Has ‘Bielsa-ball’ Stirred England’s Sleeping Giants?

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The cliché of Leeds United being England’s sleeping giants – a huge club waiting in the wings for their inevitable return to the top – has circulated across England ever since their downfall at the hands of bankruptcy in the 2003/04 season. Managers and owners have since come and gone (many with impressive reputations), yet none have managed to instigate a serious challenge for promotion to the Premier League. However, the new era with owner Radrizzani at the helm has perhaps been the most positive time to be a Leeds fan since the ‘glory days.’

Football has come a long way since the Don Revie days of ‘dirty Leeds’, yet the flashbacks shown inside Elland Road, of the likes of Bremner, Gray, Lorimer and Clarke, are still the bedrock of the club. However, it is time to look to the future, as opposed to the nostalgic reminiscing of the past.

The current season began with a serious sense of ambition around the Leeds United camp. Formidable names: namely Antonio Conte and Roberto Martinez, were chased by Radrizzani for the vacant managerial spot – following the departures of Christiansen and Heckingbottom in the previous season. One man stepped forth from the shadows…‘El Loco’, Marcelo Bielsa. Famed for his high intensity, high press and attacking style of play, Bielsa has coached some of the biggest teams in world football: Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao, just to name a few.

Bielsa came with an illustrious reputation, but also with a price tag to match. In previous years, Leeds united owners would have shied away from commitments, such as the reported £3million-a-year contract (after tax)– a fee more than double that of any other championship side and £500,000 more than Southgate in his role as England manager. An appointment such as this would have seemed unfathomable just four years ago, upon the appointment of non-league nobody, David Hockaday for his six-game tenure. Credited with administering the tutelage of world-class managers, such as Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola, Bielsa’s expertise were bound to make an impact on the Leeds United dressing room – however, nary a spectator or pundit, would have contemplated that he would be quite as influential as he has been.

Bielsa began his tenure by inflicting three training sessions per day during pre-season. He has previously stated that how he feels about football is “very simple. Just run”. This obsession with fitness and intensity is sure to see him squeeze every particle of oxygen from the Leeds players, just to see who is both able and willing.

Bielsa’s tendency to construct a rather thin 16-man squad (as opposed to 20) raised a number of eyebrows early on, as the door at Leeds saw many departures. With the first 12 games under the belt, Leeds have began to falter slightly, with injuries to key players inhibiting the previously clinical displays. However, despite a drop in terms of points, the philosophy has remained and teams have been blown away by a fast-paced, dominant team that can take other teams “to the cleaners” (as Hull City manager Nigel Adkins candidly stated in his post-match interview after his side’s 1-0 loss).

With the games beginning to flow, and only an international break to allow some much needed recovery time, players and pundits alike are beginning to understand and appreciate what they are seeing at Leeds United: a style of play that is always positive and entertaining, a ‘never say die’ attitude and a genuine belief that a promotion chase could very well be on the cards. For the first time in over a decade there seems to be something different; it’s as if, for once, the owner, the manager, the players and the fans are all singing from the same hymn sheet – entitled ‘Marching on Together’. Leeds finally seem ‘United’ once more.

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