Football has-been Jamie O’Hara, best known for being sacked by non-league Billericay Town, is now employed by a down-market radio station that survives by trying to provoke fans to call in by making “controversial” statements. O’Hara now appears to have outdone himself in the irony alert stakes, with his latest desperate attempt to entice Leeds fans to call in to his lame show and have a go at Marcelo Bielsa, a world class coach he coveted for Tottenham Hotspur only last season.
35 year old O’Hara’s amateurish attempts at being controversial are cringeworthy enough, given a failed non-league appointment being the main item on his CV, but it’s even more ridiculous that he applies the word embarrassing to a Premier League club widely praised by genuine football experts, when he himself was found guilty of punching a 14 year old boy in 2017. The then 31 year old football failure lashed out after what the boy later described as a “handshake prank” – presumably O’Hara was nettled by his team’s defeat, although losing is hardly a novelty for him over the course of a less than sparkling career.
You have to admit that O’Hara has a pretty thick skin, and virtually zero self-awareness – that’s the only conclusion you can reasonably draw when a failed footballer and confirmed child-beater presumes to criticise a major football club and an international legend like Bielsa. Now that is embarrassing. Or maybe he’s simply stupid? You decide.
In this so far troubled season, it was always likely that Leeds would become a target for pundits, who are usually ex-pros who have never made any secret of their dislike for Yorkshire’s finest. So O’Hara’s brainless drivel is hardly a surprise – but the least that Leeds, and Bielsa, deserve is a better class of troll.
Nobody should find themselves under attack by a nonentity like Jamie O’Hara, least of all a club of global fame like Leeds United. That’s like a rat attacking a lion, and a past-it and toothless rat at that.
I have to admit that I’m getting more and more vexed with a section of Leeds United’s online “support”. I use the word “support” there in its loosest possible sense, as there is usually very little in the attitude of these people (or trolls, or fakes, depending on how clearly you can see behind the facade) to suggest that they have the best interests of United at heart.
The current target of this tragic tribe appears to be Tyler Roberts – a regular Welsh international and Leeds United’s Player Ambassador for Equality and Diversity. Tyler is 22 years old, a salient fact to which we shall return later. In the meantime, though, let’s just consider the fact of what has become an online campaign of abuse and negativity, against a broader background of what we mean when we talk about “supporters”.
The sad truth is that, these days, there needs only be an official LUFC tweet confirming that Tyler is in the starting line-up (or maybe even only a substitute role) to start a negativity bandwagon rolling, with many opportunistic whingers falling over each other in their eagerness to jump aboard. This is a social media phenomenon, let’s not forget, the tendency of the lonely and inadequate among us to join in the pillorying of a hapless target, particularly one who cannot answer back. It’s despicable, of course, and anathema to those who know what support is all about, with the positive effect good support can have upon a young player who needs the odd confidence boost here and there.
Social media is, let’s face it, an absolute gift to cowards everywhere, to the type of people who would never say boo to the proverbial goose, yet are emboldened by the anonymity afforded them behind their computer keyboards, and feel able to enter the market for lols and likes, that currency common to those tragically unable to show any merit in their own sorry existences, and who instead thrive on the hollow approval of kindred spirits who are similarly afflicted.
It was a case in point today. The official Leeds United Facebook account carried the story of young Tyler’s appointment as Player Ambassador for Equality and Diversity, a positive news item in these troubled times – or so you’d have thought. But no, it swiftly turned into a parade of what I earnestly hope were fake United fans, each competing with the one before to appear the cruellest and most dismissive, hoping to gain the approval of their fellow trolls. Most of these specimens probably don’t know one end of a football from another, and maybe therein lies their problem – it must rankle with these inadequates that the likes of Roberts will have far more talent in their little fingers than the trolls collectively could ever dream of. But they don’t stop to think of how they might thus appear to proper Leeds supporters. It’s all about lols and likes for them, because they simply crave the approval of – well, anyone really.
As if it really mattered, any Leeds fan with even an inkling of insight and football knowledge can see that Tyler Roberts is a very talented young man; one who, if properly coached with his latent ability sufficiently nurtured, has the potential to become an effective top-flight and international footballer. And it doesn’t really matter, on the face of it, as Roberts has the evident approval of the only man who really does matter, one Marcelo Bielsa. Against that, it is futile to argue – though of course the trolls will still try – those lols and likes aren’t going to just fall into their laptops, you know. Sadly, every coward needs a scapegoat who can’t strike back and, in that respect, Tyler is a credible target for them. And they won’t care that he’s only 22. For yer average cowardly troll, the younger the better – as it’s the youngsters, generally speaking, whose confidence can most easily be knocked, which is the Holy Grail for cowards, fakes and trolls.
