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Football’s sleeping giants are well and truly awake and roaring. After 16 long years of exile, Leeds United have FINALLY secured their return to the promised land; to where they belong; to the Premier League. The messages of congratulations have been flooding in over the last few days by footballers, famous football fans, and football clubs alike. Everyone understands how big a club Leeds are, and even if they have to say so through teeth gritted with hatred, everyone knows that the Premier League is a better place with the ‘Mighty Whites’ in it.
I was only four years old when Leeds were relegated. All I have ever known is hurt, pain and frustration. But these last two years have shown why you don’t just ‘decide’ to go and support Manchester United or City because of the glory or the money. You stick with what you’ve been given; you drink in the agony; you cry, scream; you curse your unlucky stars that the footballing Gods have forced such a shitshow upon you. And you’d do every second of it all over again; for this. For this beautiful moment.
From Premier League relegation and Alan Smith’s tears; all the way down to League One; to play-off failure; to another play-off failure; to some shred of joy with a 1-0 FA Cup win over Man United; to Beckford sealing promotion; from Bates, to Haigh, to Cellino; all the way through SEVEN managers in less than three years. Then, 13 years after Premier League relegation, in came Andrea Radrazzani, Victor Orta, Angus Kinnear. Thomas Christiansen got Leeds United playing better than they had in those 13 years, but it faded fast, and the next season Leeds broke the bank; in came The Messiah.
Marcelo Bielsa. ‘El Loco’ is widely regarded by any human being who has been blessed by working with him, for him, or even meeting him, as the “best coach in the world” – Pep Guardiola. Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Johan Cryuff, Diego Maradona, Javi Martinez, Gabriel Heinz, Fernando Llorente, Ander Hererra, Benjamin Mendy, the list of high-profile plaudits go on and on. But what he has done at Leeds is unparalleled.
Before his arrival, Leeds had finished in the bottom half of the league in six out of the last seven seasons. Since his arrival, Leeds have only spent three matchdays outside of the top three (out of 80 matchdays). He has won 54/98 games (the best win rate of any Leeds manager ever); the highest ever points total a Leeds team has ever achieved (at 87 wins two games to play); the highest clean sheet percentage out of EVERY team in the football league and EVERY team in Europe’s top five leagues (48%); not only this, but Leeds have finished first on points, wins, possession, chances, big chances, shots (both on and off-target), conceded goals, clean sheets, xG (expected goals), and xGA (expected goals against). That is the Bielsa effect.
There’s no doubt that the step up to the Premier League will be a monumental one and Leeds will need to step up to compete. However, if Bielsa is on his bucket on the touchline, then Leeds have a chance of making a big impact on football’s greatest stage once more. Any team that goes up to the Premier League MUST strengthen their squad. It has to be said, however, that Bielsa added very few players to a group of Leeds players who had just finished 13th and cut the squad size to 16. So, if anyone can make the best with what we’ve got, then it’s him. But the priority has to be as follows: Illan Meslier, sign him; Jack Harrison, sign him; Ben White; PLEASE sign him.
Football is a strange beast; it can be so cruel, and it certainly has been. But every so often it reminds you of why you put yourself through it all. Sometimes all it takes is an Italian businessman, a crazy Argentinian, an ageing Spanish magician and a Yorkshire Pirlo, to completely justify years of torture and torment – who would’ve thought that would be the perfect recipe for success? Let’s hope the recipe tastes just as delicious for the years so come. If we continue to put side before self, every time, then we’ll be marching on together all the way to the top.