Leeds United fans bucking Premier League trend highlighted by national radio phone-in show

Leeds United supporters are bucking a current Premier League trend - YEP chief football writer Graham Smyth reports.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:40 am
FULL FAITH - Leeds United fans are proving it's possible to be concerned about form and still have full faith in the club's manager Marcelo Bielsa. Pic: Simon Hulme

Nuno out. Ole out. Farke out. Smith out. Bielsa? In.

Listening to BBC Radio Five Live’s 606 show on Sunday night was like listening to it on any night as a succession of football lovers rang in to explain to hosts Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton why it was time for their club’s manager to go.

For months it was ‘Bruce out’ as Newcastle United fans flooded the BBC phone lines. Mikel Arteta, even recently, has had his position questioned on the show.

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On the long journey back from places like Norwich, it makes for reasonably entertaining radio, as long as you’re not a manager. Like Twitter, it cannot be used as an exact barometer of the feeling in a fanbase but there is often real insight to be gained from the show’s callers.

Leeds United fan Aaron felt no sympathy for a pair of Aston Villa fans suggesting Dean Smith had taken the club as far as he could and European football was the return due from the owners’ investment. For him, they lacked patience, perspective and loyalty.

“We’ve had the worst start to a Premier League campaign in our history and you haven’t got one Leeds fan complaining about the manager because he’s got loyalty among fans,” he began before launching into a defence of Smith that somehow still contained a dig at Smith.

“I think it’s pathetic what I’m hearing, they need a reality check, they need to get behind their teams and managers,” he concluded.

There’s a danger in lecturing any fanbase on how patient they should be with a manager; they know best, they watch their team week in and week out after all and only they can speak of the level of hope their current boss inspires in them.

There is, though, a question to be asked about how many football supporters have the stomach for a relegation scrap or even a period of adversity.

Bielsa said earlier this season that prematurely seeking change in the presence of adversity and in the absence of immediate results is human nature but he also made it clear that there is a more loyal response.

“When something is broken or suffers, there are two options – either you throw it away and change it for another or you look after it and you try to recompose it, put it back together,” he said.

The problem at so many football clubs is not the manager but rather the lack of a clear plan in the boardroom and a recruitment policy that has no strategy behind it, long term or otherwise.

The manager can be a lightning rod for criticism, protecting those ‘upstairs’ who are far more culpable.

There are times, however, when intervention, rather than patience, is proven to be the better approach. Frank Lampard’s sacking by Chelsea was deemed incredibly harsh and hasty by sections of the national press, until Thomas Tuchel showed what he could do.

Leeds are facing adversity right now but you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone calling for Bielsa’s head. Leeds fans are bucking the trend at a time when so many other fanbases are asking for change and there are even suggestions that pundits should be demanding sackings. It’s true that Bielsa’s success is still very recent yet Whites supporters are showing that you can be concerned about form without casting aside a manager, a philosophy and a plan. Worry and trust are not mutually exclusive.

In fact, when owner Andrea Radrizzani put on record his ‘unconditional support’ for Bielsa this week, the response of many Leeds fans was one of surprise that it even needed to be said at all. This was not the ‘vote of confidence’ that in British football has come to mean exactly the opposite. Leeds went all in with Bielsa and remain all in.

The problem for Leeds is not the manager or his style of play.

Where there is a bit of a problem is that this season bears some of the hallmarks of the season they were largely expected to have upon their Premier League return when, instead, they finished ninth.

If this campaign is to be more of a struggle, they will simply have got the two seasons in a somewhat unnatural order. Staying up by the skin of their teeth last season would have been very acceptable yet they went and broke into the top 10 and almost threatened the European places. Reality’s bite feels a little worse this season because of that.

Supporters’ complaints centre more around what looked, at the time, like a glaring mistake to fail to bolster the midfield in the summer and a growing feeling that the transfer window did not allow them to capitalise on that first season than they do about the manager.

It would be a real surprise if that changed any time soon. This is a club and a fanbase that still retains a healthy grip on perspective and full faith in Bielsa, despite current worries.

It will take a little more than this rough patch to light up the 606 switchboard with calls from angry Loiners.