Tyler Roberts is very young, as previously stated. It’s his tragedy that this puts him in the crosshairs of those who like to snipe from deep cover with no possibility of consequences. And, seemingly, it’s Leeds United’s tragedy that they have so many such creatures among their largely blameless and authentic online support. Still, it’s a significant and vociferous, if repellent, minority – and several Leeds players over the last year or so have confirmed that this sort of criticism, brainless and unqualified though it may be, does affect confidence. And that is detrimental to individual and team performance, whether or not you care to believe it.
Tyler Roberts has years ahead of him to fulfil that undoubted potential and become an integral cog in an effective Leeds United machine. This blog sincerely hopes that he will achieve that; if he does, it will be very much in spite of these clueless trolls. It’s worth considering that, when Harry Kane was just a year or so younger than Tyler Roberts is now, he was on loan at Leicester City, and not pulling up too many trees. I saw him playing for the Foxes in a sensational play-off semi-final defeat to Watford, and he didn’t particularly catch the eye. But he was young, and his greatness was ahead of him.
I’m not saying that Tyler Roberts will go on to emulate Harry Kane, who is a fabulous player – but Tyler too is young, and he will only get better, especially under the guidance of Bielsa. Whether he’ll be able to rise above the catcalls of the online, anonymous mob is a question yet to be answered; he’ll have to find and count on an inner core of strength that will allow him to mature into a consistent performer who lives up to the promise those flashes of brilliance so clearly reveal. Fingers crossed on that one. Trolls and fakes aside, every Leeds fan should be a Tyler Roberts supporter, gladly offering the encouragement every young, talented player needs. If we can do that, we’ll all reap the rewards.
Well, all but the cowardly, anonymous minority, that is.
Brace yourselves, fellow Whites. United now have a proven world class talent on their hands in the shape of Raphinha, bought at the bargain price of only £17m from Rennes just over a year ago – and now, some are saying that the bidding for Raph’s services would have to start at over five times that amount.
Look at the evidence. Yes, it’s been just two sub appearances so far in the famous Brazilian shirt for the Leeds star – but in those two cameos, Raphinha has made a stunning impression. There were rumours that Colombia’s left back required treatment for twisted blood after the chastening experience of being given the Raph Runaround last night, and many fans of the many times World Champions are demanding his inclusion as a starter, having observed the electrifying effect of the United man on the Verde-Amarela performances these past couple of games.
The fact is, you don’t get anywhere near the Brazilian squad if you’re some mug (unless your name is Fred) – and Raphinha now seems set to become a legend even in that exalted company. So, it seems certain that speculation will be rife over the next couple of transfer windows, with the avowed intent of various media outlets and pundits being quite clear: get Raphinha out of Leeds as soon as possible. Because, let’s face it, they just can’t abide us having nice things.
Even some Leeds fans on Twitter and other such social media platforms are openly conceding that we’re not going to be able to enjoy the spectacle of Raphinha in a White shirt for too much longer. That may even be borne out by events over the next year or so (though this blog considers it treason to say so). It’s a situation we’ve come up against in the past, and it was exacerbated then as it is now by the fact that the media and the usual suspects in the dingy ranks of washed-up ex-player punditry do not like Leeds United to have their very own world stars. They don’t like it one little bit, and so, whenever we do end up with a star in our squad, the campaign begins, urgently to talk up his move to one of the media darling clubs.
Sadly (and illegally, but don’t expect any justice to be meted out) these media campaigns are usually accompanied by what is known as “tapping up” – indirect, illicit and informal overtures made by covetous clubs, or by members of said club’s playing staff, towards the player being targeted. It happened with Rio Ferdinand during the 2002 World Cup, when members of the England squad attached to a certain club west of the Pennines which draws its support largely from Devon, did their level best to turn young Rio’s head. It worked, too – though the parlous financial predicament then afflicting Leeds United also played its part.
