Marcelo Bielsa has made 'meaningless' Leeds United games seem vital - Daniel Chapman
I’m fairly sure Manchester City won the Premier League last week, or the week before, unless I dreamt it, which is possible.
I remember something about Pep Guardiola eating pizza, and implying it wasn’t even a good one, while still acting astonished by the beer intake whenever a party is thrown around Manchester.
Guardiola popping into a house party to criticise the frozen pizzas and the supermarket twelve-packs, hooking his phone up to Bluetooth so he can put his own playlist on, then cleaning up whatever happened in the bathroom while insisting he’s having the time of his life, seems like something that would happen in my mind after tucking myself under my Pablo Hernandez bedspread and drifting off to the land of Luke Ayling’s volley against Huddersfield.
Except in my subconscious it would be Marcelo Bielsa there, keeping me supplied from his bottomless bag for life full of cans, yelling ‘Again! Again!’ as I’m downing shots and Mateusz Klich is handing out cigars.
That’s why I can’t be sure Manchester City won the league, even though I’ve known for months it was probably happening any day — because when I dream, I dream of Leeds.
And because, in the real waking world of dull mill chimneys on Lancashire skylines, of cricket pitches soaking in May, of Sean Dyche thinking transition is getting Chris Wood to turn around, the meaningless games Leeds United are playing do more to enthral than anything else the Premier League can offer.
The league might argue this is a success for their system of merit payments, with millions on offer for higher final placings, but the league could learn that one way to prevent another Super League scenario is by rebalancing the game to recognise motivations other than money.
Besides, if that were true, Liverpool’s campaign for a top-four finish would be a cavalcade of engrossing thrills, rather than a dull clash with West Brom rescued by a 95th-minute goalie goal.
Far from protecting football, Alisson’s winner was Florentino Perez’s argument about Gen-Z attention spans made real, as worldwide broadcasters package up 30 seconds of stoppage time ready to share across the internet.
It’s with heavy, responsible hearts, then, that we have to acknowledge once more that Leeds United are the only true and beautiful thing left in the world, the example from which all other clubs should learn, lest they end being locked out of football heaven, where Berardi guards the gates.
Burnley nil Leeds United four was that good.
It was certainly the best meaningless end of season game I can remember Leeds playing since Paul Heckingbottom’s finest beat QPR in May 2018, a game soon transferred to VHS for the benefit of an interested – and possibly initially appalled – coach on the other side of the world.
The thing about remembering that game, though, is that I can’t, because I was so demoralised by the emptiness of United’s dwindled and gone season that I filled that abyss right back up with booze.
Pep Guardiola might have been there, I can’t be sure, but I didn’t want to be, and the worst parts of following Leeds United from 2004 to 2018 were the days when going to football felt less like a weird drunk hobby and more like an expensive duty.
Crowds of sorts are being allowed back in to watch Leeds this week, although a number of long-serving fans were disappointed by their lack of luck in the ballot for tickets.
I have a lot of sympathy – when following Leeds United is so much of your life, for so long, to such devoted extents, it must be excruciating to imagine watching at home on television while others are in the ground.
But an unwelcome rational part of me wondered about the idea of this game rewarding loyal fans, given the experiences they’ve already enjoyed.
If I’d been at the San Siro in 2000 in the Champions League, or at Wembley winning the Charity Shield in 1992, or Bournemouth for promotion in 1990, or seen us winning the FA Cup in 1972 and the European Cup in 1975 – don’t bother looking that up – I might look at a Covid-impaired final day meeting with one of the Premier League’s all-time worst manifestations of Sam Allardyce and think, you know what, with memories like those, I can give this one a miss.
Then I remember that in football rationality always loses to emotion, and that’s why we love it, and that this time it’s Bielsa’s Leeds we’re talking about.
Who wouldn’t want to be there?
The long record of Bielsa’s influence goes further than we can measure, but here’s one bit to look at: how he’s made meaningless matches feel as vital as any title decider or cup final.
The FA Cup final was played this weekend too, wasn’t it? Anyone know who won?
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.
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Thank you Laura Collins