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Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds: Can two wrongs make a right?

Sunday 17th June 2018

Just over 17 years ago, Leeds United made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League with an excellent young team that their manager, David O’Leary, referred to as his babies. The future looked extremely bright for the Yorkshire club but behind the scenes, United were running into financial difficulties.

Chasing, and ultimately failing, to build on that Champions League run, left the club in the red. They soon started offloading assets; which eventually led to relegation just three years later. After another relegation, a promotion, a string of owners, copious average signings and enough young talent leaving the club, the Elland Road side are now pretty much a settled, mid-table Championship outfit. That's nowhere near good enough for a club with a fan base and history like Leeds.

Since Paul Heckingbottom became the latest Leeds coach to crash and burn, rumours have been abound that the club were in discussions with the eccentric Argentine, Marcelo Bielsa. The 62-year-old has since been confirmed and initial thoughts are that he is a huge name to be appointed at a struggling Championship team. It's certainly one that will make people sit up and take notice, though; something that giants like Leeds desperately need.

After the initial surprise of Bielsa going to a Championship club wears off the mind, you then start to wonder about what actually may happen. Jurgen Klopp arrived in England a few years ago, promising “heavy metal football.” Bielsa’s arrival might mean something similar. Except with the Argentine, you could replace the guitars with machine guns; such is the way he likes his teams to play the game. If you think back to the 1990’s when Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United team were deploying the “we’ll score one more goal than you” style of play, Bielsa is a bit like that; only after you’ve turned it up a few notches.

In all seriousness, Bielsa has got quite the pedigree. His style is based on the whole team moving as one compact unit to press the opposition. The idea being, to win possession in high areas, so there’s not as far to go to score goals. While his own version is a bit gung-ho, it’s the basis that his disciples, Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola and Jorge Sampaoli have all used in their managerial careers to date.

There’s something about this appointment from Leeds United that is extremely intriguing. Obviously, he’s the biggest name they have appointed in a long time but there’s more to it. Leeds are a huge club and their fan base are very much of the “no one likes us, we don’t care” school of thinking. Bielsa is the same. He is very much his own man and will take absolutely no nonsense. It feels a bit like two highly volatile characters coming together which ultimately works like a dream or ends in absolute disaster. Leeds have essentially got on the world’s biggest rollercoaster; with the tracks missing at the top. They have then decided to speed up and see whether they make it or not...

Bielsa has never shied away from controversy, while Leeds seem to attract it like the worlds most powerful magnet. Bielsa famously walked out on Lazio just 48 hours after taking the job when they went back on promises they had made in respect to transfers. One wonders what kind of promises Leeds have made and, more importantly, if they can honour them. No doubt the answers are around the corner and for now, Leeds fans will look forward to a season with real optimism for the first time in years. Meanwhile, the rest of the footballing world will be getting strapped into their seat belts and hoping that Bielsa and Leeds can make it work long enough so we can at least get to see him in the dugout at Elland Road when the season begins in August...

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.


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