Leeds United fans are daring to dream that a return to the Premier League could be on the cards after a sensational start to the season under Marcelo Bielsa.
It’s easy to get carried away with just four games of a mammoth forty-six game season gone and ten points on the board from twelve available, seeing them beat promotion favourites Stoke City on the opening day and showing great character to fight back and claim what could be a valuable point at Swansea City midweek.
Leeds fans will be quick to tell you, though, that this time last year they also produced a magnificent start to the season under Thomas Christiansen. Sitting atop the table by early September, they were looking like the front-runners for promotion under the new man at the helm.
It transpired that Christiansen was just the latest name in a long list of failures at the Elland Road club and he too was on his way come February.
Paul Heckingbottom was next in line and after a season disappointing finish in 13th place, fifteen points off the playoffs, he too packed his belongings and another season of Championship football lay ahead. Leeds fans were once more waiting for their turn to return to the Promised Land, made worse as former manager Neil Warnock guided Cardiff City back to the big time.
Their latest appointment could not be further from Heckingbottom in terms of stature and experience and with 30 years of coaching under his belt, Leeds have arguably one of the most experienced men in the game, a man known as one of the greatest minds of his generation in football. It is a considerable coup for the Yorkshire club and Leeds’ owner Andrea Radrizzani in getting Marcelo Bielsa to the club.
This was the same man who was a front-runner to take over from Pep Guardiola at Barcelona in 2012 when the now-Manchester City boss needed a break from the game. Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao side had finished runners-up in the Europa League Final after knocking out Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United along the way.
Barcelona’s loss would turn out to be Leeds United’s gain long term as the Argentine would not walk away from the project he was building at Bilbao.
Having worked with the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino he has a wealth of knowledge to pass onto his new squad.
His dedication to the job saw him spend his summer watching every match his new side played last season in an attempt to get to know his squad before he even met them. He has installed a bed in his office so he can work round the clock while the players too have their own dormitories where they can rest in preparation for further training.
The former Chile boss is renowned for his training methods and his willingness to spend a considerable time on one tactic until each player perfects it.
Pep Guardiola too is a huge fan and has spent time studying his methods. Their relationship helped with the arrival of promising Manchester City youngster, Jack Harrison on loan from the Premier League Champions to Elland Road with Guardiola knowing his player would only improve under Bielsa’s guidance.
Bielsa, known as “El Loco” – or ‘the mad one’ – has shown in the past that he is not to be messed with and famously walked out of Lazio in 2016 after just two days in charge and in 2017, he left Lille after a turbulent 13 games on the job where his idea to replace experience with youth did not sit too well with the club’s hierarchy.
Leeds have a man in charge who leaves no stone unturned in his quest for greatness. He has shown in the past that when left to do the job he gets results.
There is a myth in English Football that a manager needs Championship experience in order to gain promotion. Huddersfield Town’s David Wagner and Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo have shown it can be done with the right dedication and tactics.
Leeds’ performance last time out at Swansea was without question their worst performance of the season but perhaps the most telling and important so far. The team showed great character to fight back against a spirited Swansea City side who they will battle all season in the race for promotion.
Bielsa faced his first test in Championship football; he didn’t panic, he wasn’t afraid to make early changes and his tactics paid off.
While his tradition of sitting on a bucket during games has raised a few eyebrows and talking points so far this season, Leeds United fans will be hoping they can hold onto their star manager and he and his bucket will be Premier League-bound come May.
Leeds United travel to Carrow Road on Saturday to face Norwich City.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena