Marcelo Bielsa: The Man Behind the Rise of Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa has masterminded the revival of Leeds United
Marcelo Bielsa has masterminded the revival of Leeds United

Football has a rich lore to present when it comes to the histories of great football clubs and the giants that graced their pastures. However, the beautiful game is also full of fables that narrate the downfalls of a couple of clubs in the recent times, the most striking examples, in this case, being the likes of Inter Milan and AC Milan. While the Italian giants are pulling out all the stops to reconquer their former glory, a tale pretty much in tandem with that of Leeds United has reclaimed the lost glory.

Leeds United players celebrated their promotion in a suite at Elland Road as fans gathered on the square below them.
Leeds United players celebrated their promotion in a suite at Elland Road as fans gathered on the square

England has seen a number of brilliant teams taking birth on its soil and it is fair to say that Leeds are one of them. The demise of the Peacocks at the turn of the millennium is one of the most interesting stories in English football folklore. As such, the reasons behind the doom has aroused curiously in the minds of a number of football connoisseurs, who, on their respective parts, have tried to decode the reasons behind their fall from the pedestal.

After clinching the last First Division title in 1992, everyone expected Leeds to go on to dominate the Premier League – the new edition of first-tier football in England. With David O’Leary appointed as the club manager, the club continued being one of the best teams in the country and reached their high point in season 2000-01, when they crashed out in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals against eventual runners-up Valencia. Back then, few would have thought of the impending doom that lay in the store for the club.

What happened to Leeds' Champions League semi-finalists of 2001 ...
Leeds United Champions League Semi-Finals team in 2000-01

Initially, chairman Peter Risdale took lump-sum loans believing that the club would earn handsome amounts with TV rights and Champions League qualification. However, no such thing happened and the debts started to rise. As history has always shown before, the best way to recoup money to pay the debts was to sell promising players; Rio Ferdinand‘s departure to Manchester United was the first sign that showed the club’s financial troubles were on the rise. Jonathan Woodgate, James Milner, Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer and many others, who formed the spine of the club, followed Ferdinand’s footsteps out of the club.

Rio Ferdinand’s sale to Manchester United highlighted Leeds United’s financial troubles

Moving further, a host of managerial changes also proved to be the downfall for The Peacocks. Following David O’Leary’s sacking, the club had 19 managers in the dugout at the Elland Road, including 7 caretaker managers. The string of managers includes well-known tacticians like Terry Venables and Peter Reid to Simon Grayson and Darko Milanic.

However, the club now seems to be coming back on track with Argentine maestro Marcelo Bielsa at the helm. The former Athletic Bilbao coach who also serves as an inspiration to Pep Guardiola has brought an exciting brand of attacking football at the Elland Road, the positive results of which are clearly visible.

With the help of a much-required financial backing from chairman Andrea Radrizzani, Leeds cracked some interesting deals and signed players like Patrick Bamford, Barry Douglas, Kiko Casilla and Mateusz Klich, coupled with a bunch of loan signings from various clubs.

Having started his tenure since August 2018, Bielsa guided Leeds to nine straight wins, being perched atop the league table for most of the time in the first half of the season. However, a blip in the form at the turn of the year saw Leeds lose their grip, eventually finishing 3rd and being pitted against Derby County in the playoffs of the 2018/19 season. The loss made way for Aston Villa and Sheffield United but after 16 years, Leeds United will be playing Premier League football again next season after an impressive campaign under the Argentine manager- Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa’s men missed Premier League promotion by whiskers

Marcelo Bielsa’s men missed out on Premier League promotion by whiskers in the previous season. Leeds United have ended their 16-year exile and will be entering the top tier league with a silverware in hand and a magician at the helm guiding them to conquer their lost glory. In Marcelo Bielsa, the supporters at Elland Road seem to have found their silver lining amidst the dark clouds and now after five owners, 15 managers and 16 years later, Leeds United are back into the English Premier League largely on the back of just one person: Bielsa.

Leeds United won the last English title before the birth of the Premier League, but it hasn’t played in the top division since 2004.

Leeds’s stunning 30-pass goal against Stoke showed Bielsa’s unorthodox playing style and was given a fancy name called ‘Bielsa Ball‘ which involves direct, attacking football that is played at a high pace while retaining possession. The build-up begins at the back and often ends in rapid incisive counter-attacks. While defending, the team uses a 4-1-4-1 formation but in the offence, they revert to the 3-3-1-3 combination. Marcelo Bielsa has a lasting influence in the game of football as Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane all cite the Argentine as a mentor.

Marcelo Bielsa explains how Pep Guardiola reacted to him spying on ...
Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds have returned to the promised land. The story of Marcelo Bielsa is not the story of Leeds. But for now, they are magically intertwined and the fans at Yorkshire will be desperate to continue the folklore. With a young gruelling squad, Bielsa will be keen to keep this group of players and extend deals to players like Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison and former City goalkeeper Joe Hart to stand between the sticks following his release from Burnley. Having crossed the first hurdle, the Argentine maestro will look forward to the rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds. But there will be real intrigue when Guardiola, Klopp and Bielsa have a meeting of minds on the touchline next season.

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