Yorkshire’s premier club is on a rather more even fiscal keel nowadays, but the Pride of Devon does not like to take no for an answer, and will expect its mates in the media to spin a possible transfer for all its worth. Apparently, they can also rely on their current player Bruno Fernandes to exploit his friendship with Raphinha in an attempt to soften up Brazil’s latest star. “I miss Raphinha,”sobbed Ole’s protégé the other day, taking out an onion. As we well know, the denizens of Old Toilet are not above this sort of skullduggery, in very much the same way that the sea is not above the clouds.
Annoyingly, once the media has decided that such-and-such a player is too good for Leeds (and we currently have at least two in this category with Kalvin Phillips also on the hit list), then we can expect a constant drip, drip of rumour, fabrication and propaganda, all aimed at achieving the outcome of winkling another diamond away from us. It’s an increasingly prevalent factor in modern football, though as I’ve said, it’s hardly a novelty for us Leeds fans. And, of course, as fans, there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it (other than share this and other like-minded blogs, naturally).
It’s the way of the world, sadly, and we just have to count ourselves lucky that we don’t follow an arrogant, complacent, entitled plutocrat European Super League wannabe club like some I could mention. We can also hold out a bit more hope these days, given the nature of the people currently in charge at Elland Road, that maybe we won’t simply roll over and give in when the media campaign ramps up, and the moneybags clubs start to agitate for the jewels in our crown. There does seem to be a defiance about Leeds these days, an authentic identity and a sense that we’re going places ourselves, instead of providing the means whereby others succeed. We must hope so, not only in the interests of Leeds United, but for other similar clubs – the likes of Villa, West Ham and Everton – who never know whether they stand to be abandoned, exploited, or both by the nefarious and untrustworthy ESL mob.
Good luck to Raphinha, and to our Kalvin. May they prosper and find success – hopefully with Leeds United. But, if their destiny does lay elsewhere, then let it not be elsewhere in the Premier League – and may the realisation of that destiny be sold for an eye-wateringly high price by our newly savvy club. One way, or the other, we simply have to prioritise our own interests, instead of assisting rivals as they twist the knife in our back. These days, I’m more confident that this is how it shall be.
What did we learn from Leeds United’s overdue first victory of this 2021-22 Premier League season? Not much, to be honest, that we didn’t already know. United made hard work of carving out a narrow win against a truly appalling Watford side who you’d have to say would have great difficulty scoring in the proverbial red light establishment. On this evidence, Watford are a good bet for relegation, whereas Leeds can thank their lucky stars that there are probably two or three clubs of around the same standard as the hopeless Hornets, which should see the relegation places spoken for, with United surviving for at least another season.
Anyone seeking an explanation of Leeds United’s mediocrity need look no further than the departure of legends Pablo Hernandez and Ezgjan Alioski. These two were the creative force behind the Whites’ successful Championship campaign of 2019/20, as well as their unexpectedly comfortable first season back at elite level. With their departures Leeds have lost two major talents who have not been successfully replaced. This regrettable fact also gives the lie to those who have hyped up the debatable talents of KP and Raphinha, who may now both safely be described as flash in the pan-types who should not be the subject of the recent fevered transfer speculation. The truth is, neither of these players would distinguish himself at a top six club, and the movers and shakers at Anfield, Old Trafford etc should get real and look elsewhere.
Far be it from me to second-guess the experts in the media, but it seems to me that, in talking up the “Phillips for Devon” stories, they are threatening to encourage Manchester’s second club towards yet another in a long series of disastrous purchases going back as far as Gary Birtles, and culminating in them having had their pants pulled down when Jadon Sancho was foisted upon them for a ridiculous amount of money. Neither am I in the habit of helping them avoid self inflicted misery, but it’d be cruelty to dumb animals not to warn them off the hapless Kalvin Phillips. So they should perhaps consider themselves warned, for their own good – with a similar cautionary note heading to Anfield, regarding the Brazilian in nationality only misfiring performer that is Raphinha.
I’m trying to be helpful here, to two Lancastrian clubs who clearly need some common sense advice. So pay heed, and steer well clear – you know it makes sense.
The tabloids are in their usual froth of eagerness to talk up the sale to a “Top 6 Club” of, well, any Leeds United player of any pedigree, to be honest. The papers know they have to keep the fans of the erstwhile €$£ clubs happy, so they will always do their best to indulge them and encourage the wishful thinking that these entitled armchair fans tend to indulge in.
