Marcelo Bielsa’s legacy at Leeds United will live forever, believes Eddie Gray

Eddie Gray says Marcelo Bielsa’s legacy will never leave Leeds United, even though the Argentinian has.

By Stuart Rayner
Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 10:34 am

Gray believes excitement has always been important at Elland Road, and Bielsa could never be accused of not providing that.

He was sacked in February after a remarkable three-and-a-half seasons which saw him take the club back into the Premier League after 16 years away, finish ninth in their first season back in the top flight, then get embroiled in a relegation battle this term.

But it was about more than just results with Bielsa, it was the football he played and his eccentric personality which endeared him to Elland Road.

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Former Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa sat on his blue bucket. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Few people are better placed to put events at the club into their proper historical context.

The Glaswegian joined the club as a 16-year-old winger, and spiritually at least, never left.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest players to wear the white shirt, he was a stalwart of Don Revie’s most successful teams, and was on the payroll until 1985, by which time he had gone from player to player-manager to manager, overseeing the emergence of players such as John Sheridan, Denis Irwin and Scott Sellars.

After managing Whitby Town, Rochdale and Hull City, he was brought back in to work with the youth team by Leeds’s last title-winning manager Howard Wilkinson, this time nurturing the likes of Harry Kewell, Ian Harte, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate, and was David O’Leary’s assistant when the club enjoyed success in the Champions League and UEFA Cup.

He had a spell as caretaker manager in 2003 then a decade covering his beloved club in the media before returning as an ambassador.

“Marcelo’s legacy at the football club will live forever – what he did for the club, the position they were in when he came, his philosophy in the game, he fired the imagination up in the city of Leeds,” says Gray. “The supporters took to him right away because he was a bit eccentric as well.

“What other manager do you see who comes out and sits on a bucket?!

“That gave him an affinity with the fans right away but the most important thing was the way the team played, getting results, getting us out of the Championship and competing in the Premier League.

“It’s obviously very disappointing how things turned out for him. Football’s a results game and if you don’t get results, you’re always going to be under pressure this season.

“We were still playing the same way, we were just conceding too many goals and when things like that happen at a football club, decisions are going to be made.

“A lot of supporters might not have agreed with the decision to let Marcelo go but if you were in the same position come the end of the season, it’d get a bit nervous for everybody.

“But what he did for the football club will never be forgotten. He turned the whole fortunes around.”

It is probably fair to say Revie and Wilkinson were seen as dour characters but they also valued exciting players, Gray stresses.

“When Howard came (in 1988), he changed the fortunes of the football club completely,” he recalls.

“He shocked me one day because I was doing a bit of media work and he phoned me up and said he’d like me to come down to the ground. I said, ‘I hope it’s not anything I’ve been saying about your team because I think I’ve treated them quite fairly.’

“He said it was nothing to do with that so I came down and him and (managing director) Bill Fotherby were in the office and he said to me, ‘I want you to come back to the club and work with me and Paul Hart. I want players at this football club that get me off my seat and excite me.’”

If there is one word that epitomised Bielsa’s time at Leeds, it was excitement.

Gray was speaking at an event to raise money for the family of former Leeds captain Brendon Ormsby, who suffers from dementia. You can donate at https://tinyurl.com/yza8juvs