'I'll never forget' - Leeds United fans share emotional goodbye with Marcelo Bielsa at Thorp Arch

Marcelo Bielsa said goodbye to Leeds United fans outside Thorp Arch on Sunday afternoon, just hours after the club announced the manager's departure.

By Flora Snelson
Monday, 28th February 2022, 6:00 am

Bielsa's exit was confirmed on Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after the Whites suffered their fifth Premier League defeat in six games.

With Bielsa's side faltering and the threat of relegation looming, the Leeds board made the "toughest decision" to part ways with the coach who masterminded United's long-awaited return to the top flight and captured the hearts of the city and its people.

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Leeds United coach sends emotional message to outgoing Marcelo Bielsa

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Fans responded to the sacking with an outpouring of support and tributes to the Argentine, with supporters showing up in their hundreds to sing Bielsa's name at Elland Road and thousands more posting messages of love and gratitude on social media.

On Sunday afternoon, Paul Young, a 46-year-old Whites fan from Pocklington, drove past Thorp Arch after going for a walk in Wetherby and found a crowd of between twenty and thirty fans camped outside the Whites' training ground, hoping to catch a glimpse of Bielsa.

With cars and staff coming in and out of the training complex, the crowd waited to hear word on whether the 66-year-old was inside.

“Marcelo’s translator came out in his car with a load of boxes in the back, followed by another car with a load of boxes in the back, so we thought, they’re probably clearing their offices,” Young said.

Former Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa meets the fans at Thorp Arch. Pic: Paul Young.

After hours spent sitting and hoping, fans were granted their wish.

“Some of the fans came running past and said ‘he’s coming to the gates now’, so everyone darted out of their cars and ran up to the gates," Young said.

“He seemed alright. I’ve met him before, and he is a bit of a reserved person - he’s not one for going out in the limelight.

"He sees the same every time you see him, really, that same little smile on his face.

Mateusz Klich and Raphinha embrace during Leeds United's 4-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Pic: Laurence Griffiths.

"I mean, he’s probably hurting inside, but aren’t we all?”

Bielsa rewarded the dedication of the gathered fans by shaking hands, sharing hugs and taking photographs with supporters. Several fans brought programmes and pictures of the manager for him to sign, and Bielsa was happy to oblige.

Young, whose t-shirt now bears Bielsa's autograph, was glad of the opportunity to express his gratitude on a bittersweet afternoon.

"I didn’t see him crying, but it definitely seemed as though he was close to it - very emotional," Young said.

Leeds United fans gathered at Elland Road on Sunday to show their love for Marcelo Bielsa. Pic: Tony Johnson.

“I just said thank you for everything, sad to see you go. I gave him a thank you card as well. A few other people did.”

“I felt a bit for Bielsa today. It was sad, really.”

In his three-and-a-half year tenure, Bielsa oversaw 80 victories, trusted many young players with their senior debuts and, crucially, restored the club's Premier League status after a 16-year exile.

But equal to these achievements, the Argentine's philosophy and off-pitch influence has made a lasting impression on the Whites fanbase.

“It’s just a different character to any other manager we’ve had," Young said, "it’s the way he does things, outside of football."

"A lot of footballers and managers now, they live in fancy houses behind secure gates and stuff - but not Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa lifts the Championship trophy with his Leeds United players. Pic: Tony Johnson.

"He’s quite happy to live in a flat in Wetherby and go down to the local Costa coffee and Morrisons, as he goes about his daily business.

"When he’s walking to training, he stops for photographs and never brushes people aside.

"It’s definitely been different to the other years, the other managers.

"It’s something that I’ll never forget.”

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Former Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa poses for a photograph with Paul Young. Pic: Paul Young.