'Baffling' chief Leeds United motivation after getting Premier League seasons wrong way round

The world hasn’t stopped going round yet, so Leeds United know who will be with them at Brentford on Sunday.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 4:40 am

There are so many very good reasons for the 11 men in Leeds shirts to give their absolute everything for the final 90 minutes of the season this weekend.

They are competitors, athletes who want to win everything from head tennis in training to that awful chewing gum game Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford et al used to play on the pitch before games, and they want to be the men who kept Leeds up, not the ones who took them down.

Even the players for whom summer moves are on the agenda whether or not the Whites remain a Premier League club desperately want to go out on a high.

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They want to make loved ones proud, the wives, partners, kids, parents and friends who have supported them every step of the way en route to football’s top table.

They are team-mates, who want to experience highs together and enjoy moments like last weekend’s stoppage time equaliser.

Some of them are Leeds fans by birth and others by adoption, having gone through a naturalisation process and become hooked on a club that is in many ways unique.

They won’t want to let Marcelo Bielsa down, again, or his successor Jesse Marsch who, like him or not, has fully invested himself in the job of retaining the club’s top-flight status.

CHIEF MOTIVATORS - Leeds United's fanbase has backed them even during humiliating defeats this season and will be right with them at Brentford on Sunday. They deserve a happy ending. Pic: Getty

There’s the obvious financial implications. And then there’s the fans.

No-one can say that Leeds United matters to them more than the people who pay their money to watch, support and wear the colours of the club.

Bielsa called them the most important people in football and his words never rang more true than during the insufferable empty stadia stage of the pandemic.

A footballer can experience every emotion that a fan goes through during his time at a club but few stick around for more than a handful of years, at most. Most live it for their era and move on, but for anyone born into a Leeds United family, this is it from childhood to death. Decades of ups and downs. Decades of just downs. A life sentence.

Serving time hasn’t been such a chore in recent years. The promotion season was like parole on a tropical island. This season has been a lot harder, because it has felt so out of place.

Had Bielsa’s small squad come up into the Premier League and struggled to find their feet and consistency but gone into the last game with a chance of getting out of jail, few would surely have quibbled.

A second season of improvement and a comfortable mid-table finish, maybe even in the top 10, would have felt like a natural next step and a healthy sign of progression.

Instead, they got it the wrong way round, as clubs sometimes do. Not many take the Premier League by storm quite like Leeds did, though, in a manner that suggested Andrea Radrizzani’s European dream was just a few very good transfer windows away from reality. You can understand why, then, this season of toil and struggle has felt so unfair, particularly when the top half heroics were played out almost exclusively behind closed doors. The world let Leeds back into stadiums, for this?

And yet, complaints at games have been few and far between. Only the Aston Villa game, when the resentment at Bielsa’s sacking and a hopeless performance combined to fissure tempers, and the proximity to real peril felt during the Brighton encounter on Sunday, have made things uncomfortable for the ownership. Players might not have picked up on exactly what was being sung late in the second half as the Seagulls held a 1-0 lead but the change in the atmosphere cannot have escaped them.

All it took was a goal, however, and everyone was back onside. There they will stay, too, until hope and patience run out.

The backing for this team has, at times, been baffling. Turning up in the maximum numbers, defiantly singing through disappointment, warding off humiliation with pride and togetherness, the fans have often been the only positive talking point, providing the only consistency.

They won’t get the 90 minutes they deserve on Sunday, for that would be total domination and enough goals to make up for some dreadful experiences, but they might get a happy ending.

That, you would hope, is nestled among the motivations driving players into every tackle at Brentford. It should be chief among the motivations, really.

Pleasing them isn’t difficult and the situation for Leeds is equally simple. Regardless of what Burnley do tonight, a Leeds United win is needed on Sunday. Just win and see what happens. Just win for all the reasons that make winning worthwhile. Win for yourselves, your families and team-mates. Win for the fans. Win for them and with them. Just win.