Leeds United celebrate their 100-year anniversary, we hail Marcelo Bielsa. Last season he came agonisingly close to guiding Leeds back to the big time and now every fan believes he can go one step further this time round.
For so long last season, it looked like Leeds United would end their exile in the soccer wilderness and finally return to the promised land of the Premier League.
The fact the wheels came off their promotion bandwagon so dramatically against Derby in the play-off semi-finals though came as little surprise to many, least of all the die-hard Leeds fans who have been kicked in the teeth so many times, it’s a wonder they’ve got any pearly whites left.
While the 60s and 70s will be remembered as the club’s golden era when under Don Revie, Bremner, Giles and Co strutted their stuff so majestically, the remaining decades – bar the brief Wilko era and that mis-managed spell under Ridsdale – promised much but delivered little.
Since the turn of the millennium, the collapse of Leeds has been one punchline after another, a disaster zone and a tragedy wrapped up in a comedy with no shortage of madness thrown into the mix.
From Peter Ridsdale’s fish tank to the dark days of Ken Bates; from administration to those League One years; from Massimo Cellino to Dave Hockaday and from the subsequent merry-go-round of managers to fan demonstrations, supporting Leeds since 2000 has not been an easy ride.
But last season, the arrival of one man threatened to end the madness once and for all and guide Leeds back to that promised land of green and plenty where only the big boys (and now Sheffield United) play.
Any coach who drags Leeds out of the EFL is guaranteed the keys to the city but there was something romantic about the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa and him being the one tasked to do it.
For here was a man famed for walking on footballing waters; a master tactician; a father figure respected by all in the game and suddenly, he was ours. Revered as a god-like figure by some of the world’s best players and managers, Bielsa took a bunch of mid-table Championship players at Leeds and turned them into fighters. The hunger, energy and belief returned and after winning the first four games of last season, every Leeds fan suddenly believed as well.
The fact they ran out of steam at the final hurdle against Derby was no great shock given the intensity of the campaign and the realistic capabilities of that squad but despite the disappointment, the greatest concern to every Leeds fan was that Bielsa would walk away.
The fact he didn’t, said much about the man, his integrity, his belief and his determination to complete the job he came here to do. Both on and off the pitch, he and the other decision-makers have turned this into a proper football club again, rather than the intersection between comedy and tragedy. For the majority of Leeds fans, that is more valuable than being in the Premier League and Bielsa has made the whole city fall back in love with Leeds United.
It has been a perfect match between a manager and a following who think football means more than just the ball on the pitch – an area where Leeds have been letting their public down for 15 years.
“He has ensured these players and the club relate to the fans and the community, which is something we haven’t had in recent times,” said Peter Emmerson, vice-chairman of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust. “You can tell Bielsa feels honoured to be at Leeds and the feeling is reciprocated by the fans. It’s no coincidence that we are selling out our home and away games in record time.”
The great lie about football fans is that winning games is all they care about. It helps but the sense they feel part of something they can be proud of, and that they are not completely wasting their time every time they watch their side, is much more important. Bielsa has brought that back to the club.
Leeds made the play-offs last year because of Bielsa’s ability to inspire an average bunch of players and push them to go further than they’d ever gone before.
Bielsa came here for the football, his life’s work and his life’s passion, but he is a man of honour and you get the feeling he has taken to the club as much as they have to him. He is in it for the people, working for them as they rooted for him and while ambition plays its part, this is about something else, something much deeper.
Nobody knows that better than Bielsa and as the club celebrates its 100th anniversary, the time has come for every Leeds fan to finally start believing.