Image Credit: [Irish Mirror]
Fourteen matches into the current Championship season, Leeds United top the table. This was the case after nine games last season, before a momentous collapse that saw the club limp to a thirteenth-place finish. The difference? Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds’ fifteenth manager since 2004, but without doubt the most ambitious, Bielsa has transformed the club both on and off the pitch, turning last season’s underachievers into table-topping, consistent performers, and providing the ever-expectant Leeds faithful with a brand of fluid football never seen before at Elland Road.
Players like captain Liam Cooper and academy product Kalvin Phillips, both much maligned for inconsistent campaigns last season, have become key cogs in the team, with the ever-present Cooper leading from the back and the front (he has 3 goals this season), and Phillips transcending his position, becoming an astute playmaking centre-back in Bielsa’s constantly interchangeable setup.
For many clubs, it would be expected that a transformation of this nature would come about due to a litter of quality signings, with good track-records in the top-flight. Leeds however, made just two signings for a mere £10 million in the summer, Barry Douglas and Patrick Bamford, neither of whom have significant top-flight experience under their belts.
Unlike in the Premier League, throwing bucket-loads of money at a squad does not guarantee promotion from the Championship – as any Aston Villa fan would tell you. Leeds’ Chairman Andrea Radrizzani and Director of Football Victor Orta recognised this, and after two weeks of negotiations were able to bring ‘el Loco’ Bielsa to Elland Road.
This decision was far wiser than splashing the cash on a squad for Paul Heckingbottom to pull out of the Championship. Bielsa’s influence and style of football has had a positive effect on the entire squad, none more so than Kemar Roofe, who has turned into the division’s most feared striker (when fit) after previously being a squad rotation player.
Bielsa’s calmness on the touchline, atop his famous blue bucket, is different to the typical Championship manager, however, it appears that Radrizzani and Orta could have picked no one better suited to take Leeds back to the top-flight on the eve of the club’s centenary.
Even if Leeds don’t make it back to the promised land this season, Bielsa’s revitalisation of the club has already had a lasting impact, one which will possibly see his legacy set in stone for years to come.