It’s been a topsy, turvy year for Leeds United and, in particular, their manager Marcelo Bielsa. First of all, they were reprimanded and fined by the EFL after being found guilty of breaching league rules, in what commonly became known as the ‘Spygate scandal’. They then suffered a terrible end to the 2018/19 season when they dropped from top spot to third, missed out on automatic promotion, and eventually were beaten in the end-of-season play-offs.
Things are starting to look up for the club from Elland Road, though, as well as Bielsa. Not only have they started the new season strongly, they recently received FIFA’s Fair Play Award at a ceremony in Milan. The award followed an act of sportsmanship by Bielsa, during an important promotion game between Leeds and Aston Villa in April of this year.
Leeds had taken the lead in that fixture through Mateusz Klich, who had scored while Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia was on the ground struggling with an injury. Villa believed play should have been stopped before Klich found the net, so Bielsa ordered his team to allow the visitors to equalise immediately. When play resumed in the 77th minute, Albert Adomah was allowed to run through and level the score. The match finished 1-1, a result which ended United’s chances of earning automatic promotion.
Football’s world governing body commended Bielsa on his actions and the award will no doubt help restore his reputation following Spygate when the EFL fined Leeds £200,000 and formally reprimanded the club. This had followed an investigation into Bielsa who instructed his staff to spy on opponents at their training sessions. Bielsa admitted sending ‘a spy’ to watch Derby train before a match at Elland Road in January, which breached Regulation 3.4.
However, despite Spygate and the club’s woeful end of season form – which yielded just a single point from four games – the chairman of Leeds United, Andrea Radrizzani, seemed happy with the performance of his current manager.
Over the years, Leeds have tended to operate a revolving-door policy to football management. Since February 2012, Leeds have changed their manager 12 times, including two brief caretaker stints by Neil Redfearn. Of that group, Bielsa is already the longest-serving manager in seven and a half years, and the 64-year-old has only been in Yorkshire 15 months. Not since Simon Grayson’s 37 months in charge, between December 2008 and January 2012, has anyone been at the club that long.
Maybe the chairman and directors have decided that stability is the best way forward, as Leeds seek to return to the top flight for the first time since 2004. The latest Championship betting odds show Leeds as the clear favourites to top the table at the end of the season, so this approach appears to be working based on the season so far.
And no one can deny Bielsa has an impressive CV. A former coach of his national team for six years, during which time Argentina claimed Olympic gold in 2004, and were runners-up in the Copa America tournament. He twice coached teams which won Argentina’s league championship and, while in Spain with Athletic Bilbao, reached the finals of the Europa League and Copa del Rey.
Little wonder that the powers-to-be at Elland Road are happy for Bielsa to remain at the club, as they seek a return to the promised land of the Premier League.