bridge the gap.

Sir Bobby Robson had to manage with what he had when he took over at Newcastle and the purse strings have tightened at Aston Villa, ironically forcing former Leeds boss David O'Leary to demonstrate he is more than a chequebook manager.

But Leeds' decline stands alone as the most spectacular example of the dangers of trying to build success too quickly on flimsy foundations.

The bottom of the Division One table is littered with examples of clubs who overspent trying to compete in the Premiership and a sprinkling reside in Division Two.

Unfortunately for the club's supporters, who have been superb through this torturous season, the nightmare may not have ended.

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