9 reasons why Leeds loves Marcelo Bielsa

Marcelo Bielsa Leeds United
(Image credit: Getty)

This story originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of FourFourTwo magazine – subscribe today and save 37% (opens in new tab). All the exclusive interviews, long reads, quizzes and more but with more than a third-off normal price.

He's a weirdo

In the 1950s, Major Frank Buckley was strutting around Elland Road dressed like a country gentleman, cracking out needles to give his players a dose of the ‘monkey serum’ which had made him famous at Wolves. Don Revie’s superstitions are better known, from believing photographs of birds brought bad luck to Gypsy Rose Lee’s visit from Blackpool to banish a curse by relieving herself on each of the four corner flags. When you listened to Howard Wilkinson’s digressions through his specialist subjects – Sheffield footballers of the ’80s, red wine and Barbra Streisand – you realised just how strange he was. 

And then came Marcelo Bielsa, about whom the least unusual part is his ability to watch videos of two matches at once. His peculiarities get a sympathetic shrug in Leeds, however. It’s just how he is, isn’t it?

... yet also ordinary?

Bielsa’s quirks are a staple of TV commentaries – residing in a flat over a shop, shopping in Morrisons, walking to work – but they are part of a deliberate effort to live his life in simple accord with the people of Leeds. For every fan asking for a selfie, dozens more are nodding hello and letting him get on with pushing his trolley down the freezer aisle.

He's honest

Our love goes one way and that’s fine. While Leeds supporters have never loved a manager the way we love Bielsa, he can’t tell a lie: Leeds is special, he always says, but he’ll never love a club like he loves Newell’s Old Boys. He donated almost his entire first season’s salary at Leeds to build them a new training facility. But that’s perfect: if football fans understand anything, it’s that you can’t just change your allegiance. We love him all the more for remaining true to his first club.

Marcelo Bielsa bucket

(Image credit: PA)

He's not Steve Evans

Or Neil Warnock, or Darko Milanic, or Dave Hockaday, or Paul Heckingbottom. But mostly Evans, who had the very large front to ask how Bielsa was going to cope at Rotherham on a Tuesday night. Evans could barely cope when one of his Crawley players scarfed his chips. Now, where Evans used to plough the technical area with his Jurassic tread, we have Bielsa on his bucket sipping some coffee. Serene. 

We're not dirty anymore

We became the fairest club in all the land – nay, the whole world. It was an FA publication back in 1964 that first pinned the Dirty Leeds tag, but a higher power granted a worldwide Fair Play award for letting Aston Villa run in an equaliser in 2019. 

Bielsa gave that instruction while John Terry was yelling in his face, dedicated the prize to ordinary people who make ethical decisions every day without any recognition, and the honour was mocked by former Derby boss Frank Lampard. Dirty Leeds winning FIFA Fair Play awards is funny, but the joke isn’t on us.

Kids love us

Before COVID-19, Bielsa gave out lollipops to children at Elland Road who were queuing up to welcome the team coach. At an under-23s game, cameras spotted a group of youngsters nervously approaching, then being caught up – all three of them – in a big bear hug. Recently, when two kids met him in Wetherby, he delved into his pockets to find each one an LUFC pen. Again, Leeds used to be managed by Evans: about as generous in spirit as a human seagull.

Kalvin Phillips is great

England should be grateful as well. We thought Bielsa had sold the wrong one by letting Ronaldo Vieira go to Sampdoria in 2018 – then again, who would have paid us money for Phillips? 

Now there’s a city-centre mural putting the Leeds-iest midfielder since David Batty on a wall between Lucas Radebe and Albert Johanneson – and it started when Bielsa saw something in the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ that even he didn’t realise could be found.

Kalvin Phillips

(Image credit: Getty)

He just loves 'beautiful'

This is why all supporters should love him – not just Leeds’. “You can choose to play with any style, and you won’t win every time,” he said last term, skewering the idea that one way of playing can ‘guarantee’ results. So, why not aspire to poetry? “What makes football beautiful is the beauty of the way you play,” he insists, despite the modern game – money, media and results – working against the ideal. “Football makes you worse. If not, football does not accept you.” 

Well, Bielsa does not accept that, and his players’ dedication on the pitch and in the community is a testament to him. He has talked about research showing if “a group of players are better human beings, in the long term, they will become a better team”. The legendary three-hour litter-picking session he put his men through is more than an anecdote: it’s an integral part of training. 

He brought Leeds back

Leeds United are in the Premier League, and we thought that might never happen again. Bielsa’s critics accuse him of lacking trophies in his career, but what’s a tin cup compared to the apparently impossible resurrection of such a cursed club? 

When our promotion was confirmed in July, I started writing a ‘banter years’ list of every bad thing that happened after relegation from the top flight in 2003-04. About 15,000 words later, I was left with one five-word thought: thank God for Marcelo Bielsa. 

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