Given Leeds United’s recent rise under Marcelo Bielsa, the club and their fans can be forgiven for having a wry smile on their face as they look at some of their former players now struggling. This is especially forgiven for those that jumped ship seeking financial as many lost patience waiting for this giant of English football to finally awake. However, since arriving back in the big time it appears Leeds are here to stay leaving those who decided against staying loyal to regret their decision.
A product of the Whites’ academy, Cook burst onto the scene at the start of the 2014-15 season and quickly became a standout in an underperforming team. By the end of the next season the central midfielder was named the Football League’s Young Player of the Year. As Leeds failed to mount a serious promotion charge, Cook departed and signed for Bournemouth in July 2016 for £10m.
Things have not exactly gone to plan since then though with Cook in and out of the team, managing only one goal in well over 100 Bournemouth appearances. To make matters worse, Leeds replaced Bournemouth in the Premier League last year and the Cherries have struggled in the Championship. Though Cook has had four years in the top flight while Leeds have battled their way back, part of him must be envious as his former side now thrive in the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa, with Cook’s former teammate Kalvin Phillips now a regular in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Taylor made his debut for Leeds as a 17-year-old in 2011 but it wasn’t until 2015 that he nailed down a first-team spot at Elland Road. The left-back’s ability saw him become one of the club’s most consistent players and a huge favourite with the Leeds fans.
However, that all changed at the end of the 2016-17 season after he refused to play for Garry Monk’s side before joining Burnley on a ‘free transfer’. Leeds were later paid £6m in compensation but the Whites’ fans were furious with Taylor who had come through the club’s academy and played over 100 games for the club, before seemingly jumping ship as soon as a Premier League club came calling with some money. Though Taylor and Burnley remain in the top flight, Leeds have overtaken the Clarets on their return to the Premier League playing high-quality football. As fate would have it, Marcelo Bielsa is on the lookout for a left-back and Taylor’s all-action style would be suited to the way Leeds play. The chances of him returning though are very slim given the way he departed the club five years ago.
Still a favourite with the Leeds fans, part of Pontus Jansson must really regret the timing of his exit from Elland Road. After United’s defeat to Derby in the play-off semi-final at the end of the 2018-19 season, the Swede joined Brentford for £5m after a fallout with Marcelo Bielsa.
Despite losing their commanding centre-back, Leeds stormed to the Championship title the following year while Jansson captained Brentford to the play-off final, only to lose at the hands of Fulham. He had to watch on as the West Yorkshire club flourished in the Premier League last season, but things have quickly turned around with the Bees promotion allowing them to become the league’s surprise package of this season, and the London club currently sit above Leeds in the Premier League table. Still, Jansson is loved by Leeds fans and could return again one day.
Saiz excelled during his one and a half seasons in West Yorkshire, playing some of the best football of his career. He helped Leeds storm to the top of the league but a mid-season slump saw the club drop down and eventually finish the 2017-18 season in mid-table. Despite that, the skilful Spanish midfielder continued to be a standout and went into Marcelo Bielsa’s reign as one of the club’s key players.
Things didn’t quite work out under the Argentine though whose style didn’t fit with Bielsa’s plan and he was loaned out by Christmas. Saiz joined Girona at the end of the 2018-19 season for a measly £2.5m despite calls from some Leeds fans to bring him back into the fold ahead of another shot at promotion.
Though Saiz was homesick, he will undoubtedly have regrets about not trying harder to adapt to Bielsa’s philosophies which would have in turn led to the Spaniard achieving his dream of playing in the Premier League.
It only seems two minutes ago that Jack Clarke was Leeds United’s next big thing as he sprinted down the wing to create chance after chance during the 2018-19 season. Everything changed for the young winger though when he joined Tottenham for £11m at the end of that season, a deal that saw him return to Elland Road on loan.
However, Clarke wasn’t used by Bielsa at the start of the Whites’ promotion-winning campaign and he returned to Tottenham at Christmas. Loan spells at QPR, Stoke and Sunderland have followed but the 21-year-old has failed to score since leaving Leeds and now must watch his former club thrive in the top flight. It remains to be seen whether Clarke will return to Spurs and flourish, he certainly has time on his side, however it’s hard not to mention the downward trajectory of his career since his permanent exit from the Whites nearly three years ago.