Opinion

The A-League could do with a team hated like Leeds

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Leeds United returning to the Premier League provoked an interesting reaction.

The club is regarded as the most hated team in England and are apparently the most sung about team by other sets of fans in the country - and these songs are not exactly positive.

Yet their promotion back to the top tier has been widely welcomed.

Sure, there is some excitement at seeing Marcelo Bielsa in the Premier League and crossing tactical swords with the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

Then there is anticipation (when things return to normal) about Elland Road giving the big boys the kind of old-fashioned welcome that is increasingly rare with plenty of famous old grounds being ditched over the years in favour of similar-looking, featureless bowls.

The home of Leeds may not be a beauty to look at but when it has 40,000 fans inside, as it will in the top tier, it can generate a fierce atmosphere.

There is more to it than that however. Every country needs a Leeds, a big team that is universally disliked and capable of winning titles and also capable of spending 16 years elsewhere.

There are teams that are generally unpopular in every country but this often comes from sustained dominance.

Winning titles year in and year out is always going to provoke resentment in others.

Juventus are hated in Italy for the fact that they win often, appear to get the rub of the refereeing green, have fans all over the country and have a sense of entitlement.

There is something similar with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Sydney FC’s success in the A-League has obviously had a reaction, as Michael Zullo said in 2018: "I think being from Sydney, being from the biggest city, being from the biggest club in the A-League, we felt that a lot of teams have almost kind of hated us all year.”

And it wasn’t just that year. In 2012, Paul Reid said that being hated drove the team on.

"All teams, all supporters, and all the media across the country don't want Sydney to win," Reid said.

"That's the way it is. We know that as players, the coaches know that.”

Yet Leeds are different to those successful teams mentioned above. They have never been dominant.

Even during their most successful period in the early seventies, when they were one of the best around, there was a feeling that the team failed to lift the number of trophies they should have.

This was not a team that always got the big decisions, as was demonstrated in the infamous (in Leeds anyway) loss to Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup final.

Looking back over the last 40 years, the Whites have spent more time out of the top division than in it.

Yet they are still disliked - perhaps for the ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag they were given in the seventies, one that seems a little unfair for a talented team that had enforcers in an era when most teams did.

Perhaps it is due to the way they were perceived under their most successful coach Don Revie, who did things a little differently.

Perhaps it is also partly because of their fans who had a certain reputation in the seventies and eighties.

Whatever it was, it has lasted.

Over time, maybe something similar can happen in the A-League - and it does take time.

It can’t just be about sustained success causing resentment - though that is a valid football feeling - but this can be an interesting mix of success, failure and attitude.

Maybe relegation would help. A couple of years without, say, Sydney in the top tier may go down very well with other fans but over time, they would be missed.

The last time Leeds came back from the second tier they did so with a swagger and were champions inside two years and painted as the long-ball alternative to a sparkling Manchester United team that had been on course to win a first title since 1967.

Now, they are back to add a little spice to the Premier League and such seasoning would go down well in Australia too.