Marcelo Bielsa outlines his Sheffield United regret as Leeds United look to avoid 'second season syndrome'
MARCELO Bielsa says Leeds United did not have a specific target upon their Premier League return.
Nevertheless, as a newly-promoted side, staying in the division was naturally the first port of call.
Mathematically, the Whites ironically assured they were staying put by beating the best of the best via last month’s 2-1 victory at Manchester City.
In truth, Leeds were realistically safe long before heading to the Etihad.
The same could not be said of Sheffield United West Brom and now Fulham who are already relegated despite having three games left to play.
Two of those sides in West Brom and Fulham came up with Leeds last year, speaking volumes of what 10th-placed Leeds have achieved upon their long-awaited Premier League return.
Yet Bielsa will not forget those who are heading back to the Championship or the lessons that Leeds can learn, tied in with one major Sheffield United regret.
That regret, says Bielsa, concerns the Blades decision to sack long-serving boss Chris Wilder in the middle of March after nearly five years in charge.
During those five years there were three clashes against Bielsa, starting with two tussles in the Championship as part of the 2018-19 season that involved an epic three-way battle for automatic promotion between Leeds, Sheffield United and Norwich City.
Leeds were the ones to miss out, only for Bielsa’s Whites to then go up in the ultimate style as champions just over one year on.
By then, Wilder’s Blades looked to have established themselves firmly as a Premier League side with an impressive ninth-place finish only to now be relegated in finishing bottom of the pile one year on.
Unlike Leeds. the Blades, Baggies and Cottagers will be playing Championship football again next year with boss Scott Parker unable to save last season’s play-off winners, Fulham.
The sacking of Slaven Bilic and appointment of Sam Allardyce also failed to ‘work the oracle’ for West Brom.
Bielsa, though, believes that fortunes for all three could have been different as his own side already look forward to a second season back amongst the country’s elite.
Pressed on the fact that Leeds are the only newly-promoted side to stay up - and reflecting on what that said about his team’s achievements - Bielsa reasoned: “Fulham is a team who produced moments of very good football in parts of the campaign.
"A style that the manager proposed is a very daring way to try and play.
“They had a difficulty to consolidate the team only until a quarter of the season had gone past.
“In the close of the season, they did not obtain the results that they deserved.
“This is definitive for the team at the end of the season. The close of the season was negative, but there were games prior to the last six or seven last games that they deserved to win.
"Had they obtained what they’d deserved it would have lifted the mood of the team.
“West Brom changed the profile of their style of play with the manager.
“I think that the manager who started the season was very good, the one who managed to get the team promoted.
“The succession of results that were not positive and did not allow him to continue. After the new manager was able to consolidate his style with his team, he had a period of good results also.
“Now we’re on the subject, I would like to make a recognition to Sheffield United and a great manager who produced all of that with them.
“I regretted that he could not continue his job and that he could not attempt a new chapter, a new story with Sheffield United, to have got them promoted after having dropped back down to the Championship.
"In a description of how unjust or how unfair football can be with regards to getting what you deserve.”
What is deserved is often something that Bielsa is keen to highlight, for good or for bad.
As Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham face up to relegation, at the other end of the table, Manchester City are celebrating being crowned champions.
Pep Guardiola’s side sit on 80 points yet only took one point against Leeds this season via the 1-1 draw at Elland Road back in September.
Bielsa’s Whites then left with all three points following last month’s epic 2-1 success at the Etihad in which the Whites played over half of the game with 10 men following captain Liam Cooper’s sending off.
No team has done the double over City this season and Manchester United are the only other side to have taken four points against them.
“We value the production of the team in those two games,” said Bielsa.
“It’s also fair to say, in the game that we won, that the result should not have been that one.
"And in the game that we drew against them, it would have been more fair if City had won.
"The result is not the only element to evaluate the results but, having said that, to have managed to try and win a game so difficult as the last one against them, and having been able to adapt to the superiority of City in the first game, they are very important productions for Leeds United.”
Producing the goods at tomorrow’s 15th-placed hosts Burnley is the next target - a side that has stood by boss Sean Dyche through thick and thin. The Clarets boss has now been in charge of the Turf Moor outfit for nearly nine years.
“I’m not sure, but it’s possible the manager of Burnley got relegated and came back up with them?” asked Bielsa.
Told he was quite correct, Bielsa went on: “Imagine the merit in that. And it’s the same thing that the manager of Norwich has just done.
"Me, as a fan of football, it is what I would have hoped the manager of Sheffield United could have done.”
Instead, second-season syndrome ultimately hit the Blades and Wilder hard - and it is something Leeds will have to avoid next term.
Asked, given the Blades’ demise, if the next plan for Leeds should be about consolidation or something more ambitious, Bielsa explained: “A way of growing, is to be in conditions to repeat what you did previously.
"The development of a team is based on this.
"For example, what I have learned to resolve and to conserve this within the team, if you manage to achieve this, this normally works a base to be able to play.
"So, if the team can keep all of these things and incorporate them, to improve is a lot easier.
“But, for human beings, it is very difficult to conserve those things that we have already learned because, normally when we get something, our vanity increases.
"And then we think that because of what we achieved we don’t need to carry on making the same effort that we made to achieve it in the first place.
"We always think that what we achieve is linked to our talent and not the effort we made to get it and we stop making as much effort.
“We lose what we obtained and then, of course, we can’t grow. It’s a lot more difficult to conserve these things and grow than the initial growth that Leeds had this season.”
A message from the Editor:
Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890.
We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too. We need your support to help ensure we can continue to be at the heart of life in Leeds.
Subscribe to our website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app.
With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.
Click here to subscribe.
For more details on our newspaper subscription offers click here.
Thank you Laura Collins