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HomeChampionshipDominic Matteo exclusive on Leeds rebuild and promotion race

Dominic Matteo exclusive on Leeds rebuild and promotion race

The Football Faithful sat down with ex-Leeds United defender Dominic Matteo this week to discuss a gripping promotion race in the Championship and the club’s rebuild in the second tier.

After relegation last season, Leeds are aiming to bounce back at the first attempt, though this is the tightest race for automatic promotion the second tier has seen in recent memory.

Just one point currently separates the top three, with Leeds sitting second in the table. However, a slip-up at Coventry means promotion rivals Ipswich can climb above Daniel Farke’s side with a win in their game in hand.

At an event hosted by William Hill, Matteo – who made 146 appearances for Leeds between 2000 and 2004 – opened up to The Football Faithful on the promotion race, what Leeds need to do if promotion is secured, and his insight into the current group at Elland Road.

Q: Promotion under Marcelo Bielsa in 2019/20 was the end of a 16-year wait for Premier League football, though the club’s top-flight return did not go to plan with relegation two seasons later. What do you think Leeds need to do differently if promotion is secured again this season?

“We know the manager, what he does, he’s got Norwich promoted twice. He will be thinking if we go up, we need to stay there, he will want to keep a team in the Premier League.

“Recruitment is going to be key for any club that goes up, we know that. Also, keeping hold of the players because, and I hate to say it, there’s going to be clubs looking. With the form of Crysencio Summerville, and Archie Gray, there’s more in the squad as well, there are a lot of good players in the Leeds group. To lose players like that, we can’t let that happen. We have to make sure these key players are tied down and want to play for Leeds United.

“A lot of decisions will depend on whether we’re in the Premier League but we’re building a really good squad. I’ve interviewed a lot of the players recently, Archie Gray, and (Ilia) Gruev. (Wilfried) Gnonto invited me for a little Italian at his house which was nice. I said my dad’s not a bad chef with the Italian background so we’ll have a bit of dinner and see who has the best pasta!”


Q: What do you make of the current squad and this season?

“I just think, knowing what’s going on at Leeds, they look really together. I’m sure Leicester, Ipswich and Southampton will be saying the same, but I just think that group, particularly at home, all look on the same page.

“The manager’s been absolutely outstanding. I know there was the slip-up at Coventry, but Coventry are a good side. They’re in the FA Cup semi-finals, Mark Robins obviously missed out on it (promotion) last year, so there are difficult games in the Championship.

“I think with the manager we have, he’ll want to get us promoted and keep us up as well. That’s key. And hopefully with the investment from the San Franciso 49ers, which will be important. If we get that place back in the Premier League I think a lot of changes will happen within the club but for the right reasons.

“We know the stadium needs a bit of investment as well, there’s a lot going on. For Leeds, more than most, with the amount of fans we get into Elland Road, it could be scary. Another 20,000 inside Elland Road, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?”


Q: How difficult is the transition from dominating teams in the Championship to Premier League football? We’ve seen Burnley struggle this season after sweeping to the second tier last term…

“I think it is. When you’re playing free-flowing football and having a lot more of the ball in the Championship, when you step up to the Premier League defenders are much better. They read the game better, it’s harder. Again, as a player, that’s the challenge. You play in the Championship and do well, when you get to the Premier League you’ve got to go again. Your mindset has to be right. I want to be the best and that’s got to be right throughout the team.

“Having an insight into the football club, I think those players will want to prove they’re Premier League players. After getting relegated, when Sam Allardyce came in to help us, I think we were too far gone. It was worth a try but we didn’t quite have enough. There will be a lot of players wanting to make that right and play in the Premier League for a long period.

“It’s so important we get into the Premier League and stay in it for a period of time. When I was there and we were relegated there was such a long time before the club got back. We can’t have those periods away from the Premier League, we have to maintain it.

“The manager will be thinking let’s get promoted first and foremost, then plans and recruitment will be made to ensure Leeds are a force in the Premier League. But that’s hindsight, we have to make sure we get there first and make sure we win these remaining games. Until then, we can’t really make the decisions that need to be made with all those clubs fighting for it (promotion).”

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