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Are Leeds United experiencing vintage Marcelo Bielsa?

Tuesday 21st August 2018

Apprehension became the dominant mood when news broke Marcelo Bielsa was appointed Leeds United manager. Normally, a manager with the Argentine's pedigree arouses anticipation, especially when arriving at a club with such a rich history. But when the 'mad' in Mad Scientist is the operative word, well.

Hailed as a genius one moment, branded insane the next, mercurial seems an understatement when attached to Bielsa. Sometimes he's praised to high heavens. Chilean and Argentina fans adore him for his contributions to their national teams. In other moments, he's condemned as unreasonable. Lazio and Lille fans will tell you about that side of his personality. For neutrals, he's interesting to say the least.

However you feel about the 62-year-old, one thing is certain: few managers in the modern game can hold a candle to Marcelo Bielsa. He doesn't collect trophies like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, but his ability to transform a lacklustre squad is renowned.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino refers to Bielsa as his “football father” in an interview with SFR Sport.

”We are a generation of coaches who were his disciples.”

Guardiola, who knows his onions, is also complimentary. But if we're talking food and recipes for success, Bielsa's speciality is souffle. His methods are exquisite when they come good but can collapse at the slightest vibration. When fans taste his best, they want more. Yet he seldom cooks more than one meal for the same audience. Then, when the least little thing doesn't go as planned, he's out the door while fans are just picking up their knives and forks. His arrival in the Championship promises only to be interesting. 

Club chairman Andrea Radrizzani has been very optimistic about the new manager.

“Marcelo has a wealth of experience and he will use that to create a new culture and a winning mentality at our football club.”

Maybe he glanced over his shoulder once or twice while uttering that sentence, just to be sure the compliment's recipient was still there. So far, however, the Argentine's proved his chairman right. Bielsa's leading a revolution at Elland Road. Just four matches into the new season, there are new records created.

A comfortable 2-0 victory over Rotherham on Saturday maintained Leeds' perfect start to the season. Bielsa's the first manager in the club's long history to win his opening four games.

And if you think it was all about the scoreline, it wasn't. The Whites thoroughly dominated the Millers. Seventy-six per cent ball possession, 17 shots fired and seven corners with only one from the opponent tell the story.

The other wins were also emphatic. Leeds trashed Gary Rowett's Stoke City 3-1 in the season opener. Derby County fell 4-1. So much for Pride Park and welcome to the coaching game Senor Lampard.

Those results make it easy for club faithful to start fantasising about the big time. How fitting for the club to celebrate its 100th anniversary with promotion to the Premier League. For a club that's won three English league titles and reached the Champions League semifinal in 2001, such dreams remain unfulfilled too long.

Financial troubles led the club to relegation from the Premier League in 2004. After a 14-year absence, the Peacocks are poised for a return. Bielsa's experience at the top level makes him the perfect choice to lead this charge. However, given his history, Leeds fans will do well to temper their optimism. The Argentine's flighty moods are legendary. With Bielsa, a great start is no guarantee of any future at all.

While he mostly succeeds, he's also failed. With Lille, he won three of his first thirteen games before he was sacked. More often, though, Marcelo Bielsa's the final arbiter in success and failure. At Marseille, he quit without warning. In 2016, he resigned as Lazio manager after two days on the job. It seems he didn't agree Rome was the Eternal City. Resigning is Bielsa's default first option once he becomes dissatisfied. Maybe the Argenitine signed a two-year contract with an option for a third but it's immaterial. The Mad Scientist exercises his own option to renew daily. 

Leeds fans have every right to be thrilled but mustn't forget they're walking on eggshells.

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Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


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