Equally, the gutter rags know well that any football fan who doesn’t love Leeds United tends to hate them (although most couldn’t say why). It’s just fashionable to hate Leeds; that’s as true today as it was 60 years ago when Don Revie rocked the football world by founding a dynasty and propelling Leeds to superclub status. There’s hardly any in between with our club – we love them with a passion, everybody else settles for a blind hatred they couldn’t begin to explain. The papers know this, and their output is tailored to promote adulation of the plastic billionaire big six, as well as encouraging the ongoing demonisation of the unique phenomenon that is Leeds.
So, it’s natural – especially after his Euro 20 England heroics – that said gutter rags should decide that Elland Road is no place for the nation’s favourite swashbuckling midfielder. Engineering his transfer away from Leeds has become an urgent priority, and envious Wapping eyes are looking at Raphinha too. The Brazilian magician is being touted for Liverpool, but the tabloids, nursing happy memories of successful campaigns to move Ferdinand and Smith westwards along the M62, have decided that our own KP should join the salty nuts scattered liberally around the Pride of Devon. As if to emphasise their malicious intent, they have set the price at a measly £60m, which would probably buy Kalvin’s right boot and possibly his shin pads.
Well, I have news for the likes of the Sun, the Star and the other not so heavenly organs of the British trash press. Kalvin will be at United next season, and hopefully for a good few seasons after that. He’ll be at the only United that means anything to him and his family and many friends. A new contract is in the offing, one that will more accurately reflect Kalvin’s value to the club. And, while such a player will inevitably move on one day, I’m tolerably certain it won’t be to the sham United on the wrong side of the hills. He’s just too Leeds for that, and the extenuating circumstances that permitted Smith’s transition to the dark side don’t apply today. Have faith in the truth of that, and indulge in a wry smile when you see armchair plastics getting excited about the prospects of signing a £60m Yorkshire hero. It ain’t gonna happen.
No, Kalvin Phillips will be at United next season and for a good while yet. And if anyone reading this initially misunderstood the blog headline – well, what on Earth are you doing here anyway?? Get back to the Daily Star, and never darken my site again.
In Victorian times, “FA” stood for “Fanny Adam’s” a young murder victim of 1867 whose name, by some bizarre twist of nautical humour, came to be synonymous with – well, nothing.
These days, the two letters are supposed to evoke thoughts of an august ruling body for our national game. But, clearly, that’s nonsense, for as we all know, and as has been proved yet again only today, that ruling body is characterised by arrogance and complacency, together with a bumbling inability to get anything right, and further soured by their implacable hatred of Leeds United.
I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the red card saga here. It’s clearly pointless raising issues of precedent; the FA don’t care about such issues, they’re simply focused on dispensing injustice liberally around LS11, and if that makes them look ridiculous and foolish, well, so be it.
So I’ll just ask for suggestions as to what “FA” stands for, to us Leeds fans, here and now. I’ve à few choice ideas of my own, so it would be inappropriate to ask you to keep it clean. Let’s just stick it to them and carry on…
Any Leeds fans with nightmare memories of the number of occasions last season, when Leeds United had ridiculously tight VAR calls go against them, might have gone into today’s game against the Pride of Devon hoping for better, or at least fairer, things. It’s fair to say those hopes were dashed, and thrice dashed, making an opening day defeat at the Theatre of Hollow Myths an even bitterer than usual pill to swallow.
Let’s start with an admission – Leeds deserved nothing better than defeat on the day. It’s the scale and manner of that defeat I’m taking issue with, and although I’m probably going to be accused of blinkered bias, I’ll say here and now that two of Devon’s goals were as dodgy as a seven pound note – AND we should have had a penalty near the end. As ever, I’ll welcome comments that disagree or agree with my not entirely objective view – but I’d be grateful to see reasons, pro or con.
The first goal came directly from our young keeper’s less than habitually accurate kick out, gifting possession to the Devonians and allowing Bruno Fernandez to score. No quibbles here. In the second half, Ayling’s howitzer of an equaliser was a thing of beauty and a joy for a few minutes, until Greenwood managed to get by Pascal and score. 2-1 to the European Super League wannabes – and that’s where the game started to go bent. For the third home goal, I remain unconvinced that the whole of the ball crossed the line. Where was the computer graphic of last season, showing clearly the position of the ball relative to the line? All I saw was an unconvincing and blurry freeze frame, and my dander was well and truly up from that point onwards.
