On 21 August 2021 Marcelo Bielsa signed a new deal with Leeds United that was described as a ‘fresh’ contract with no built-in contract extension. His original contract was signed a year beforehand and expires at the end of this season in June 2022.
Last summer the club finished an impressive ninth place in the Premier League after a 16-year absence from the top flight with standout wins over Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Marcelo Bielsa won praise for his impressive tactical displays that involved entertaining high energy attacking football. The Argentine is a cult hero in West Yorkshire and the thought of him leaving Leeds United is surely a worrying one for the supporters. However, it also has the potential to bring the club to the next level.
While last season was seen as a huge success for Leeds United, there was also some elements that proved that Bielsa’s attack-focus style of play is not cut out for the top level of the game as they were too open in defence. In December 2020, Leeds United visited Old Trafford and lost the game 6-2, then Manchester United boss Ole Gunner Solskjaer completely exposed Bielsa’s system for its defensive frailties.
Leeds conceded 54 goals last season, that’s an average of 1.42 goals a game. Compare this to their offensive stats where they scored 62 goals, more than Chelsea (58) and Arsenal (55). These stats show us that yes, watching Leeds United can be very entertaining, however conceding the 14th most goals in the league does not make room for progress. Surely every football club wants to progress to the next level?
With Leeds sitting 15th in the Premier League table and only three points clear of the relegation places there is no doubt that this season has been a disappointment. They look far from the high-tempo team we saw last season. This season they have been far more predictable and quite simply not as entertaining to watch.
Their goals have dried up too; Bielsa’s team have played 24 times scoring just 29 times, after 24 games last season Leeds managed to net 40 times. One trait that still remains is their shaky defence as they have already conceded 56 times this season, that is the worst defensive record in the league following their recent 6-0 humbling at the hands of Liverpool.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to one of Bielsa’s teams so much so that, the term ‘Bielsa Burnout’ is common phrase among many football fans. The former Atlantic Bilbao boss is known for his demanding training methods. These methods on the training ground coupled with the intense playing style that Marcelo Bielsa favours, it’s a huge ask on the players. It’s been no secret that Leeds United have been plagued with injuries this season and currently they have six players out injured. This is the second most in the league.
The origins of ‘Beilsa burnout’ go way back to 1991 with one of his first jobs in management with Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina. They even named their stadium after him. He was a resounding success at the Argentine club winning a domestic double in 1991 and reaching the Copa Libertadores final in 1992 only to lose to Sao Paulo on penalties. After he left the club they finished bottom of the league the following season.
When he was manager of Athletic Bilbao between the years of 2011 and 2013, his side were the most exciting team to watch in Europe. Manchester United fans can tell you first hand how his team came to Old Trafford in the 2012 Europa league and how they played Sir Alex Ferguson’s team off the park in a 3-2 win. A 2-1 victory at home in the second leg was enough to win the tie.
Unfortunately for the Basque club, this was as good as it got for them in the 2011/12 season as they finished 10th in La Liga after being one point of the Champions League places in March. The next season was less impressive as they limped to 12th place in the table. Bielsa wasn’t given a new deal and left the club when his contract expired in June 2013. The Athletic players attributed this slump in form to not only their physical fatigue but their mental fatigue as well. Current Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ander Herrera and former player under Bielsa at Bilbao spoke about this fatigue:
Our legs said stop. We used to play always with the same players and were not at our best in the finals. We were a completely different team than we had been before because, to be honest, we were physically f****d.
The future of Leeds United
Taking all this into account and the fact that before taking over the reins at Elland Road, the 66-year-old never managed a senior club team for more than three years. This means that his four-year spell in charge of Leeds United has been his longest time in one job in over 30 years of management. It might be a good decision for both parties to go their separate ways in the summer as it is hard to see the former Argentina manager being able to progress the club any further.
Depending on how the Leeds United hierarchy manage the situation, it has the potential to be a great opportunity for the club. What if they were to get a young manager with fresh ideas such as Brigton & Hove Albion manager Graham Potter? The 46-year-old plays a less-risky brand of entertaining attacking football that will no doubt excite the Elland Road faithful. Many people believe that he is ready to take the next step up in management after three steady years of progression with the Seagulls.
Although Leeds could be seen as a sideways step in many ways there is absolutely no debate that they are one of the biggest clubs in England with a great history and tradition. The thought of bringing the club back to where they feel they belong and the promise of a committed board who are willing to back their manager with considerable sums of money in transfer market should be an attractive proposition for the Solihull man. A new look Leeds United side with a talented manager in Graham Potter should bring Leeds to the next level as they look to challenge for the competitive European places.