Marcelo Bielsa's Christmas message to Leeds United fans will be delivered a day later than the Queen's

Marcelo Bielsa's Christmas message to his subjects will be delivered a day later than the Queen’s and will last at least 90 minutes.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 6:00 am
Marcelo Bielsa's Christmas message will be delivered by his players against Preston (Pic: Getty)
Marcelo Bielsa's Christmas message will be delivered by his players against Preston (Pic: Getty)

The 64-year-old Argentine has ascended beyond Her Majesty in the hearts and minds of even the most patriotic of Leeds United fans since his reign began 18 months ago.

It is no stretch of the imagination to picture his image adorning living room walls all over Yorkshire for years to come after he vacates the Elland Road throne.

The upturn in the club’s fortunes, the transformation for which he is credited, both on and off the pitch and the style with which his side plays football have made him bona fide Leeds royalty.

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He is highly regarded elsewhere too and written about on a daily basis in other countries in which he has managed – not that he reads it, recently revealing it would not be beneficial or useful to read about himself.

That same humility, with which he discusses and greets opposition teams and managers, albeit having spent countless hours plotting their downfall – in an entirely sporting sense – endears him further to Whites.

The quirks – speaking only of football and not personal matters, referring to opposition players simply by their shirt number, preferring to have his public utterances translated by one of his coaching staff instead of a professional interpreter – only add to his aura.

Bielsa himself might not understand why anyone would care, never mind want to read about his supermarket of choice for his groceries, but he fascinates people in England.

And he is fascinated by England. Or at least its football.

He recently revealed a love for the purity of the English lower divisions, unspoiled by the money of the top flight he is trying to reach with Leeds United.

He was surprised by, but appreciates, the depth of love the English have for football, the sport as a whole and not just their own team.

And the country’s ravenous appetite for football at this time of year has not escaped him, nor does it bother him.

Elsewhere around the world, Christmas is a time for a break from the beautiful game.

Leeds will play three times between Christmas Day and the end of the first day of 2020.

It is, by anyone’s definition, a hectic schedule at any stage of the year, but when most folk have their feet up at home with a belly full of seasonal fare, English football presses its nose even tighter to the grindstone.

“It is organised like that and for me it is okay to play in this period,” said Bielsa.

“On the other hand it is a tradition in English football.

“I always like [that], I am on the side of traditions in a country.”

There is one tradition, or at least a perceived tradition, he will not favour.

Eight times out of the last 10 seasons Leeds have either endured a bitterly disappointing festive period or struggled to take any kind of momentum into the new year.

Saturday’s defeat at Fulham, coming on the heels of a 3-3 draw at home to Cardiff that saw the Whites let slip a three-goal lead, have fed into the perception that Leeds don’t do Christmas particularly well, that they fail to cope with a congested festive fixture list.

Bielsa is unconvinced by any such suggestion and brings statistics to the table.

“I don’t link the performance with the date or a part of the season,” he said.

“When you play a lot of matches in a row, like now, what you have to see if the physical performance decreases.

“Last season the physical performance never decreased.

“This season Leeds is the team that uses less players, less changes, having to make less substitutions. We kept a good physical performance. The part of the season is not linked with the results.

“From the last six points we lost five.

“I think that there are more evident reasons.”

He did not elaborate on what those were, but a poor defensive effort in the second half against Cardiff and missed chances following a refereeing blunder at Craven Cottage might have been in his mind as his train of thought trailed off.

Whatever the reasons for an almost-annual Whites slump, Bielsa will send his team out onto the Elland Road pitch on Boxing Day to deliver a message to the 30,000-plus United fans.

The message he presumably wants to send is that this Leeds team is not in a slump, that their losing streak ends at one and that they are more than capable of meeting a busy schedule head on, even without the talismanic Pablo Hernandez.

A win over a Preston North End side who have returned to form in impressive style over the last three outings, would send that message loud and clear.

It would also tell the rest of the Championship that their plans for ‘Leeds are falling apart again’ parties are, at the very least, premature.

Regardless of the result, Bielsa hopes Leeds fans will get the message that their support is dearly appreciated by him and the rest of the Elland Road royal family.

“We give the message [to the fans] every time we play, this is what we offer,” he said.

“In the good and in the bad sense.

“If we have to give a message it is to say thank you for always being with us.”