The fourth goal looked offside to me in real time, and again I was unconvinced by replays – the lines so often drawn last season seemed to be on leave of absence, and it felt as though justice was not seen to be done. I’d heard the lines were supposed to be thicker, not AWOL. As I said earlier, I’d welcome other views on both of these “goals”, perhaps I’ve missed something while tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth.
The fifth goal was down to lax and demoralised defending, too much room in our box, ‘nuff said. But then we should have had a penalty (yes, I know that’s unrealistic at Old Toilet, but this was a stonewall penalty). Contact was demonstrably made with Tyler Roberts’ trailing leg, and a commentator mouthed something along the lines of “not enough to make him go down”. But Roberts was moving at speed, and any contact was going to be enough to put him on the deck. I guarantee that, if the incident was in the other area, with a Franchise player measuring his length on the turf, the ref would have whistled long and hard.
So, there we have it. No complaints about the result, but there was some devil in the detail, and those injustices were salt rubbed into a raw and painful wound. At least I’ve got this off my chest, so now maybe I can look ahead to other battles where perhaps we’ll acquit ourselves rather better. It’s just that, after one game, admittedly against opponents who notoriously always get the benefit of any doubt, I have this feeling that Leeds United will not benefit from this supposedly fairer application of VAR. I guess we’ll see over the next 37 games.
Sometimes, you lose more than a useful squad member of talent and ability when a player moves on. The appeal of a certain type of player transcends their actual skill or other technical qualities. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of the personality departing your club that you’ll miss, above and beyond a penchant for stinging volleys or crunching tackles. We’ve loved and lost a few of these mad, maverick types at Elland Road over the decades – Vinnie Jones springs to mind, for instance, as one of a special breed who “got” Leeds, seeming to absorb the singular personality of this uncommon club into their own DNA. When someone like that moves on, they leave a big hole behind them.
One such departure, regretfully anticipated for some time, but finally confirmed only now, is that of Gjanni Alioski, North Macedonian international, versatile left-sided performer, behind the scenes motivator and card-carrying nutter. Gjanni is one of those players in the famous colours of Leeds United whose loss will be felt for much more than his on-field contribution to United’s recent spectacular success. His ability to wind up opponents in the Leeds United cause is legendary enough, but it’s his episodes of pre-match tunnel-based insanity that I’ll most fondly recall in years to come. Gjanni may well be replaced by a player of superior ability, but surely it’s too much to expect a similarly vivid personality to take his place. Whatever the positives brought to the table by incoming players this window, I do feel we’ll have lost a certain je ne sais quoi with the departure of the Macedonian madman. No more will the corridors echo with “Peppa Peeeg!”, and that’s got to be a cause for some regret.
The really sad thing is that we didn’t even get to say “goodbye”. It seemed fairly clear in the final game of last season, as Leeds comfortably saw off West Brom, that this would be Alioski’s last hurrah – but it wasn’t confirmed at that point, so the farewells were for the certain departures, and Alioski seemed content to stay in the background while the spotlight played on Pablo and Gaetano in their final United appearances. That’s quite poignant, really, especially as Elland Road actually had a crowd inside for the first time in ages. It would have been nice to have been able to say farewell to Gjanni, alongside the other two heroes.
There are so many memories of Gjanni Alioski over his few years in United white, yellow and blue. Goals – my favourites are a blistering effort at Forest and that fulminating volley at Huddersfield. Assists, too, by the barrowload, and the boundless energy required by Bielsaball. Gjanni always put in a shift, and always had a terrific rapport with the fans. He even interacted with and acknowledged the cardboard cutouts on the Kop at the height of COVID, one of the myriad bizarre, off the wall memories associated with a player of whom you always expected the unexpected.
Goodbye then, Gjanni – or is it only au revoir? You never know with a guy like that and, though he’s heading for pastures new, he always seemed at home in LS11. He’ll be missed, of course, as we’ve missed so many crowd favourites before him. But Gjanni was that bit different, and replacing him will not just be a matter of importing an equal or superior talent. For the squad as a whole to retain its character and edge, we’re going to need to find another adorable madman, somebody with a screw just loose enough to merit the assumption of the Alioski mantle.
Let’s face it, that would be a remarkable feat. If Victor Orta can pull that one off, then we’re going to have to allocate space at Elland Road for his thoroughly deserved statue.
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.
