The Marcelo Bielsa effect

Leeds United have done it and they’ve made it back to the Premier League with two games to spare.

Their team has lit up the championship and returned to where they belong, with the main man and brains behind this, Marcelo Bielsa. He has managed to bring one of English football’s sleeping giants back from the grave and taken the back to the top-flight.

The Bielsa journey began in 2018 when the eccentric Argentine took the helm at Elland Road. The not so mighty whites hadn’t tasted top-flight football 2004. Bielsa came to Leeds after a mildly comedic period involving near scrapes with bankruptcy and an allegedly mafioso owner in Massimo Cellino.

From the start, Bielsa was tasked with motivating a team made up of youngsters, bored veterans and a constantly moving carousel of surprisingly good strikers. The debut season for Bielsa saw a change of identity for Leeds United. The same group of players that had kept crowds sullen at Elland Road emerged into a high pressing and fast paced outfit that let everyone play with their feet, the season concluded with an agonising playoff defeat to Derby, but Bielsa was only getting started.

Round two for Bielsa and his men and their ambition was rising, Patrick Bamford and Helder Costa were accompanied by some savvy young players on loan. Leeds fans have become accustomed to strong starts to the season fizzling out over the Christmas period but this wasn’t to be the case, dominance at the top of the table above a strong West Brom outfit and the surprise package Brentford is no mean feat. New signing Bamford leading the scoring tallies and the strongest defensive record has made 3 points an expectation often met for Leeds United.

Promotion isn’t the only good news for footballing life at Elland Road, the academy recently got promoted to “category one” status which puts them in company with the 26 best academies in the country and is also a first for them as a club. This academy has been central to all that Leeds United are about and the £4 million spent a year on it shows that will continue long into the future. 

Off the pitch, there are financial movements afoot for Leeds United with a huge investment promised following promotion. The looming financial giants Qatari Sports Investments (also owners of PSG) are rumoured to take over a majority share, this is a hugely encouraging sign for a side desperate to make the Premier League their home.

Looking to the future Leeds have every right to be confident in achieving stability; the stadium, manager and academy all have the hallmarks of a comfortable top-flight outfit. Financial potential will likely cover up any current cracks in the squad as Bielsa may have to step out of his comfort zone and rely on a much larger squad. 

The biggest problem is Leeds need to create a culture of winning, a new cohort of players that have experienced success and can steady the ship will support the young talents long after Bielsa’s reign. As the Argentine himself is nearing the last year of his contract and hardly at a spritely age anymore the difficulty level could be high for Leeds. Admittedly, in recent history without Bielsa they have disappointed greatly, but they have now got to the stage where if they want to continue, everything has to step up to the next level and not just the eccentric Argentine in his tracksuit.

By Harry Booth

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