Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United’s selfless maestro, dedicates Championship title to the fans
Conducting his post-match press conference on Zoom, it was extremely hard to hear what Marcelo Bielsa was saying via interpreter Diego Flores as feedback squealed and his connection dropped in and out.
Getting his precise message out to the media can be difficult for Bielsa at the best of times but the Leeds United coach’s happiness was visible after winning the Football League.
He did his best to deflect the praise but there is little doubt most belongs at his door.
“I’ll never have any words to thank him for the transformation he’s made in me,” said Stuart Dallas after yesterday’s 3-1 win at Derby County.
Bielsa, though is always humble, always professional. It was surprising to see him rest seven players even for a meaningless game but he promised a much stronger line-up for Wednesday’s final game, against relegation-threatened Charlton Athletic.
He will analyse the seasons Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Norwich City have had before considering how his squad needs to change for the Premier League, but those that came into yesterday’s side made strong cases to be involved.
“I thought we couldn’t play with the same players who played on Thursday (in a draining 1-0 win at home to Barnsley) because there was a lot of mental stress,” he explained. “I want to honour the competition, so I think for the game on Wednesday we will revert to our normal team.”
This most meticulous of planners claimed he had not considered the campaign to come, but will look carefully at Europa League-chasing Sheffield United, relegated Norwich and endangered Aston Villa.
“One is near the top and the other two near the bottom,” he said. “That proves it’s necessary to analyse the situation before I can answer your question (about what needs to change) and I haven’t thought about this yet.”
A broad grin wrapped around his jowls when asked how it felt to have given joy to a fanbase used to crushing disappointment even before Leeds were last relegated from the Premier League in 2004.
“People had a lot of hope for this promotion,” he smiled. “It wasn’t difficult to imagine the happiness they are feeling.
“Love is what every human being wants in life.”
He dedicated the title to them.
Some of those fans have been on the pitch this season.
“I’m just a young man living my boyhood dream,” commented captain Liam Cooper.
“It’s been a tough 16 years, we really have been to the bottom and now we can enjoy it. We’ve been the best team all season through sheer hard work, determination and sacrifice.”
Bielsa praised the support of the board – “Everything we needed, we received” – and a backroom staff five times what he had as Argentina coach but refused to name them “because I think the important people now to recognise are the players and the supporters.”
For those players – Ian Poveda, Jamie Shackleton and Pascal Struijk – who came in from the fringes to start the match, he had the ultimate compliment.
“It was a similar performance to many games this season and the fact we played with three young players who only had a few minutes during the season and still kept the performance level of the team high is something to be happy about,” he said.
“We played like champions, we were brilliant from the first whistle,” said Stuart Dallas, one of the regulars denied a rest.
Fittingly, Cooper’s thoughts turned to absent friends. In the last three months club greats Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton have died.
“If I could I’d send a bottle of champagne to every one of them,” he said. “I honestly believe they were watching from above and hopefully their families can take some heart from this.”
Part of the Bielsa mystique is that like Holland in 1974 or Brazil in 1982, it transcends silverware. When asked what it meant to be a champion, he laughed.
“The trophy makes me happy but I’ve been working for football in 30 years and one title doesn’t change a lot,” he explained.
“What really makes me happy is the fact that I was promoted with this group of players.”
The love for his players, magnified back, came through loud and clear.