When news broke that Leeds United had decided to sack Marcelo Bielsa on the back of a poor run of results, a Twitter account famed for its dark humour tweeted: ‘Leeds United fire the only likeable thing about their entire club.’
We’d like to believe it was said in jest, but the fact of that matter is that Leeds United are an acquired taste. Keeping Bielsa, however, was no longer an option with the Whites falling to odds of just 15/8 in the most recent Premiership betting relegation markets.
It did look, for all intents and purposes, that Leeds would end up going down with Bielsa at the helm as the Argentinian tactician refused to adopt a different approach. In the end, Bielsa accepted the loss of his job by doing what he fervently believed in.
Remarkably, there was a great deal of admiration around the football world for the circumstances that led to Bielsa’s firing with many fans and pundits praising the 66-year-old for sticking to his beliefs.
That was, of course, the ‘Bielsa Way’ but crucially, he had also earned an enormous amount of global goodwill over the 42 months that he spent in West Yorkshire.
Perhaps there was even a sense of surprise among the Leeds fanbase: with the outpouring of emotion from the football world following his sacking, Bielsa had clearly earned the respect of those further afield than Elland Road.
🗣️ "We are talking about a person who is a master"
🗣️ "I'm so sorry for him"
Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte have paid tribute to Marcelo Bielsa after he was sacked by Leeds 👇 pic.twitter.com/STDW1r1uy1
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) February 28, 2022
On closer inspection, you can see why, given that the Argentine refused to ever blame the referees, VAR or any other external factors when Leeds lost. Instead, he would front up and even berate himself during his post-match press conferences.
It’s worth saying that Leeds were on the receiving end of some horrendous officiating with a goal West Ham scored in the FA Cup during January clearly a standout moment. There was outrage, as it should have been ruled as offside.
Instead, that controversial goal led to Leeds being knocked out and the knives in the Elland Road boardroom began to sharpen, all the while and despite the potentially fatal consequences, Bielsa held his tongue and focused instead on telling the watching world how hard the job is for referees.
📽 Bielsa on Jansson remarks
— Adam Pope (@apopey) October 18, 2018
These extraordinarily humble messages were always conveyed through his trusted translator, which would earn him a lot of flack from pundits who would take exception to the fact that Bielsa didn’t speak English.
The attacks would be personal and the jibes unnecessary, but Bielsa would never respond in kind. Instead, the 66-year-old went high as others went low and set the perfect example of how to shut out the noise and focus on what you can control.
Yes, Bielsa’s football was swashbuckling and the best in the Premier League, and perhaps even the whole of Europe to watch when Leeds were on song. It’s easy to see why Pep Guardiola called him the best coach in the world and, in that sense, it is sad to think we won’t be treated to it anymore.
We would like to confirm that the street which we renamed ‘Marcelo Bielsa Way’ will remain a permanent fixture to honour the former Leeds United manager.
— TRINITY LEEDS (@TrinityLeeds) March 1, 2022
But above all, Bielsa will be missed for the way he conducted himself despite often being the focus of unwarranted ridicule by a small but vocal minority.
His subsequent actions set him apart and won the hearts and minds of those who, historically, didn’t have much time for Leeds United.
Forget the genius pioneering football philosophy for a moment and remember that Bielsa made the world a better place during his time as manager of the Whites.
Goodbye Bielsa and thank you for enriching football in England, you will be sorely missed.