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Leeds United: A Sleeping Giant Awakes

Published on 14 September 2020 at 09:56

“All Leeds aren’t we” is much more than mere words. It’s the sweat, the tears, the pain, the ups and the downs but more than anything, it’s community. It doesn’t matter if you live five minutes from Elland Road or you grew up down the street from Marcelo Bielsa's babysitter because at the end of the day we are , “All Leeds aren’t we.”  Today I want to share my story of my emotions and thoughts on the state of Leeds United over the years and what the Premier League brings back to the Yorkshire beast whom many a team have failed to beat. Let’s just hope that lions roar is still there.

I don’t want to pick a particular season or match to explain how felt about Leeds before 'El Loco' became manager at Elland road, so let’s talk about something slightly different, work rate. The work rate at the club was shocking in honesty; from attackers who wouldn’t run, to midfielders refusing to pass. Leeds just weren’t the team they used to be. I mean that’s what I’m told, we were relegated when I was six years old, so I grew up more in the Robert Snodgrass era rather than the Rio Ferdinand one. Now this one hurt, one of the most decorated centre backs England or the world has ever produced leaving to our arch rivals Manchester United. 


Anyway that’s enough talking about Ferdinand. So I’ll paint a scene for you non-Leeds fans, it's 2004 and Leeds United are facing financial uncertainty. Owing surplus of £100 million pounds to creditors, the club was on the verge of administration, relegation and possibly oblivion. “Marching on together” is a term familiar with all Leeds fans and you know, no matter how hard things get and how rough life as a Leeds fan is, you’ll always have a team and so much more beside you because after all, "we’re all Leeds aren’t we". Sixteen years on and Leeds are back in the promise land and those feelings of wether the lights at Elland Road may be switched off for the very last time seem a distant memory.


Now let’s talk about the more recent times, the arrival of the man who’s footballing mind has gained huge support from the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, who claimed Bielsa is “the best manager in the world”. A huge statement coming from the only manager to ever get 100 points in a Premier League season. But with the man known as 'the crazy one' turning up in Leeds with nothing but his bucket and video tapes, a crack appeared in the sky and a ray of light finally poured onto stands and the footballing giant that is Leeds United started to rise from its slumber and is now possibly ready to restate its claim as one of Europe’s greatest.  


But how does a team of fringe players go from lavishing in 18th to winning the Championship and, possibly more impressively, managing to stay within one goal of the league champions themselves in their first game back? The main cause is Bielsas eyes and his mind. Behind those glasses nothing is missed on the pitch, from the stolen glances between teammates to initiate an attack to the way a player will contort their body. All opposition players are excruciatingly analysed to the point where, in no uncertain terms, Leeds can challenge the very best as seen on the opening day game with Liverpool.


Not only do Leeds now possess this man who is obsessed by details, they possess a man who has instilled a work rate that is rarely seen at the top level. Add this to the passion which has now been brought back, and that there is essential in Yorkshire, passion. Without passion we really couldn’t have made it this far. Bielsa has quite unusual training methods for players that really do test a players commitment (for the record check out the term “Murderball”) and see if they are able to wear a badge so proud and I’m saying that as a football fan, not just a Leeds one. But these rigorous training sessions from Bielsa create a sense of achievement around Thorpe Arch that translates into the pitch.


Now let’s mention the last two seasons, from 'Spygate' (being unfairly punished for watching Derby train from a motorway), to the play off defeat to Derby that season; all the way to winning the league last season. Bielsas 'Murderball' really lit up the championship from the off with the pace and skill shown unmatched in the league. So what happened that season and why didn’t we secure promotion? Well honestly, the fan base is one of the most intense and fifteen years outside of the top flight was only adding to the pressure. We weren’t taking no for an answer... until we did. The defeat to Derby in the second leg of the play off semi finals was one of the hardest matches to watch in all honesty. To watch a team throw so much passion at a game they forget how to play. It was strangely enlightening and frightening. Between a red card and a shocking defensive play, we learnt the hard way the Championship was for us and we had to make it our own.


Bielsas levels of work go beyond just watching tapes, he can also transform players into iconic cult heroes! Kalvin Phillips went from an unknown, average central defensive midfielder in the Championship, to a player who would look more at home passing the ball to Lionel Messi instead of Patrick Bamford. Again I’m biased though, so let’s look at another transformation last year. Surely you have all heard the name Ben White? The struggling English centre back nobody had even heard of? He came to Leeds on loan last season from Brighton without many expectations or hopes, he just wanted to gain some experience. But Bielsas genius (again biased) paid off in full here with the young man spending the majority of last season doing everything possible to win the games, and the trophy is enough proof of how well it worked.


But the world has been unusual, between the COVID-19 outbreak and the legality of players contracts, a lot who were on loan, so the idea of the Premier League was daunting to say the least. So when we got the current champions Liverpool on the opening day, my heart sank briefly. I was thinking of the point haul not the actual game, but a mere moment later I realised the truth: we are playing the champions of England, a terrifyingly good side who beat nearly everyone who visit Anfield, but anyone who watched the match knows how we can keep up. Again, this is the beauty of Bielsas mind; with a defensive partnership less than a week old and a goalkeeper who seemingly looks the same age (in reality he is very young for a Premier League keeper at only 20 years of age) we not only managed to arrive, we managed to keep up for the majority.


Honestly, that tells me everything I need to know about this season: it’s going to be a special one! So until you hear the rafters roaring at Elland Road remember one thing, never once have we wavered or changed course or abandoned our own, because this goes against the badge and the community. After all it’s more than just a phrase to say “All Leeds Aren’t we!”

Words: Sam Cooke

How do you see Leeds season panning out? Let us know in the comments below.

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8 months ago

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