Marcelo Bielsa receives fitting Leeds United farewell with lingering anxiety consigned to the past

With Premier League safety secured, Leeds United can finally reflect on Marcelo Bielsa's tenure with a glint in their eye

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 28th May 2022, 6:00 am

It seemed beyond the comprehension of certain pundits and journalists why Marcelo Bielsa wasn’t ‘under pressure’ at Leeds United until the very end.

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They didn’t get why he spoke in Spanish and used a member of his staff as a translator. They didn’t get why, in his first season in the Premier League, there was no outrage from Whites fans after heavy defeats and why there was no ‘plan B’ to speak of. They didn’t get him.

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FAREWELL: Leeds United parted company with Marcelo Bielsa midway through the 2021/22 campaign (Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)

But Leeds fans did.

It is a hard thing to understand and articulate, especially if you don’t share the love that he and the supporters had for Leeds United and each other.

He was the man who gave them something to be proud of, football to salivate over and a promotion to write in big, bold lettering in the history books. He was the man who took mid-table Championship players and transformed them to such an extent that they held down a top 10 position in the Premier League. Bielsa made them running machines who could find each other with a pass without thinking or even, at times, without looking. He made them better, he made them fitter and he made them richer.

For Bielsa, Leeds fans were the ones who gave him and the team a love that was unconditional. Of course it helped that he won so many games in his first season and masterminded so many sparkling performances, but his hope was that people would value performances and play a patient, supportive role like in his romantic notion of English football’s days gone by. So when, with the team sinking to a low ebb, the fans stayed with the team, they gave him his wish.

It made no sense, to the neutral observer – if such a thing exists when Leeds United play football – that those in the grounds sang through the disappointment of defeats. But Bielsa and Leeds made complete sense – defiant outsiders against all comers, against it all.

In football everything good comes to an end eventually and the way this love affair reached its conclusion will forever be debated. The team looked lost in their final games under Bielsa and answers to problems he had previously solved suddenly escaped him. Things that had made Leeds so different and so good took on the appearance of millstones dragging them down.

But the collective cry of anguish that greeted his sacking said it all about the Argentine and his West Yorkshire family.

There is no doubt that it wounded Bielsa greatly, as it did the fans, but both were left with memories of a time that didn’t have to be understood by outsiders, because it was being lived by Leeds.

The smile on his face when he lifted the Championship trophy was the same smile that greeted well wishers at his Wetherby flat when promotion was secured, young supporters welcoming him to Elland Road on a match day or devotees asking for a selfie in Morrisons.

With them, Bielsa was normal and that made him abnormal in the modern game so the nostalgia for his era will not be restricted to goals and points. For Leeds, for a time, he was perfect.

In Leeds he was understood.