Bielsa bids Leeds goodbye: End of an Era

Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United now have mutually agreed to part their ways. It has to be one of the most disheartening news to come out in the world of football in recent times. Following the crushing 0-4 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Spurs, the news of Bielsa standing down as the Manager of Leeds came out. Leeds United has had a horrid run recently as they became only the second side in Premier League history to concede 3+ goals in five consecutive matches in the competition, after Sunderland in November 2005. Football at the top can sometimes be very business-driven, and yet the fans were expecting Bielsa to remain in charge – despite a disappointing campaign so far. It is because of what he has done at Leeds United and how much he means to the club and those fans. Four years is not a long time, but many managers combined together fail to achieve what Bielsa has achieved with Leeds and his departure marks the end of an era.

Image source: Premier League

Style of Management

Bielsa is one of the most respected football managers of all time. He is considered immensely influential for his philosophies, strategies, style of management, and his outlook towards the game. Most of the players who played under him consider him highly demanding; be it in the training or during the match. He wants his team to defend and attack in a pack. Famously known for the Bielsa press, he wants all his players to quickly set to attacking positions when in possession, also aggressively press and recover the ball when it is not in possession. He likes to play the game on the front foot irrespective of the opposition. The interlink between players, the runs, and the speed of the game is enthralling to see. However, it can take a toll on players. His style of football is certainly filled with flaws, but not without beauty, principles, integrity, and idealism. And renowned for his honesty, Bielsa would be the first to admit it. Yet he would choose no other way. A man of his principles – who believes in living by the sword and dying by the sword.

Championship to Premier League

Bielsa took over Leeds United on June 15, 2018, and took the Championship by the storm. He quickly became the fan favorite for his rockstar style of football management. In his first year in the Championship as manager, Leeds made the playoffs. Leeds had several injury issues that season, but that didn’t deter Bielsa from leading Leeds to a remarkably successful campaign considering those injuries. They narrowly (and somewhat controversially) missed out on the promotion to Premier League next season. Bielsa built on that success next year and won the Championship in 2019/20, guaranteeing the spot in the first division.

Image source: Leeds United FC

Leeds United was promoted to the Premier League after 16 long and arduous years. Bielsa stunned the Premier League. Even the opposition fans, neutral fans admired the style of football they were playing. They weren’t afraid to take attack even to the big boys, and they made it pretty clear from the get-go. Leeds nearly beat the then Defending Champions Liverpool in their first match back in the league. That style brought plenty of excitement and anticipation to fans. They secured their position in the top half of the table in the 2020/21 campaign.

2021/22 season, however, has not been kind to them. Bielsa has had to cope with plenty of injuries this season. In his method that demands plenty of strength, stamina, and endurance, a depleted squad can be even more problematic. Some of his best players have missed plenty of games. Hence, they have conceded 60 goals in 26 matches and find themselves at 16th position on the table. Having said that, Bielsa still has the biggest win ratio percentage ever in Leeds United history despite leaving the club after a string of defeats.

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More than a Manager

Bielsa has been a cult figure for many teams and fans over his career. Leeds United are no different in that regard. Fans have made numerous songs to celebrate him. Meeting and greeting fans, taking time with kids and gifting them, paying for a gym for staff at Elland Road, congratulating people on their joyous moments – the humane touches. He meant so much to the community and people in Leeds and Leeds fans across the globe. He brought joy, honor, pride, unity, and love for the Leeds fans, which they were missing for a long time.
Money or fame wasn’t the reason he got into football. It’s the love and passion for the game that he developed as a kid that stirs him the most. And that hasn’t changed a bit even now. If anything, that has amplified to new levels. And probably that is what resonated the most to the Leeds United fans as well; leading, living, and breathing football. So, even though he’s no longer a manager at the club, his impact, lessons, and memories have now been etched in the history of Leeds United in the golden letters, and the minds and hearts of their fans. For Leeds United fans, Bielsa was and will be much more than a manager.