For Leeds United 2020 had highest highs and lowest lows but it was the year of Marcelo Bielsa

Goodbye 2020, a year of the lowest lows and, thanks to Marcelo Bielsa proving it was actually possible to have nice things, the highest highs.

Thursday, 31st December 2020, 5:48 am
BUCKET LIST - Marcelo Bielsa won promotion, a Championship title, helped Leeds United attract exciting new stars and gave clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton trouble with his attacking football. Pic: Getty

It was a great year on the pitch for Leeds United and a heartbreaking one off it, the loss of three club legends in Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton hitting the club hard.

Football, a bit like life, doesn’t run in calendar years. Everything just carries on as it was when January 1 rolls around, no matter how much ‘new year, new me’ you promise yourself. The vast majority of us take the same set of life circumstances into January with us.

The football season carries on, there is no break – at the time of writing at least – and your team carries its current points total, injury list and form into January with it.

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I’ve always found sporting reviews at the end of December a little odd.

You start off talking about the second half of one season and then move onto the first half of a new one, often discussing players and sometimes managers who played no part in the events that defined the first five months.

The two chunks of time either side of the summer can be completely unrelated, not so much the ending of one chapter and the start of the next but the closing of one book and the opening of another.

If the first part of the year was disastrous and the result was relegation, the second part of the year can feature an entirely new cast and a much more upbeat and pleasant plot.

If the end of a season was glorious and brought promotion, the cast will remain mostly the same for the start of the new one but things can take a turn for the worse when they try to play out the same scenes on a different, much harder stage. Not so for the bold Leeds United. If Bielsa is your head coach and Leeds is your team, 2020 has been pretty seamless, in a footballing sense at least.

And in a year that will forever be defined by the mindblowing changes to life as we know it, continuity went a very long way.

His insistence on that very thing underpinned the entire 2019/20 season but setting out to do the same thing as you always have and being able to do so, amid turmoil and change, are two very different things and that is what has impressed me about this Leeds team, this year.

When the going got very rough at the start of 2020, Bielsa kept the ship pointing in the same direction and they ploughed straight into the waves of external criticism and doubt.

When, in the midst of a five-game winning run, the entire season was curtailed as a global pandemic took hold, Leeds prepared and equipped themselves for a period of working from home, returned to Thorp Arch when it was safe to do so and, after a stumble at Cardiff City, went on a tear, with seven wins and a draw.

The Championship table confirmed what was long suspected, that Bielsa’s men were the best side in the division by a country mile.

To the Premier League then, with Bielsa’s signature finally on a contract extension and a handful of exciting, expensive new signings added.

Incorporated is the word Bielsa likes to use because, no matter if you’re £29m Rodrigo, £17m Raphinha or a Leeds lad who came through the academy, you’ve got to adapt to a style of play and a culture that is, by now, set in stone.

And when Leeds returned to the top flight, to take on the biggest and best clubs in the country after a 16-year absence, Bielsa pointed his ship straight at the waves again.

The same football that caused problems for Hull City, played by the same players who finished mid-table in the Championship before Bielsa came along, has caused problems for Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton and a number of pundits.

Bielsa's belief does not waver and his players are utterly convinced that his way is the right why. Why not? When it's led you to the heights they hit this year, there's a huge weight of evidence behind the theory.

Leeds began 2020 as a promotion hopeful and have ended it as a mid-table Premier League club, three points off fifth place.

There are far worse circumstances to carry with you into a new year, than 23 points from 16 games.

And Leeds fans can take with them a sense of restored pride and a very reasonable measure of a commodity in all-too-short supply this year – hope.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, the year of devastating loss and farewells alongside moments of joy that alleviated some of the pain and moments of togetherness for the club they’re always so quick to say is falling apart.

It was the year of Bielsa. Roll on the next one.