The 21st century is a mixed bag for Leeds United.
The start of the new millennia saw Leeds United in fine form, flying in European and domestic competition alike. Twenty years on and Leeds are once more in the top flight, battling each week to further cement their status. Between then and now was a turbulent, terrifying time, the dreariness of such compiled by stints of dire mediocrity in league football. Through stagnation, financial issues, and two relegations, the general consensus is that, so far, the century hasn’t been particularly amazing for Leeds fans, although it has been on the up since the arrival of Bielsa. One thing that has seemed a consistent aspect of Elland Road football, however, is their tendency to find a striker and nurture them into exceptional talents. Whilst overall failures resulted in the club not being able to keep hold of them, Leeds had genuinely phenomenal goal scorers to lead their line, one talisman after another. The best often resonated with the Leeds faithful, forging a strong relationship that grew every time the fans flung their arms to the sky in celebration of another goal from their number 9. So, in no particular order and in a completely opinionated fashion, here are the top five strikers Leeds have seen in the 21st Century so far.
Honourable mention: Chris Wood
The Kiwi signed for Leeds United ahead of the 2015/16 season. After a mediocre debut season, scoring 13 goals, Wood rose to be the catalyst of Leeds’ promotion push in the following campaign. Chris Wood scored 27 goals in 44 Championship games, winning the Golden Boot as the Whites finished agonisingly close to the playoffs in 7th. Fans weren’t surprised when Wood left. He was clearly Premier League standard and since his move to Burnley he has proven such. He is yet to reach the heights of the 2016/17 season in terms of a goal return, but has remained a solid offensive option for the Clarets in the top flight.
Mark Viduka- 2000-2004
Mark Viduka scored 68 goals in all competitions for the Whites and is held in good stead amongst Leeds United fans. Perhaps his most memorable performance came in his first season, when he scored all four goals in a 4-3 victory over Liverpool at Elland Road. From this, Viduka maintained his high goal return, being one of the key figures in Leeds preventing their impending demotion to the second league of English football. Perhaps Viduka could have created a true cult hero status at the club if he had been allowed, but financial troubles resulted in his sale to Middlesbrough in 2004 for under £5 million. An unrighteous exit for a striker of such quality, but an exit none the less.
Patrick Bamford, – 2018-
There has perhaps not been a player as polarising at Leeds United in recent years than Patrick Bamford. The most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler (at the time), the £7 million man has been heavily criticised by fans and neutrals alike throughout his first two seasons for his frequency to miss and scupper easy chances. Bielsa has kept faith in his London-born striker however, with the development in Bamford’s hold up play and his consistent determination to better himself in Bielsa’s system, he has become increasingly important in his role. By the conclusion of 2020, Bamford had scored ten Premier League goals in fifteen games. In 85 league games (as of mid-January 2021), Bamford has scored 35 goals for the Whites. He is certainly not the most prolific of the five here, and is perhaps the most controversial, but his development and his ability in leading the line in the Premier League, as well as his love for the club and city, firmly justifies his place in the list.
Ross McCormack, 2010-2014
McCormack, when signed from Cardiff, had clear potential. He had scored 21 goals in the 2008/09 season but had dipped to only four goals for the following year. A poor turn of form, but the calibre was clearly there in McCormack. Signed in United’s first season back in the Championship after a stint in League One, McCormack was to fill a certain Beckford shaped hole in the Leeds attack. Although his first season saw poor returns, a measly two goals in 20 Championship games, his second season saw him hit the back of the net 18 times, whilst also notching 6 assists. A dip in goals once more the following year saw him have a return of only five goals, but McCormack managed to pick up 13 assists as he went. It was his final campaign as a Leeds United player that fans remember him so fondly for. With 28 goals and 10 assists in 46 appearances, McCormack was the light that shone so brightly amidst a particularly bleak and directionless time at Elland Road.
The talent of the Scot was apparent throughout his entire tenure at the club, with links to moves away from Leeds being as continuous as they were false. Following such a brilliant individual season that was masked by a poor team performance, however, a move to the top flight seemed inevitable. McCormack ended up joining newly relegated Fulham in 2014, and regardless of a repeat of form, he would play only Championship football for the Londoners. A 2017 move to Aston Villa was the beginning of the end for McCormack, who now plays for Aldershot Town. McCormack was explosive for Leeds, his attacking capabilities dragging them from the relegation dogfight, yet he was sadly never able to truly regain the 2013/14 form he once found so naturally. McCormack scored 53 goals overall in league competition for Leeds United, in 143 games.
Jermaine Beckford, 2006-2010
Beckford signed for Leeds United from non-league Wealdstone at a time where the club were dependent on finding gems in the lower leagues due to financial restrictions stemming from the reign of Peter Ridsdale. Beckford went goalless in his first handful of appearances for Leeds during what would be their last season in the Championship before relegation. After dropping to the third tier for the first time in their history, Beckford signed a new deal and became a more established member of the first team, scoring 20 goals in 40 games in his first full season at Leeds. Beckford would only further develop during his time at Elland Road, his pace and lethality in front of goal becoming the key aspects of the blossoming striker. 34 appearances in the 2008/09 season saw a return of 27 goals as Leeds once more missed out on promotion through the playoffs. Beckford’s form had understandably been noted by higher leagued teams, his name being further thrust into the spotlight after that goal at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. The 2009/10 season saw Leeds return to the Championship after a 2nd place finish, but too marked the end of Jermaine Beckford’s time at the club. Destined for higher things that the Whites could not gift him, Beckford left for Everton on a free upon the expiration of his contract. A bitter loss for Leeds, especially given that they could not profit from such a talent. Fans now hold Beckford in incredibly high regard, as they did during his time as a Leeds United player that saw him score 72 league goals in 116 appearances. He never had an impact as sizeable as the one he had at Leeds in his later career, but his legacy at Elland Road is remarkable. His goal to knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup has gone down in Leeds United folklore and his fondness for the team still reverberates throughout his punditry, something noted and appreciated by fans.
Luciano Becchio, 2008-2012
Luciano Becchio was adored at Leeds United. The Argentine arrived on a free transfer from the Spanish third division, no doubt part of Bates’ plan to scour the lower leagues of football for diamonds in the rough. The floppy-haired centre-forward bloomed at Elland Road, his sheer passion for the club both respected and appreciated by fans. Becchio became something of a cult icon during his time at Elland Road, his name synonymous with the West Yorkshire side. Becchio was a physical striker, deadly in the air and clinical in front of goal. The Elland Road roar when he scored against Millwall in the 2008-09 League One playoffs remains one of the most electric buzzes of recent times. Jubilation and sheer ecstasy of fans that was truly matched by the men on the pitch. Becchio was ever present upon Leeds’ return to the Championship, his hot form continuing, indifferent of the league change. Becchio played over 200 games for Leeds in all competitions, scoring 86 goals as well as gaining 20 assists. In January 2013, Becchio was transferred to Norwich in a swap deal for Steve Morison and a small amount of money. Fans were devastated at the news alone, but the trajectory of both Morison and Becchio’s career soured emotions even further. Morison was not even close to Becchio’s ability, whereas Becchio would never manage to regain the form that had made him such a legend amongst the Leeds faithful. Regardless of his later career, Becchio remains one of the fondest memories of such a dreary time in Leeds United history.
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