Headline could read 'Marcelo Bielsa is back' but he was never going to leave his beloved Leeds United

The headline could read 'Marcelo Bielsa is back' but the story is that he never went away. He was never going to go away.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 10th September 2020, 3:23 pm
MUTUAL LOVE - Marcelo Bielsa is beloved by Leeds fans and has found them to be an army of devotees who shower him with love, respect and gifts
MUTUAL LOVE - Marcelo Bielsa is beloved by Leeds fans and has found them to be an army of devotees who shower him with love, respect and gifts

When Leeds United's head coach was photographed by a fan aboard the number 52 bus to Elland Road in late July he was on his way to agree some of the details of a contract extension. Today, finally, he confirmed that he will remain with Leeds United having 'sorted' a deal that makes him a Premier League manager and the top flight's fourth-ever Argentine boss.

Money was no sticking point and his personal terms were done and dusted relatively quickly, for a man with a reputation as a meticulous operator who obsesses over the finer points of football.

Early on in the summer Bielsa got head of facilities Mark Broadley in to look at Thorp Arch and investigate the improvements and changes needed to enable Leeds to become a Premier League outfit, and sat down to sift through transfer targets with director of football Victor Orta.

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It was always moving in the right direction, but it takes time to get everything in place and all the ducks in a row, particularly with arrangements like the one that sees Bielsa pay his numerous coaching staff from his own salary.

Just like last summer, when Bielsa sat down with Andrea Radrizzani, Orta and Angus Kinnear, reviewed the 2018/19 campaign and told the three men what could be improved to achieve promotion at the second attempt, the club were all ears this time round and willing to make it all happen.

At no point during the discussions did the narrative around Elland Road change. There was never any panic. There was always confidence that Bielsa would remain, even if it was tinged with caution given how impossible it is to second-guess him and how important the deal was to the club's immediate future. For Leeds fans who, thanks to their club's history, need no encouragement to conjure up worst-case scenarios, the wait for an announcement has felt like an eternity.

So there was tension, because this was the most important signing the club could make before their new life as a Premier League club begins.

You're never close to a deal with Bielsa until it actually happens, but the feelgood factor lingering after promotion remained in the LS11 air and his intention always appeared to be to stay and plot the next course, having already guided the club 'home.'

Bielsa was the linchpin and the inspiration behind a record points tally and a Championship title. He is a big part of selling the Elland Road dream to new recruits like record-signing Rodrigo and he was integral to keeping stars like Kalvin Phillips on board.

He is also a colossal figurehead for a fanbase whose reserves of hope had all but run out, before he arrived in 2018. Bielsa lit a fire under Leeds and the result was fireworks, exploding in the sky above the old ground as Liam Cooper lifted the Championship trophy above his head and the club kissed the EFL goodbye.

Since then local artists Nick Dixon and Andy McVeigh have teamed up to paint a huge mural in Wortley, two miles from Elland Road, depicting Bielsa as the club's Messiah, a Christ the Redeemer style image adorning the wall beneath the words 'marchando juntos' - marching on together, in Spanish. Leeds supporters are marching into the promised land, squarely behind their leader.

Yet for all he has given to Leeds, the coach of world renown insists he has received more in return.

In the days after the Whites' promotion had been confirmed, Radrizzani said the club should not have to beg anyone to stay and while those words made a number of supporters nervous, he was ultimately right. This contract extension is not a product of Leeds pleading with a head coach to bless them with another year, it is a byproduct of a mutually beneficial and loving relationship.

Something else Radrizzani said about Bielsa recently rings true today too: "He is the perfect fit."

Bielsa united the club and its fans, gave them a team and a style of football born of his obsession, one they adore and over which they obsess. In the people of Leeds Bielsa found an army willing to accept him, his quirks and his methods, an army who cherish him and bestow their love, gifts and tasty soups upon him. In the fanbase he found a passion that resonates deeply with him.

Bielsa loves Leeds and Leeds loves Bielsa. The love story will go on and it can now play out on a much bigger stage.