Leeds United's pandemic role and why we'd all follow Marcelo Bielsa or Howard Wilkinson into No 10 - Daniel Chapman
“We’ll be all right,” said Mateusz Klich last week, words we’re all whispering to ourselves like prayers. We’ll be all right. We all want to feel like that all the time.
Klich was talking about the players at Leeds United, who can be as sure as anybody can as the coronavirus spreads that they will be all right. They have their health, their fitness and their wages, and that’s why they agreed so easily to defer as much as they could afford of the latter.
Privilege has become a contentious word, but ‘Klich & Co’ have shown what it’s all about to have it: recognising that if you’ll be all right, others might not so, if you can, you could help others.
Then more people will be all right, and the Peacocks’ help means non-playing staff at United can be a little more certain that they will be all right.
That the deferral went through so swiftly at Leeds, with no apparent dissent, speaks well of the players, and it’s nice to think it says something about what Leeds United means, too.
Billy Bremner’s ‘Side Before Self’ motto is written across the East Stand, describing values that Don Revie instilled.
Close watchers of ‘Goodbye Mr Clough’, the television special that pitted Brian Clough against Don Revie to discuss their very different times in charge of Leeds, can spot the significant blow the old boss lands upon the brash upstart when he corners him about the club’s staff.
Again and again Revie insists, why didn’t Clough meet them all on his first day?
“They were all on edge,” Clough eventually offers, then revealing more: “I was on edge.”
That was the crucial thing. Revie had built the club from the bottom up, looking after the laundry staff as well as the players. But Clough was scared of the staff.
The story went that at Derby two tea ladies were heard laughing after a defeat, so Clough sacked them. At Leeds, the tea ladies had no better friend than Revie, and Elland Road was a better place for it.
Marcelo Bielsa’s famous three-hour litter-pick fits easily into that tradition, when he taught the players what it felt like to work to watch them play. They’ve often spoken of it since, suggesting the lesson stuck, or that it wasn’t really needed.
The players at Leeds are paid salaries befitting their talents, but their status outside the Premier League keeps them in the modesty of their status.
Matuesz Klich spoke recently about his distaste for footballers showing off their wealth on Instagram, and told the tale of a youth player being put firmly in his place by his seniors at Leeds.
Stuart Dallas is not years removed from his life as a labourer; Luke Ayling and Liam Cooper were cast out by the Premier League and worked their way back through Yeovil and Chesterfield.
Striving for promotion to the Premier League, they’re still nearer our realities than to Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
The most privileged of all at Leeds is Marcelo Bielsa, born into a famous family in Rosario, and perhaps that explains his shyness around the players, his unwillingness to be a symbol for supporters of anything but football.
He seems to view himself as a guest of football fans, if not their servant, paid to make sacrifices to provide them with joy.
He will never take advantage of their praise to satisfy his ego, but answers every request with humility.
Sometimes that’s a shame. Imagine Bielsa with Jurgen Klopp’s gregariousness, then imagine not wanting to marry the person who combined their characteristics.
They share confusion when asked for their political opinions, not grasping that our elected leaders include a reality TV-star and a journalist, and that a football manager has skills and gravitas many politicians don’t.
It is undeniably footballers to whom we look for leadership, much to many Premier League players’ bemusement at the moment.
They have a point: no matter whether they’re overpaid, nothing in their contracts said they would assume responsibility for payroll in times of crisis, in lieu of their employers.
They seem happy to help, but not to be forced into assuming the responsibility of others. The logical extension of the arguments is that if footballers are so vital to society, we should go the whole way and put them in charge.
Given I have found Mateusz Klich more graceful and reassuring than the leader of the free world over the last couple of weeks, maybe it’s a good idea.
Leeds would vote for Bielsa and Liverpool for Klopp, but the wider electorate might struggle with an Argentinean or German in Number 10.
Perhaps we should look back, then, to the last successful English manager.
Who can say they wouldn’t be a bit relieved to see Howard Wilkinson in Downing Street, with Mick Hennigan shouting the odds as his Chancellor of the Exchequer? “We’ll be all right.” I would believe it from Sergeant Wilko.