It’s official – Marcello Bielsa has left Leeds United
Sunday, 27th Feb 2022 12:40 by Tim Whelan
As soon as the final whistle brought yesterday’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur to an end, rumours began circulating in the media that the board were meeting to decide on the future of Marcello Bielsa. And at 11 o’clock a statement on the club’s official website has confirmed that his three and half entertaining and eventful years at Elland Road have come to an end.
After paying tribute to everything Bielsa achieved during his first three season, the statement noted that this season has proved to be difficult and the team has recorded just five Premier League wins. It quotes chairman Andrea Radrizzani as saying “This has been the toughest decision I have had to make during my tenure at Leeds United, taking into account all the success Marcelo has had at the club”.
“However, I have to act in the best interest of the club and I believe a change is required now in order to secure our Premier League status. Recent results and performances have not met our expectations. We find ourselves in a precarious league position and I feel now is the right time to bring in a new head coach, in order to have an impact in the decisive stage of the season”.
“Naturally, myself, along with everyone else at the club would like to thank Marcelo for his efforts and achievements and we wish him the very best for the future.” And Victor Orta added: “Since arriving at Leeds United Marcelo had a huge impact on the club, on a scale I have not seen before.”
“It is disappointing his reign has had to end in this manner, given the special times we have enjoyed in recent years, which have been some of the best in my career, but we cannot hide from recent results. I would like to thank Marcelo for his commitment and dedication, and I wish him every success going forwards.”
It’s a very sad day for all of us, and even now opinion is divided among the fanbase as to whether or not this is the right move at the right time. Until very recently anyone making even the slightest criticism of the Argentinian on social media was shot down in flames, and only two weeks ago my fellow writer on this site got plenty of flack for suggesting his time was nearly up, and that was for saying he should quit at the end of the season, not right away.
But during the last week there was a notable shift, with many more Leeds fans saying after the Liverpool game it was time for a change, and that was before the latest debacle at the hands of Tottenham. While some still chanted his name and talked of organising a demo outside the stadium at noon today, others had come think his stubborn refusal to adapt was costing us dear.
Of course, all of us are immensely grateful for the great times he brought us, succeeding where others had failed and taking us back to the Premier League, with most of his squad being players who had been available to the previous couple of head coaches, who had done no better than finishing mid-table in the Championship.
And then last season we finished 9th in the table, getting some plaudits from other clubs for the great football we were playing. We were hailed as everyone’s second favourite club, which we’re certainly not used to, though Gary Neville suggested that was because it was lockdown, so no one had to put up with our fans!
Our defending was still a worry, but even that seemed to be coming right towards the end of that season, once Struijk emerged and Llorente finally enjoyed a run of games free of injury. Most of us thought we’d kick on from there with a couple more signings, and the top 6 seemed to be within reach. If anyone had said in the summer that Bielsa would ever be sacked, they would have been sent to see the men in white coats.
So where did it all go wrong? The second season syndrome has been a Yorkshire thing in the last decade, claiming Hull, Huddersfield and Sheffield United, and it would also come to jeopardise our stay in the Premier League. Straight after promotion everyone is keen to show they belong in the top division, but can the players summon up the same level of intensity the second time around?
The first mistake came during the transfer window that ended in August, when we signed Dan James thanks to Bielsa’s obsession with signing endless wingers. I’m not doubting James as a player, but we were more in need of a creative midfielder to replace Pablo and a backup striker for Bamford. This left the squad unbalanced, and the need to play James as a striker in Bamford’s absence, a role to which he is not best suited.
Which brings us onto the injury list. Any coach would have struggled in the absence of so many key players, but was it all the result of his gruelling fitness regime in the midst of a demanding season? The results in the first half of the season were disappointing, but you there were a couple of games where we had played well and been unlucky not to pick up points, such as away to Spurs and Chelsea.
In a difficult December we lost three games and had two others postponed due to Covid, but during this spell none of the teams beneath us picked up many points so our position started to look more secure. When we beat Burnley on January 2nd it seemed like a big win, looking comfortably better than our rivals despite the missing players, and establishing a margin of eight points over the bottom three.
But then we came to the mid-season transfer window. It was expected that Leeds would take the opportunity to plug a few gaps in our threadbare squad, with loan players if necessary. He was offered Donny van de Beek, but Bielsa insisted that he wouldn’t accept any new players if they weren’t any better than those already in his squad. I couldn’t help thinking that Van de Beek would be a better option than Phillips while Phillips is injured.
In the meantime every one of the other teams at the wrong end of the table strengthened their squads, and van de Beek went to Everton instead and was impressive as his new team put three past us at Goodison. So our safety margin began to be eroded as we moved into frantic February, conceding 20 goals in only five games and picking up only one point.
The man marking system clearly wasn’t, but Bielsa stubbornly refused to change it. In the Premier League you have some of the world’s top coaches in opposing dugouts and they can work out the best tactics to adopt against Bielsa. And at their disposal they have defensive players who can take chances when they run from deep into the gaps in our defence, and midfielders who can pick them out with pin-point passes.
Well into the second season his rival coaches had had plenty of time to work this out, but Bielsa never had a plan B. So with Burnley closing the gap beneath us, Radz has decided to act, given the financial consequences of dropping out of the Premier League and the need to keep the planned investment from the 49ers on track.
Six clubs in the bottom nine have now sacked their managers this season, and Bielsa’s time has come. He leaves us with a lot of great memories, and the club’s statement says an official memorial is likely, to add to the unofficial murals that have been painted in his honour. But with no end of his side’s shambolic defending in sight, it was inevitable that the board would decide to act before it’s too late.
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