Monthly Archives: June 2021

Hard-Bitten, but Totally Smitten: Leeds Fans Celebrate Marcelo Bielsa Day – by Rob Atkinson

God

Three years ago today, Leeds United made a managerial appointment that must rank as one of the top three strokes of genius in their entire century-and-a-bit history. In context, the recruitment of Marcelo Bielsa is right up there with those of Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson. All three men came to a club in dire straits, and all three performed miraculously to transform the fortunes of an archetypal sleeping giant. As to who can be judged First Among Equals, history will judge the best. From my contemporary standpoint, what I will say is that the answer to that conundrum is by no means as clear-cut as many might suppose.

It might seem like sacrilege to even contemplate placing Bielsa in a position of pre-eminence over the Don, or even Sgt. Wilko. Both of those former club servants brought the ultimate domestic accolade to Elland Road, an achievement that is unlikely to be matched in today’s vastly different game where a super-powerful, massively entitled group of fat cat plutocrats rule; moreover, as we have recently seen, they are determined to maintain their dominance, by hook or by crook, and devil take the hindmost. In that context, the achievements of Marcelo Bielsa in his three year tenure (the longest period he has ever stayed in a club job) bear comparison with anything the other two of that legendary triumvirate managed.

That’s as may be, and I’m not setting out to ruffle the feathers of those veteran fans who remember Revie’s Super Leeds, or even (as I do) Sgt. Wilko’s Barmy Army. But these are different days, and in the current climate, with the game’s tangible rewards being hogged by that gluttonous cartel, it’s status that now assumes more importance for The Rest. Leeds United had been away from the Top Table for 16 years, far too long for a club of our pedigree. Both Revie and Wilkinson took control after much shorter periods of exile – Bielsa, by comparison, was looking to restore to the spotlight a club that the top level of our game had almost forgotten. And he’s done this with an endearing mixture of style, humility, stubbornness, quixotic idealism and – let’s not mince words here – sheer, unadulterated genius.

In effect, Bielsa has accomplished the fashioning of a silk purse from the tattiest of sow’s ears. In the last game of the season just completed, as Leeds secured a ninth place finish in their comeback season, most of their matchday combatants were also on duty in Marcelo’s first game, back in 2018 as pre-season Championship favourites Stoke City rolled up to Elland Road, took a fearful battering, and headed back to the Potteries sadder and wiser for the experience. Looking further back, the bulk of the squad that finished dismally mid-table in the second tier the season before were still around as Leeds rattled off four victories in the last four games of last season. This is heady stuff, again, given the context, and you can well understand the esteem in which Bielsa is now held by the Leeds faithful. Let’s face it, we’re talking here about an esteem which goes far beyond respect, which transcends even adulation. Some say Bielsa is revered, as you might revere a god. Some simply refer to him as God. This is not mere respect or adulation, this is The Real Thing. Let’s not bandy words. This is Love.

When I was younger, I was probably guilty of falling in love too lightly and too often. I was a sucker for a pretty face or a maverick football club – though I was too young, and too untutored in the ways of Leeds, to fall for Don Revie. I do worship him as a historical icon for the club I’ve adored for almost half a century, and I’m immensely proud of our dominance under Don in that golden era. By the late eighties, though, I was desperate for something to love about a diminished Leeds, particularly in the aftermath of King Billy’s reign and the traumatic way it ended. When Wilkinson moved in, it quickly became clear that here was a man who would give us back our pride, restore our status after eight years in the doldrums and enable us all to look the game in the eye again. And yet, I never quite fell for Wilko, despite the fact that he exceeded our wildest dreams in that glory year of 1992. You don’t make choices about who you love and who you’re fond of on a less ardent basis. I was grateful beyond words for what Howard did for Leeds, but with the best will in the world, it never translated to love, and I assumed then that people come and go, but my heart belonged to the club. Thinking about it, that’s not a bad philosophy; most likely it’s one that could see me through a dread time to come, when our latest Messiah decides his work is done and it’s time to call it a day.

