Leeds United: Revered and Reviled Once Again Liam Tunney January 18, 2019 Leeds United 3 Comments By Liam Tunney At the end of his impromptu press conference on Wednesday, Marcelo Bielsa thanked all in attendance for their patience, explained he was stupid for doing all this analysis, opened the door and departed from the room. What had preceded this emphatic exit was 66 minutes of compelling viewing as piece by piece he meticulously explained his methods of analysis and preparation for matches. The media furore that dominated last week’s preparation for the Championship clash with Derby once again kicked into action with renewed calls for points deductions, veins bulging in the exertions always associated with faux-outrage and flabbergasted detractors spouting criticism in a desperate scramble for relevance. In the face of what was dubbed Spygate, Bielsa barely flinched, admitting he had sent someone to watch training, but in the face of a growing storm and an EFL investigation, the former Marseilles manager summoned the media to Elland Road to respond to his critics. Throughout what can only be described as a detailed coaching lecture, a raft of bulging notebooks sat solemnly and humbly at the front of the room. Pages brimming with analysis of Leeds United’s Championship opponents. Detailed accounts of set pieces, statistics, player habits. Dossiers. The very word conjures up an image that brings a wistful smile to the face of every Leeds supporter. A flame-headed Scot in all-white, hands resting in readiness on his hips as he stares into the distance. To his left, an imposing figure in a sheepskin jacket, a grimace on his face as he contemplates his next move. The Scot – Billy Bremner. The man in the sheepskin jacket – Don Revie. Something special is happening at Elland Road. Bielsa has coalesced a fanbase whose internal jousting is both a consummate strength and an Achilles heel. His players are loyal to a man, effusive in their praise of his methods and outlook, supporting each other on and off the pitch. The crowds are flocking to LS11 and the stadium is rocking again to the rise and swell of the Aire. The parallels between Revie’s and Bielsa’s Leeds are emerging rapidly, with those dossiers the latest example of the Argentine’s appreciation of the same meticulous detail that The Don brought to his work. Neither have showed a reluctance to put the miles in on the road. In his early days at Newell Old Boys’ youth set up, Bielsa decided that there were a number of players internally that the big teams had to be missing. His solution – divide a map of Argentina into 70 sections and visit them painstakingly one-by-one in search of fresh talent. Due to a fear of flying, he drove over 5,000 miles in his Fiat 147. Revie’s dedication to his craft would often see him drive across the country to look for new talent, but he neither neglected those already on the books. In a pique of homesickness, goalkeeper Gary Sprake had returned home to Wales. Revie drove through the night to bring him back to the club. Leeds’ most successful manager revolutionised coaching in the English game and engaged in methods that were unthinkable even to the more enlightened of the time. His dedication to playing a high tempo, pressing game saw him seek to gain an edge with his team’s fitness. Revie enlisted the help of ballet dancers to pass on their knowledge of balance and nutrition, and his assistant Les Cocker had a notorious reputation for stamina-building sessions of merciless proportions. In the superb book on Revie’s Leeds, The Unforgiven, Bob Bagghi and Paul Rogerson write that Revie’s players “found they could intimidate teams with a hard-running, pressing game without running out of steam after an hour and conceding critical goals in the later stages.” Sound familiar? It should. Bielsa weighs his players every morning, something iconic Swede centre-half Pontus Jansson found a bit of a culture shock, prompting him to give the beer a miss for the greater good. In this season’s Championship campaign, Leeds have conceded only two goals after the 71-minute mark, both coming in the 4-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. Their searing work-rate has not only seen them close teams out in the final stages, but net late goals on a consistent basis to secure points that seemed lost as the seconds ticked away. Another key feature of Bielsa’s side this season has been his willingness to trust his young charges and get the best from them. Jack Clarke, Tom Pearce, Leif Davis, Aapo Halme, Jamie Shackleton and Will Huffer among others have all been given their debuts under Bielsa, with Clarke flourishing under the El Loco’s influence. The U23 side are top of their division with a galaxy of youth stars, including the superbly named Bulgarian Kun Temenuzhkov, expressing themselves in technicolour glory on the LUTV app on regular basis. Revie too was a fine cheerleader for young talent coming into his Leeds side. His eye for potential took him far and wide as he convinced some of the brightest aspiring players available to sign on the dotted Elland Road line. In came Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer, snatched from under the noses of Celtic and Manchester United. He brought through Gary Sprake, Norman Hunter, Rod Johnson and Paul Reaney, throwing them all in together at the deep end in the 1962/63 season, with Rod Johnson netting a goal in a 2-0 victory. Much like Bielsa, Don Revie was of the opinion that if a player had ability, desire and a willingness to work, they could have a place on his first team. Alongside their astute promotion of young talent to the first team, both Bielsa and Revie have shown a knack for getting the best out of their available resources. When the Don took over the Leeds United team, celebrated centre-half Jack Charlton had a reputation as a surly, ill-disciplined footballer, a poor trainer with an attitude problem. By the height of Revie’s success, Charlton was a leader, collecting a World Cup winner’s medal on the way to becoming a Leeds icon. The performances that Marcelo Bielsa has been able to draw out of Kemar Roofe and Liam Cooper, both players criticised at length for perceived sub-par performances last season, have been a glowing endorsement for his approach, but perhaps the biggest coup of all for the Argentine has been the renaissance of Mateusz Klich. Signed in June 2017 on a three-year deal, Klich fell down the pecking order and a costly mistake at Cardiff for a Kenneth Zohore goal led to him being dropped. His lacklustre performances saw him farmed out on loan in January 2018 to FC Utrecht, and it looked like the Elland Road exit door was looming for the Polish international. Under Bielsa, Klich has been transformed. He scored the season’s opener against Stoke and has hardly looked back since. His form and demeanour have vastly improved, and to the Leeds’ fans’ delight he celebrated gleefully after the win over Derby by miming a pair of binoculars over his eyes in reference to the alleged espionage. Billy Bremner was the beating heart of Don Revie’s Leeds United team. Again Revie showed his canny man-management, bringing the Scotsman in from the exile of outside right and into the centre of midfield, where he became the midfield general, the captain, the epitome of the club. All successful Leeds teams have had that midfield general, the man capable of driving the team forward under the Keep On Fighting war cry. Bremner under Revie, Batty under both Wilkinson and O’Leary, and now Kalvin Phillips under Marcelo Bielsa. The stars appear to be aligning. Our captain is a Scottish international, the academy has flooded the first team with youth prospects, Kemar Roofe shows an uncanny Allan Clarke-like ability to pop up in the right place at the right time, and Pablo Hernandez dances around in homage to Eddie Gray. The recent media explosion around Bielsa and Spygate has once again revealed the nature of the football fraternity’s attitude towards Leeds United. We are the Marmite of English football. The queue of naysayers earnestly sharpening their knives in preparation for our downfall is matched by the grudging admiration beginning to edge its way out of the shadows. Revered and reviled. Don’s spirit lives on.