Graham Smyth: Humble Marcelo Bielsa is God to some Leeds United fans but he is not all-knowing or all-powerful
Marcelo Bielsa is God in the minds of Leeds United fans, but not in his own.
The Argentine has gone to lengths in his early-season dealings with the press, both before and after matches, to put distance between himself and the notion that he is an omniscient being.
His knowledge of the game is vast and the control he exerts on his football team is great, yet he is not all-knowing, nor is he all-powerful.
On Saturday, after explaining how his attempts to make Leeds more defensively sound on the left flank had failed to stop Derby County from attacking down that very wing to set up their ill-deserved stoppage-time equaliser, Bielsa thanked God that football ‘does not allow’ a manager to have a lot of impact during a game.
He pointed out that, for a manager, there can be damnation no matter what he does, for if he had been more offensive in the final stages and Leeds had conceded as a result, it would have been highlighted, just as their dropping deeper and going more direct before Derby found their way back to parity was picked up on in the examination of the result.
There are variables outside of Bielsa’s control.
His players have free will on the pitch, power over their own decision making process when the ball is at their feet, regardless of how devoted they are to their coach and his commandments.
Not for the first time he turned the press conference on its head, asking what a journalist had seen, before shining light on the importance he puts on the post-match discussion, the consideration he gives to the fact that the press might have seen something during the 90 minutes that he had not.
Before the trip to Oakwell midway through September, the head coach, who once asked the nuns at the St Clare Convent in Guernica to pray for him and his Athletic Bilbao team, gave a lengthy, detailed explanation of his thought process on Leeds’ ability to take chances and finished it off with a cheerful reminder that his answer might not be correct.
At Thorp Arch it is plainly Bielsa’s way or the highway, he enjoys the faith of the Leeds United support, has inspired followers to embark on pilgrimages from Argentina to Elland Road and been declared a deity by social media users, flags and a banner flown behind a plane but there is no God-complex at play here.
The humility in his words, the heartfelt congratulations he passed to Daniel Stendel for the way Barnsley played during the ‘beautiful’ Yorkshire derby, these things do not chime with the arrogance perceived as a ‘Leeds United thing’ by those outside the city.
They do not chime with some of the press room kidology after recent Elland Road games either, when managers with remarkably straight faces insinuated it was something they had done, some plan they had concocted that allowed them to take points home with them.
LISTEN: The Inside Elland Road podcast episode 68There is nothing at all wrong with Steve Cooper explaining what he hoped his Swansea side would do against Leeds, just like there is nothing at all wrong in Phillip Cocu admitting Leeds’ late lapses were in his thinking pre-game.
There would have been nothing wrong in admitting at the same time that it was only by the grace, or wastefulness of Leeds United, that they gained any kind of result. Bielsa’s Whites are an opposition manager’s worst enemy and their best friend.
They will take the ball off you and keep it from you for periods of time that seem unfair, almost like they’re not acting in ‘utmost good faith.’
If you receive a beating of Biblical proportion at the hands of Leeds then you can simply call them the best side in the league, point to their position at the head of the Championship table, the dominance they have in games and the quality they possess and let all the insurmountable adversity you faced do your explaining.
You can even nudge your chairman in the direction of the transfer market, if he expects you to compete with Bielsa.
If, however, you come away from LS11 with a point or more, you have achieved something special, beaten all the odds and can hint at some masterplan.
It can alleviate pressure on your position and win serious goodwill with your fanbase.
The season has barely moved on from its genesis but already it feels like a trophy should be handed out when someone tastes success at Elland Road.
Yet for all the joy other teams have had here this season, Leeds remain top, with just four goals conceded and the best goal difference.
Thank Bielsa for that.