I have been wandering around since the Liverpool defeat midweek in a haze. Unable to reconcile my admiration for the talent and skills of Bielsa with the abject performance of Leeds United of late. It was not that Leeds had lost to Liverpool that had thrown me, it was the manner of the defeat. I have finally resigned myself to the end of the Marcelo Bielsa reign at Leeds United; the end of the affair.
Yesterday, 26 February 2022, I watched about half an hour of the Leeds United versus Tottenham Hotspur match with my son (a broken Leeds fan), and a neutral friend. Having watched Dallas mess up in front of an open goal we felt the spirit had gone out of Leeds players and they looked beyond hope.
We left the pub and I remarked to my friend that he had witnessed something that Leeds fans had not seen for a while – he had watched Leeds United not concede a goal. Granted, it was only half an hour which he said he enjoyed watching. As Leeds fans, even when Leeds are not conceding at the moment, it feels like it is only a matter of time before they do.
After a run of six matches without a win in the Premier League and 20 goals conceded in the last five, Leeds United are now 16th in the league table and edging closer to the relegation zone. It feels like we are playing championship football and that is where we are headed.
So, on Saturday night the rumours started and then on Sunday lunchtime it was announced. Bielsa had not decided to leave apparently – maybe he felt it was his duty to turn Leeds around – but Radrizzani had decided it was time Leeds parted company with Bielsa. The press signalled the end of an era.
Judging by the wake outside the ground, today, Sunday 27 February 2022, fans are heart broken. Some want him to stay. Some know that something has to be done to arrest the decline. Some blame the owners.
Second season syndrome
This season had that ominous feeling. No convincing wins. A second season syndrome culminating in a devastating 7-0 defeat to Manchester city in December. After a brief hiatus caused by Omicron Leeds then drifted into January without signs of improvement.
Team directions were desperate with Bielsa bringing on subs at half time again and again. Firpo became a target as he kept playing out of position due to Bielsa’s insistence on man to man marking. Klich looked like a championship player. The team were like robots playing a system that has failed.
The high risk system worked last year because we were new and other teams had to learn how to play against us, because of COVID lockdown and no fans in stadiums meant the premier League at one point was open house on who won what and when. And we had a full squad. Leeds were strong and scored goals late on when other teams found the chaotic style of Bielsa and the high energy for ninety minutes hard to play against.
This season managers have learned how to exploit Leeds. They exploit the man to man by pulling Leeds players out of position. They have exploited Bielsa’s unwillingness to change his model of pressing play with the defence prone to counter attacks and corners badly defended. Maybe he is right when he says plan B is to do more of plan A. Or has he no other ideas now that plan B is not working?
Questions should be also asked why so many Leeds players have become injured this season, that has led to the loss of the spine of the first team (Cooper, Phillips and Bamford). Is the training regime causing this?
And who is responsible for the lack of transfers in the January window. Clearly Leeds needed players – a midfielder at the very least, if not loan players in attack and defence.
The lack of transfers is partly attributed to Bielsa only wanting players who are as good as the first team, which makes sense if that is the case. But also questions have to be asked about the failure of management to recruit. This left Leeds more vulnerable – only children to fill the gaps in the team.
The under 23s platers should be used as impact subs when the team is performing well and the youths can benefit from that positivity. Our youths no doubt have had their motivation shot by playing in soul destroying matches with too many goals conceded.
In Bielsa We Trust
Bielsa will always have a god-like status with Leeds fans. Before he arrived we were wallowing in the championship with inept owners with no money to buy players to get us promoted to the premier League. Our managers – some were good, some were poor.
It felt like we were a selling club, we didn’t own our ground and Thorp Arch was also decaying. The relationship between fans and the club had been difficult and matches poorly attended.
Come Radrizrani, Leeds entered a new era, buying the ground, no longer a selling club, and bringing in a world class manager. A half full Elland Road became a rocking Elland Road.
Leeds started to play positive flowing football. Players improved. New youths like Kalvin Phillips caught the attention of fans.
Leeds soon improved and got promoted. Fans realised Bielsa was different to the typical manager. He never criticised referees. He always took the blame for a poor Leeds performance. He had bucket for a seat. He was considered one of us because you could find him shopping in Morrisons. His post-match reviews were technical and displayed a deep knowledge of the game. His players stayed up and got on with the game, maybe with the exception of Ayling.
He turned championship players into heroes: Phillips and Bamford playing for England. Dallas the ultimate all rounder. Meslier, the young goalkeeper regarded as a star for the future. He recruited Raphinha who is a revelation in the premier League.
I have never shouted and cried so much over football than last few years with Bielsa. My pride in the club, the players and the manager meant that when colleauges tried to mutter “Leeds are falling apart again” I could tell them that’s why their club is staying in the Championship we are in the Premier League.
Ultimately, his vision came undone. Watching Dallas full in front of an open goal at Elland Road against spurs yesterday suggested a team that was demotivated and running on empty. Raphinha was not the Raphinha we knew. James kept fighting to the end.
We all came to love Bielsa for how he changed the club, how he reignited that spark in the fans, how he created a winning mentality, and how he did it in a style we could call the Leeds way. We all knew he had a record of not over staying his welcome at previous but we felt this time was different. This time is different because, however it has ended – which is heartbreaking – the legacy is forever.