'Not normal' - What Daniel Farke and Marcelo Bielsa said during Leeds United’s Norwich City rivalry

In 10 days' time Leeds United and Daniel Farke will recommence their Championship promotion push with what will be a special and emotional fixture for the German.
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Farke's pair of promotions with Norwich City formed a significant part of a CV that largely spoke for itself in the summer when Leeds were looking for a new manager. He didn't feel the need to sell his style of football or his promotion know-how because if anyone in the room was unfamiliar with either then they would not have represented the kind of serious people he would wish to work with. Farke need not have worried because if anyone was familiar with his 2018/19 body of work it was Leeds United, a club he and the Canaries beat by 11 points that season, thanks in no small part to a 3-1 Elland Road victory.

Farke's second season at Carrow Road was Marcelo Bielsa's first at Leeds and though one achieved promotion and the other did not, both men became heroes with their respective fanbases that year. As it turns out, playing eye-catching football and winning lots of games will do that for a manager.

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Though the pair had a natural rivalry created by their presence in the 2018/19 promotion race and though their clubs were desperate to get the better of one another, Farke and Bielsa routinely showed their mutual appreciation of each other's work.

Before the first meeting of the clubs in August 2018, Farke tried to play down the individual battle of wits between himself and the famed Argentine but not before putting on record his admiration for a 'great' head coach.

"When you analyse his game he will never compromise, whatever fans or players think," said Farke.

"He can be stubborn and strict in his view. That is not normal. In this business coaches normally want to fulfil the expectations and be praised by everyone. He doesn't worry about that. He sticks to his philosophy, 100 per cent. When you see his teams you can always see what he wants.

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"I don't see this as a personal challenge between me and a legend like Marcelo Bielsa. There was a famous conductor and when he was asked how does he create this unbelievable music he said, 'I don't disturb my musicians from playing.' I don't put my role as more important.

PROMOTION RIVALS - Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United went up against Daniel Farke's Norwich City for promotion and the pair showed mutual admiration and respect. Pic: Julian Finney/Getty ImagesPROMOTION RIVALS - Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United went up against Daniel Farke's Norwich City for promotion and the pair showed mutual admiration and respect. Pic: Julian Finney/Getty Images
PROMOTION RIVALS - Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United went up against Daniel Farke's Norwich City for promotion and the pair showed mutual admiration and respect. Pic: Julian Finney/Getty Images

"Marcelo for many, many coaches is a role model because he is special in his way and unique in his thoughts on football and how he leads a team. He is a great coach and I am full of respect."

The realism that has saturated Farke's approach since he arrived at Elland Road this summer was evident back then too in his appraisal of Bielsa's position at Leeds.

"Brilliant work so far," he said.

"The team look well organised in their pressing and also the possession-based part of their game. I wasn't surprised he chose Leeds. It is still a big, big name in Europe and for a coach it is a challenge to work in the motherland of football and be successful there as well. It is also a challenge for him to bring success to such a big club and bring them back to where they want to be."

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Speaking after the game, won 3-0 by Leeds United thanks to goals from Mateusz Klich, Gjanni Alioski and Pablo Hernandez, Bielsa faced questions over his lack of celebrations and nodded in Farke's direction.

“Of course I'm happy about results but usually I don't celebrate the goals," he said.

"It's not about humility, it's more about respect for my colleague, the head coach [Farke], who is just 10 metres away from me.”

The Norwich boss described Leeds as '100 per cent the best team in the league' and worthy of their table-topping status. The result left the Canaries 17th, nine points behind Bielsa's men.

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But by the time the return fixture at Elland Road rolled around in February just three points separated the clubs and Bielsa expected fireworks.

“Norwich are a team who attack very well," he said in praise of Farke's side.

“They’re a team designed to attack. It doesn’t mean they don’t defend well but the profile of the team is creative. Apart from our positions in the league, I think the offensive aspects of both teams make this game attractive.”

It was the pulsating encounter everyone predicted with a combined tally of 35 attempts on goal - 21 of which were mustered by Leeds - but Farke and Norwich won the day by a 3-1 scoreline. Patrick Bamford's stoppage time header was a mere consolation for the Whites.

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"To have such a night against such a good side - it's so complicated to play against Leeds and in this atmosphere, in the spicy atmosphere in a sold out place - so to produce this result is outstanding," said Farke after.

"We won't get carried away but it's also amazing to feel the joy after the game and we let the players feel what they have achieved because otherwise you will lose your motivation. Pretty often we speak about contracts and financial things but football should always be pleasure. There are more important things in life so for that it is important to feel such a pleasure."

Norwich went top on goal difference and that was the position they occupied when all 46 games were played. Leeds tried to join them in the Premier League through the play-offs only to suffer heartbreak.

By the time Leeds did break into the top flight, winning a title of their own the following season, Farke and Norwich passed them like ships in the night thanks to relegation.

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It was not until October 2021 that the two came together once more, Norwich having gone away and won a second Championship title and Bielsa having led his club to a top 10 Premier League finish.

The 2021/22 season brought the downfall of both Farke and Bielsa's managerial tenures but not before the latter took the third game in their head-to-head series with a 2-1 win at Carrow Road.

That result left Farke under pressure and Bielsa was sympathetic.

“The job of a coach has some very difficult things you have to live with,” said Bielsa after goals from Raphinha and Rodrigo gave him a second win in 10 outings.

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“Especially with Norwich’s manager, he has shown a big spiritual fortitude and I hope he can come back from this situation.”

Six days later Farke was celebrating his first win of the season and then emptying his desk as Norwich sacked him. As for Bielsa, he lasted at Leeds until February. But what both men achieved and their time with Norwich and Leeds will be remembered for far more than how it all ended. And the October 21 game at Carrow Road, when the Championship resumes, will be a throwback to special times for both clubs.