Leeds United supporters take Marcelo Bielsa appeal to the Lord Mayor's office

A Leeds United supporters group is calling for Elland Road legend Marcelo Bielsa to be given the Freedom of the City.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 3:19 pm

Leeds United Supporters Network, which represents more than 7,000 match-going Whites, has written to Lord Mayor Asghar Khan to make the case for the Argentinian coach to be awarded the city's highest civic honour.

They say his work not only led the club back to the Premier League after a 16-year exile but changed the global reputation of both Leeds United and the city. LUSN also cited the hope Bielsa's football gave supporters during the pandemic and his raising of the 'bar of morality' by gifting Aston Villa a goal, an act that earned him the FIFA Fair Play award.

Bielsa arrived at the club in 2018 and enjoyed a passionate love affair with Whites supporters, who have continued to sing his name since his recent sacking.

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Vice chair Clive Miers said: "Too often the Freedom of the City of Leeds has been granted to those that have a mere fleeting connection with the City. In extraordinary times, Marcelo Bielsa, a man without hubris, has changed the worldwide perception of the city of Leeds and that of Leeds United beyond recognition, with his compassion, decency, and commitment. We were not only entertained, we grew from his inspiration."

Their letter reads: "We cannot think of any person, since the turn of the century, that has done more to promote the city of Leeds than Marcelo Bielsa. The world of football, with its 3.5 billion adherents, was stunned and somewhat bewildered, when one of the world’s most renown coaches decided to risk his reputation by managing a club, although steeped in a distinguished history, that was languishing near the bottom of English football's second tier.

"Many notable, and some less so, managers had tried and failed to rejuvenate this so-called sleeping giant. Marcelo Bielsa is more than just a football man, he is a unique human being.

"As the world became vigilant, insular, and scared as the global pandemic swept backwards and forwards across the globe killing millions in its wake, Bielsa’s Leeds United entertained with an unrestricted freedom. In a city where there were many heroes of the pandemic, Bielsa had created an escape for those trapped in their homes and minds. It gave Leeds hope that the darkness would not last forever.

CLUB LEGEND - Marcelo Bielsa's sacking by Leeds United prompted an outpouring of love from Whites supporters after an incredible Elland Road era. Pic: Getty

"Not only in Leeds but throughout the world, the public were inspired by Bielsa’s personality and realised that there was more than rules, regulations, and procedures.

"Consideration, respect and understanding of others - Biesla had already raised the bar of morality when allowing Aston Villa to equalise after Leeds scored when Villa were a man down due to injury. The football worlds governing body, FIFA, recognised this and awarded the club and Bielsa, their oldest accolade, the ‘Fair Play Award’ in ‘recognition of exemplary behaviour that promotes the spirit of fair play and compassion in association football around the world.

"Leeds United showed values to the world which were higher than those that merely brought victory. Bielsa never complained, challenged decisions, or courted publicity in a sport increasingly dominated by rapacity, deception and mendacity. Throughout his time at Leeds United, Bielsa demonstrated integrity, justice, and fairness without ever a hint of hubris, not only within football, but throughout the city

"By association these attributes became the mantle of not only the club but the city too. Leeds is epitomised by the virtues of respect, empathy, and compassion in the public eyes.

"A worldwide audience watched Bielsa and his Leeds United. Their style and expression brought a smile to people's faces in a crisis. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was wrong. Genius can be respectable. Bielsa raised the City of Leeds up on a pedestal of hope, enjoyment and decency in dismal and worrying times.

"On the footballing stage he succeeded, where so many had failed, in restoring Leeds United to their rightful place in football's top flight bringing in visitors from the world over to boost a depleted tourist industry.

"For all these reasons the Leeds United Supporters Network feel that Marcelo Bielsa should be given the Freedom of the City of Leeds.

"When you look at previous recipients of the honour, some have merely visited the City, others have been of dubious character, and many contributions have been insignificant. In recent times a person’s regard by the city has only been recognised posthumously.

"Few people have enhanced Leeds' reputation as Biesla has, few have raised a City up with hope in difficult times and few have entertained us so passionately. Bielsa leaves behind what he has created. A special club and city."

Previous club legends to have been given the award include Don Revie and the players who brought about Leeds United's most glorious era. That award coincided with Leeds United's centenary celebrations in 2019. Speaking after the civic reception, the late Norman Hunter said that special day was tinged with sadness due to its timing.

“It’s quite sad there are people like the gaffer, who would have loved today, unfortunately not here,” said the man who made 540 Football League appearances for the Whites and remained a huge presence at Elland Road until his death in April 2020.

“To be honest I didn’t know much about the Freedom of the City but I looked it up, it’s about people who have done good for the community and that applies to Leeds United and what we achieved for this city and for Yorkshire."