MICHAEL Duberry enjoyed great times at Leeds United – and reckons they’re finally on their way back to the big-time.
Duberry, who enjoyed five seasons in the top flight with Leeds between 1999 and 2004, keeps a close eye on events at Elland Road.
While there have been a few stumbles of late, the Whites are still in the thick of the title race and the former defender believes they can end a 15-year absence from English football’s top table.
“Leeds have been consistently hard to beat this season and have played very well with some flair players, like Pablo Hernandez, in their team,” said the 43-year-old.
“They look like they can go all the way and not fall at the final hurdle.
“Leeds are a huge club and every week there are 30,000 fans filling the stadium. Over the last few years they have brought in players that can handle that environment and it’s part of the reason why they are doing so well.
“I am liking what I see at the moment but nothing is handed to you in football. It would be great for them to be back in the top flight but you have to earn it.
“I like what (manager) Marco Bielsa is about. He is doing what needs to be done and it seems to be well thought out.”
But if Leeds do win promotion, they are going to have to go some to get near the heights of Duberry’s days at Leeds.
The centre-back reached the Champions League semi-finals in the 2000-01 season with a team that included the likes of Paul Robinson, Lucas Radebe, Ian Harte and Mark Viduka.
“I look back at the great teammates I had around me – it was a team full of top-quality players,” said the former Chelsea and Stoke defender.
“And on top of the football we played, the personalities that we had there were just amazing. It was great to be a part of.
“The Champions League run we went on stands out to me and the game against AC Milan at Elland Road (a 1-0 win in September 2000 with Lee Bowyer scoring a late winner) was one of the best games I have ever played in.
“We were unfortunate in the end that we played such a strong Valencia team in the semi-finals but what a journey.
“We were just one trophy away from building something really big there but, sadly, everyone went their separate ways. I have a lot of happy memories, even if it ended in tears.”
Leeds have endured some dark moments since then – even dropping into League One for three seasons – but now they have come out the other side with a positive outlook.
Duberry is confident about where the Whites are headed and is optimistic they will be able to hold their own if they do mix it with the elite next term.
“I think the club would be smart about it,” added Duberry, who is a motivational and keynote speaker.
“We saw it with QPR a few years ago where they went up, didn’t have the right plan and came straight back down. But I don’t think Leeds would do that, I just don’t see it happening.”
TOM DEAN / Photo: PA Images