Thursday 15 November 2018

Argentinian chief bringing that old swagger and sense of hope to faithful

Leeds United's Luke Ayling celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Leeds United's Luke Ayling celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

James Lawton

Even though it is so long since the war drums of Leeds United beat out such a bullish message, there is no reason to belittle the surge of old belief, old pride.

If it is indeed true that their mystique-laden, highly paid Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa is marching his new team down resurrection road, rather than to another dubious dawn, it can be said that he is doing it with rather stunning panache.

What he has shown this infant season is, in its way, as impressive as anything seen at Elland Road back in the early Sixties, when the young, raw team of Don Revie first began to announce serious ambition.

Sceptical? That reaction is reasonable, but a little nugget of history does support the case.

Fifty-five years ago Leeds played Rotherham United, as they did on Saturday. Leeds were in the first stages of the breakthrough season which would carry them, dramatic and swaggering, back into the First Division.

Rotherham, despite their modest circumstances, were a creative team with several notable forwards.

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

The score finished 2-2 and a leading football expert wrote of the encounter: "Rotherham might have won had they not suffered galloping anxiety in front of goal. Leeds also suffered from galloping, not galloping anything, just galloping."

It was a withering statement before the full subtle influence of Bobby Collins, the pocket genius who also had the power to terrorise, bore down with the relentless support of John Giles and Billy Bremner.

Ruthless

Their advancement was so deep, so painstaking, and, let's be honest, so ruthless, it is still staggering to reflect that the honours board at Elland Road is the barest reflection of their meaning - promotion from the second division, two titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and two Inter Cities Fairs Cup trophies under Revie.

Leeds became a cornerstone, or more like a rampart, of English football.

Going there was for many teams a case of terrible dread.

Once they put seven past Southampton at Elland Road and we might well have been in the Roman Coliseum.

It was like witnessing a form of football sadism.

Norman Hunter bit 'yer' legs; John Giles destroyed your mind; Peter Lorimer was known as Thunderfoot for good reason; Paul Madeley was a purring Rolls Royce; Eddie Gray was an artist; 'Sniffer' Clarke sent a predator's chill through every defence.

So how could it possibly be that the new man Bielsa - whose admirers are headed by Pep Guardiola - might just, under the stabilised ownership of Italian Andrea Radrizzani and in a flurry of a few years, get close to, if not surpass, the haul of one of the greatest managers, the true dynasty-makers of English club football

A clue came near the end of Revie's life following his misadventure in almost immediately taking over England after his Leeds had soared quite majestically to the 1973-74 title and a year before they were beaten, amid much controversy, by Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup final in Paris.

It was a mistake as profound as Brian Clough's when he agreed to take over from Revie.

John Giles visited Revie in his home and they talked for hours, of the glory and the pain, the dreams that were fulfilled and those that fell short before the old manager said something that struck his great lieutenant to the bone.

Revie said that he made one big error in his football life; he hadn't fully understood what a great team he had.

He said he should have taken off the leash before they won that second title so imperiously, finishing five points clear of Liverpool, whose great manager Bill Shankly announced his retirement from the game a few months later.

Revie revealed to Giles that he hadn't trusted his players enough, had been too obsessed with caution. He wore lucky suits and carried charms when he should have done as Manchester United's Matt Busby had: take a small dram before each game and thank the heavens for having so many great players.

There is not much danger of Bielsa making Revie's mistake. He has the hauteur of a man who knows precisely what he wants.

In football it is expressed in his whirring 3-3-3-1 formation which has helped make him such a widely admired guru, something of a cult figure, in Europe and South America, where he enhanced his reputation as manager of Argentina and Chile.

But then is he worth a reported £12 million deal over two years? Will he produce over the longer race the kind of energy and sharpness which has in recent weeks produced impressive results and impact from players such as Samuel Saiz and Kemar Roofe and a promising start by £10m signing Patrick Bamford?

Hope

The answers, potentially at least, are yes and yes.

That's £12m to clear away the disruption and dwindling hope that has accumulated around Elland Road since Revie's prime - and the title win of Howard Wilkinson and the Champions League semi-final flourish of David O'Leary - and for a winning manager in a stadium that has been reclaimed from debtors' row?

For the faithful of Leeds, embattled and disillusioned for so long, for the owner who has set up the possibility, it would surely seem no more than a modest donation to the charity shop.

Bielsa and his players have achieved a first, not inconsiderable stride. They have created the kernel of all football success: a little hope, a little belief.

Historically there is some cause to believe in a Leeds redemption, however delayed it has been.

If they return to the top division in the spring - which after four straight competitive match victories, and the systematic dismantling of Frank Lampard's Derby County in front of their own fans, is hardly the idlest ambition - it would be precisely 100 years since Leeds United took over from the moribund, penniless Leeds City FC.

A few years before it happened the then Leeds City manager Herbert Chapman, who would make his legend at Arsenal, declared: "Leeds is built for top-flight football."

It is maybe another reason to believe that, for the moment at least, we are right to applaud the stirrings of a club given back some unexpected hope.

Irish Independent

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