Here and now, though, I know that my previous sang-froid will be of no use to me when the current incumbent of the Elland Road hot seat finally goes to pastures new, or maybe just home. I’m going to find it so hard to bear, because I literally love Marcelo Bielsa, and I know I’m not alone in this. It may even be that, when Marcelo does go, it’ll be time for me to take a step back, find other stuff to write about, view the game more dispassionately, concentrate on home and hearth, wait for grandchildren to come along. I can’t put it any more plainly than that. For me, Marcelo Bielsa is God – and once there’s no more God, then there’ll be precious little point in continuing to worship.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being a tad over dramatic, as we ageing thespians tend to be. Maybe, when the blow falls, I’ll be able to rationalise it – don’t be sorry He’s gone, just be glad He was here. It’ll be an exercise in managing how I feel, that’s for sure. I just hope it’s a situation that I’m still a couple of years away from having to deal with. For the time being, let’s just accept that we have been blessed indeed these past three years and, on this Bielsa Day anniversary, simply be glad of that. And, who knows? The best may well be yet to come.

Marching On Together

Man Utd Fans Show Why Everybody Laughs at Them With Leeds’ Phillips Transfer Demand – by Rob Atkinson

They used to say that the only two things you can rely on in life are death and taxes. Those were more innocent times though, and the list has perhaps grown a little since – you can add Tory lies and elite greed, for instance, to life’s acknowledged certainties. And one more that I will advance with no fear of contradiction is the comical and deluded sense of entitlement exhibited by just about any and every fan of Manchester’s second club – the one that used to be half-decent when they had a manager everybody was scared of. Despite the fact that Fergie is long gone, with the current incumbent of the manager’s office best known for his failure at Cardiff City, these innocents – encouraged, it must be said, by a complaisant media – still believe they follow the biggest and best club in the world, and they do not hesitate to allow this delusion to lead them into flights of fantasy that are guaranteed to make proper football fans dissolve into helpless fits of laughter.

They’ve been at it again today, all over Twitter in the wake of Kalvin Phillips’ midfield masterclass throughout England’s victory over Croatia in their opening game of Euro 2020. Phillips was at his imperious best, supporting Declan Rice in the protection of England’s defence, but also surging forward to add bite and purpose to the Three Lions’ attacking endeavours. In the first half, Kalvin was the only player to complete every attempted pass, and he also had England’s only shot on target. And in the second period, the Yorkshire Pirlo provided the assist for the game’s only goal, with a deliciously weighted through ball for Raheem Sterling to score.

All of this was far too much for the supporters of the club I still – despite the rival claims of Chelsea, Spurs, Galatasaray and Bayern – despise the most. I hate them, not for any geographical rivalry, nor even from any misplaced envy. I detest them because they’re inherently detestable, and their legions of armchair supporters around the globe, frantically tapping away at keyboards in their eagerness to perpetuate their most fondly-held delusions, continually demonstrate the truth of this. Within an hour of Kalvin Phillips’ triumphant Wembley display, these tragic devotees of football’s funniest club were reminding us all of just why, despite all they’ve won over the years since Sky bought the game for them, they are routinely mocked and laughed at. “Sign Phillips!”, they were tweeting in their hundreds and thousands. And, the thing is, they truly believe that all they have to do is wish a thing, and Lo, it shall come to be. It seems to have passed them by that the game’s moved on, and that they’re no longer the Fergie-fuelled power of years gone by. They sit in their Devon armchairs and weave their fantasies, certain in their long-outdated belief that the club they worship from afar can still have anything they want.

Money talks, of course, and Leeds United – in the past – have too often listened to its siren song. But ask yourself – would you willingly swap the tutelage of Marcelo Bielsa for the year or two before the Glazers sack Solskjaer? I doubt that Kalvin, a lad with his feet firmly on the ground, would commit such an act of folly, even if Leeds were tempted to countenance what would be a disastrous PR decision. Phillips will be only too well aware of exactly who has realised his potential and guided him towards his current state of midfield mastery. I feel that there’s a fair way to go yet on that journey, and any club with realistic ambitions of recruiting the Yorkshire Pirlo will have to have deep, deep pockets.

Meanwhile, let’s all give thanks for those hilariously deluded Pride of Devon Twitteratti – it’d be a duller game without ’em. And now that Leeds United are seemingly embracing a new reality of competence and ambition – well, we need something to laugh at – don’t we?

Marching On Together