At the start of the Premier League campaign so recently completed, one of the big issues for discussion and debate was: how will Leeds United, 16 years exiled from the elite, fare on their long-delayed return? The battle lines were drawn, with Leeds haters, wishful thinkers, embittered ex-pros and various other pond life on one side – and Those Who Matter on the other.
The views were starkly polarised. For the various factions who, for one reason or another, wished Yorkshire’s only giant club nothing but misery, there was a fairly unanimous feeling that United’s tenure in the top flight would last for three seasons: autumn, winter and spring. The predicted final tables from back then make for amusing reading now, with Leeds appearing in many forecast bottom threes and with the likes of the previous season’s miracle club Sheffield Utd going from strength to strength.
My own forays into social media at this time were seen as baselessly optimistic, bordering on drug-fuelled delusion. One Arsenal fan of tender years, and even tenderer grey matter, could not believe that I refused to accept United’s inevitable fate with meek submissiveness. The poor lad got quite hot under the collar at my refusal to acquiesce, and eventually blocked me in a fit of outraged pique, promising to re-establish contact around Easter, when our fate was sealed. Still waiting on that one.
Then there was the Brighton fan who was so sure that we’d zero chance of survival without Ben White, condescendingly explaining as if to a child that sadly no deal was possible as we’d be direct rivals in the struggle against the drop. Haven’t heard from him lately, either.
On the other side of the coin, the optimism and positivity that characterised the online output of many prolific Leeds writers must have seemed mere bravado to the uninitiated. But we’d just witnessed two miraculous seasons in the Championship during which we’d proved we were the best outside the game’s elite. In the first season, we suffered a late attack of stage fright, and failed to get over the line – but in the second, we walked the league by ten points, to a background of wailing, gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair from the anti-Leeds fraternity who were witnessing their worst nightmare come true. They’d forecast another late season blow up and the departure of Marcelo Bielsa back to the Argentine, tail between legs. But we knew better – we knew that Bielsa is God incarnate, brought to God’s own county to return the chosen people to the Promised Land. So mote it be.
And thus it has come to pass, with yet more amusement in store for us as the haters refused to let the evidence of their own eyes divert them from their predictions of misery falling upon Elland Road. Karen Carney brought the undeserved ridicule of unreconstructed misogynists down upon the heads of female football pundits, with her silly theory that Leeds’s promotion was down to the COVID break. But this was never about gender – male pundits game out with theories just as daft if not dafter, proclaiming that Bielsa was a myth (Gabby “Gobby” Agbonlahor) and other exercises in mental frailty and lack of perspicacity from the likes of Andy Hinchliffe, Kris Boyd et al.
Overall, opinion has remained polarised. There was early encouragement for the nay-sayers when results were poor during a spell where Leeds were deprived by injury of the international defenders they’d signed in lieu of poor Ben White. That chorus of “we told you so” turned sulkily quiet with the emergence of Pascal Strujik and the recovery of Diego Llorente. Since those two were deployed in harness, United’s defensive performance has improved markedly, with Sky’s beloved graphic highlighting Leeds’s weakness from set pieces becoming more redundant with every passing week.
In the last ten games of the season (over a quarter of the campaign, let’s not forget), Leeds were second only to a resurgent not to say desperate Liverpool in the form table, and came within a short head of challenging for some form of European qualification – a “failure” which may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But that late season charge, unaided by any COVID break (sorry, Karen) has surely dispelled another myth beloved of Leeds-haters, the oft-mooted “Bielsa Burnout”. Sorry, lads (and lasses), but – like so many of your pet theories – the burnout was just so much pie in the sky, meaning you’ve had to gorge on the humble variety instead.
So, what of the future? Inevitably, there will be departures, and we’ve already bid a tearful farewell to two of our favourite sons in the Lion and the Magician. Thank you, thank you to Gaetano and Pablo, your legend status is secure and you’ll never be forgotten. Success elsewhere, lads, but you’ll always be welcome home anytime. There will inevitably be additions over the summer, and we’ve learned to trust the judgement and acumen of Victor Orta. He won’t let us down – and of course Marcelo Bielsa, or “God” as he’s fondly known hereabouts, will continue the biggest and best project of his incredible life.
I foresee more progress, a clear path ahead to establishment as a giant amongst the elites as Marcelo continues to build his legacy, and not least of all, more bitter disappointment for those whose happiness is entirely dependent on Leeds failing and falling. Let it be.