Championship nice guy Marcelo Bielsa adds charm offensive to Leeds United tactical plans - Daniel Chapman

Another game, another win, another pep talk to a disheartened manager.

By Daniel Chapman
Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 8:01 am

Or two, in this case. When Marcelo Bielsa put a consoling hand on a Cowley at the end of the Peacocks’ 2-0 win, a moment of awkwardness followed, as he’d got the wrong one. Only when the head Cowley brother joined them did Bielsa start to speak, spinning his hands and pointing upwards.

Perhaps he was asking why Huddersfield Town have an actual picture of a dog on their shirts. Maybe he was asking when the ‘We Are Premier League’ signs are coming down. Perhaps he was suggesting the three of them team up and set out in search of the stadium drummer. “We take their drum,” he might have been saying, spinning his hands, “And then,” pointing upwards, “We shove the sticks here.”

We’ve seen this a few times this season. Only last week, Jonathan Woodgate declined to share their conversation, apart from saying: “He’s a really good manager and a really nice man.”

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

Marcelo Bielsa, the Championship's nice guy (Pic: Getty)

Bielsa’s hand gestures gave that away, though. He pointed to the pitch and wagged his finger, as if to say Middlesbrough didn’t deserve to lose by four. It was the kind of lie you tell to a four year old showing you a drawing: “Very good Jonny, you’ve worked so hard! Were these your tactics?”

Guiseley’s co-manager Marcus Bignot had no problem sharing what Bielsa told him after their pre-season friendly.

“I’m in heaven,” he said. “His interpreter asked what league we are in. When we said the National League, Marcelo shook his head and pointed up. He’s impressed.”

I look forward to Bielsa asking Freddie Ljungberg a variation of that after we win at the Emirates in the FA Cup. “Premier League? I would never have guessed.”

Bielsa’s much too nice for anything like that, though. It’s nice to be nice and, after the controversies that dogged the second half of last season, Bielsa seems to have included a charm offensive in his tactical plans.

There are more smiles in his press conferences. He’s kind to losers. Yellow cards for failing to control his technical area are taken with good grace. After all, he has a FIFA Fair Play award to live up to.

The way Bielsa is being spoken about by other managers feels different too. The Cowleys were so effusive in their praise before and after the game that I doubt they’ve washed since Bielsa shook their hand.

I can only imagine what it was like for Town fans, watching their defeated manager(s) chasing the Leeds boss around with an autograph book. Elsewhere in the Championship it’s as if the summer gave everyone a chance to properly review Bielsa’s work last season.

Spygate – which I still prefer to describe as ‘illicit scouting’ – Klich’s goal against Aston Villa, and the play-off implosion, all distracted from the football.

With a pina colada and a laptop after it all calmed down, the rest of the division has had time to do some scouting of their own, and realised that Bielsa’s football was out of this world. It’s a shame Neil Warnock was sacked by Cardiff City before he had a chance to redress the balance.

I’m sure he could have told us about how his 1980s Notts County team had a lot of the characteristics Bielsa is supposed to have pioneered, how Kalvin Phillips’ role at Leeds is obviously inspired by his work at Cardiff with Sol Bamba. You just don’t get the credit with a name like Neil, though, really, do you, eh?

His replacement is another Neil, Harris, so I expect the game will have to go by without pleasantries.

Harris set the tone after our draw against Millwall last season, calling Leeds’ celebrations “a disgrace in English football” and making sure he had his say on everything that followed, from illicit scouting to the Fair Play award.

It was nothing to do with him, but when did that ever stop a football manager?

A warm handshake and a crinkly eyed Rosario smile, maybe tucking a lollipop into his pocket as a treat; perhaps Marcelo will be able to charm even Harris this season.

Bielsa and his team are almost beyond reproach this time around – what is there to criticise?

But then again, there wasn’t much to complain about last season. Maybe the problem wasn’t Bielsa after all, but Frank Lampard.

We’ll add this to Bielsa’s list of achievements: leaving the Championship a nicer place than he found it.

Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.