'It's a lack of understanding' - Jermaine Beckford on pre-season Leeds United belief and 'Bielsa burnout' myth

Jermaine Beckford has always known Leeds United would succeed in the Premier League this season.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 3:29 pm
Leeds United hero Jermaine Beckford at Elland Road during the centenary celebrations in 2019. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Promotion last summer was sealed in what felt like the most Elland Road of ways after 16 years out of the top flight.

Mass celebrations were put on hold amid a global pandemic and a first term among England’s elite has been played out behind closed doors up until the very final weekend.

The stands in LS11 have been empty and players have had to make do with the screams of Bielsa and Victor Orta echoing around the four walls of United’s home ground in the absence of their adoring public.

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Supporters have been felt if not heard and memories have been made – just not in the conventional sense of following Leeds United

Living rooms have been turned upside down, children have been woken from naps, pets have been startled and partners disturbed such are the heights Bielsa’s squad have reached with fans restricted to watching from afar.

The day before the Whites’ opening fixture at reigning champions Liverpool last September, Beckford sat and listened to a colleague on a national radio station.

Leeds fans were told to stop hyping themselves up before a ball had even been kicked because the Championship could soon come calling their name once again.

Beckford – who sat quietly and patiently waiting his turn – explained that those claims were nonsensical such was his belief in United’s current crop of talent.

Eight months on and he has been proven right. Even more than he first thought.

Dissenting voices have become like church mice and that same pundit, the one who was making bold claims about Leeds struggling, even thinks Bielsa should take up the vacant managerial role at Tottenham Hotspur.

“Did I think we’d be in the top half of the Premier League? I’m not sure. But I knew we would be safe. I had no doubts,” United’s former No 9 told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“When I heard the comments from other people saying all these Leeds fans are getting far too big for their boots and they’re a team that hasn’t been in the top flight for so long so they don’t know what it’s about – it was nice to me. I liked it.

“It was nice to hear that because it’s good to prove people wrong and to see them really humble themselves.

“Fortunately every single player who has represented the club this season, whether it is the full 90 minutes or coming off the bench for the final five minutes – they’ve done the shirt proud.

“I think a lot of fans, myself included, were really excited about the prospect of being back and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest teams in world football.

“There was a little bit of cautious optimism that we were going to do well without actually knowing. I think the very first game of the season against Liverpool settled all the nerves even though we ended up losing.

“It was the manner in which we lost and the work rate, desire, energy, heart and hunger that every single one of the players showed. They let us as football fans know that this is where we’re meant to be.”

A strong start to the season continued into the winter months and praise for Leeds quickly turned into questions and statements born from a myth which has unfairly followed Bielsa throughout his coaching career.

Beckford again was left flying the flag among the mainstream voices of ‘Bielsa burnout’.

“It’s partly down to lack of understanding and misinformation about what Leeds United do in terms of how they set up and how they play,” Beckford continued.

“In the Championship you play far more games and the demands are greater. Naturally burnout will eventually happen for any team if you’re playing on a Saturday and then a Tuesday every single week.

“But that’s not something we’ve ever had to worry about. The overall fitness of the players is sky high and on the days they’re supposed to be off on a Wednesday, they’re doing their hardest session of the week; murderball.

“Everyone who kept saying the burnout is coming and this and that... it’s only because they’re comparing the work ethic from teams they’ve been accustomed to seeing and they’re comparing them to Leeds United.

“They’re not used to seeing it, so they’re just thinking sooner or later burnout is going to come whereas we all know it’s been done before. We’ve seen it since Bielsa arrived. We know we’ll always continue to push into the last minute and beyond until teams crumble against us whatever part of the season it is.

“You look at the teams who have struggled against Leeds. Man City came unstuck and all of the so-called ‘big six’ have failed to win at Elland Road and that’s just beautiful to see.”

Amid the noise and national debate, as an ever-increasingly influential pundit, Beckford will keep banging the Leeds United drum to anyone who will listen.

Questions are already being asked about dreaded second-season syndrome in what feels like a never ending cycle for Leeds and Bielsa; that was great, but what now?

“Naturally the next step is to improve on what we’ve done this year,” Beckford concluded.

“There were maybe a few games earlier in the season where we were a little naive at times but we’ve had lots of injuries to key players and we’ve learnt from that. You can see it in the performances in the last few months.

“There’s places to improve the squad but you don’t want to upset the order or put too many players in there to ruffle feathers, because we know there is a great team unity and bond at the moment and it’s a big part of the success.

“It’s just about getting those players in now who can cover when you get those problems that arise. It’s little by little. That’s how it has to be.”