Leeds United are back in the Championship and will be hoping that this stint outside the top flight won’t be anything like last time, which saw the club spend 16 years in the Football League and churn through players at a rate of knots.
It would take an encyclopaedic knowledge of Leeds’ history to remember all the players that came and went during the club’s wilderness years in the 2000s and 2010s.
But some left more of an impression than others and there are some cult heroes among the ex-Leeds lot still plying their trade away from the limelight in the twilight years of their careers.
Here are seven former Leeds players that we can’t believe are still playing in 2023.
Possessor of the finest beard ever seen at Elland Road, Antenucci’s time at Leeds coincided with the chaos under his Italian compatriot Massimo Cellino. The striker scored just 19 goals in 80 appearances for the Peacocks and departed the club in 2016.
Antenucci went on to enjoy something of an Indian summer back in his home country, firing SPAL to promotion with 20 goals in 2016-17 before notching a respectable tally of 11 Serie A goals in their first season in the top flight.
He left the club in 2019 and spent three years with Serie C side Bari before returning to SPAL – now also in the Italian third tier – in the summer.
Part of Simon Grayson’s memorable promotion-winning team of 2009-10, Johnson left Leeds for Norwich City – a popular path in the early 2010s, also trodden by Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Luciano Becchio.
The midfielder spent four seasons with the Canaries, three of which were in the Premier League, before spending his latter years back in the Championship with Derby County and Blackburn Rovers.
After getting relegated under former Leeds’ Under-23s coach Mark Jackson with MK Dons last term, 36-year-old Johnson has rejoined Derby in League One.
But Johnson will play no part in the Rams’ promotion push this season. He’s a player-coach for their Under-21s team, an arrangement popularised by Tom Huddlestone and Paul McShane at Manchester United.
Undoubtedly one of Leeds’ finest strikers of their 16-year Premier League exile, McCormack will forever be remembered fondly at Elland Road for telling Neil Warnock to f*ck off before going on to score a ridiculous tally of 28 Championship goals in 2013-14.
After that career-best campaign, McCormack was sold to Fulham for £11million – a massive fee for a Championship club at the time.
He did reasonably well at Craven Cottage but his career totally went off the rails after he was sold for a small profit to Aston Villa two years later. He had more loans away (four) than goals scored (three) for Villa.
After a short and unsuccessful stint with Aldershot, he returned to the game after two years away to sign for non-league Liversedge, for whom he serves as both a player and a sporting director.
The Edge is fine. The drummer is fine. Adam Clayton? Turning out for Rochdale nowadays.
The 34-year-old midfielder had one fairly forgettable Premier League season with Middlesbrough in 2016-17 but has otherwise had the classic Football League journeyman career, having gone from Leeds to Huddersfield, then Boro, Birmingham, Doncaster, Bradford and now Rochdale.
Clayton joined the National League outfit after spending the latter half of last season with Mark Hughes’ Bantams, who ended the 2022-23 campaign with a play-off semi-final defeat to Carlisle. If only they’d had Howson instead.
A proper well-travelled career, Norris has represented no fewer than 17 different clubs ranging from non-league to the Championship.
The midfielder was a regular at Leeds back in 2012-13 before tumbling down the divisions, but he’s been relatively settled at Lancaster City since 2018 and is now – at the age of 42 – into his sixth season with the club, who state he’s “one of the most popular members of the squad with supporters, players and staff alike, a highly influential and respected member of the changing room.”
Earlier this summer, Norris agreed to turn out for the club for one more year. Their Twitter admin has put their work in with this dramatic Alan Parsons Project-soundtracked announcement video.
— Lancaster City Football Club (@LancasterCityFC) July 20, 2023
The player on this list who played for Leeds longest ago, Carson graduated from the academy to make three Premier League appearances in the infamous 2003-04 relegation campaign.
The goalkeeper went on to play over 500 games in a respectable career, although he’s been a fringe player at best in the major honours he’s won at Liverpool (2004-07) and Man City (2019 to present). The 38-year-old is now into his fifth season at the Etihad and has made two appearances for Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering juggernaut.
If they spend a lot of time [with him], listen to him and pay attention, that is the best advice and learning they can get about their future careers,” Guardiola said of Carson’s value.
“Every second he is training and every minute you get on the pitch and in the changing room [with Carson], you value.
“It’s like the young actors have to be with the old actors on the set. They are wiser and have the values of the profession.”
Like Carson, Michalik is stretching the definition of “still playing” somewhat, but to the best of our knowledge he remains a professional footballer at the age of 40.
According to Transfermarkt, the big Slovakian remains contracted with Slovan Galanta and made one 45-minute appearance in the Slovnaft Cup last season. That’s good enough for us.