The last 14 years have been arduous for Leeds United fans. Since being relegated from the Premier League, the club has been stripped to its bare bones and rebuilt by various owners. This is just the latest tale in a long history of ups and down for the Elland Road club.
As well as having to sell all their talented players from elite to youth level, they were also forced to sell their stadium and training facilities and fell into administration. As a result, fans of the Yorkshire club are understandably sceptical about any talk of a return to the big time.
Even at the start of this season, following the appointment of experienced coach Marcelo Bielsa, fans remained tight-lipped about their prospects. And after a bright start that saw them rise to the top of the table, expectations remained tempered.
There is no doubt that Bielsa is a talented coach. There are few technicians in the games as obsessed with detail as the Argentinean, but his methods often result in clashes with players and club hierarchy. He is most successful when everyone at the club is on board with his ideas and when every player is fully committed to the often gruelling training drills they are put through. Players often do 12-hour shifts and are kept overnight until a certain drill is perfected. This has to be balanced with keeping fit over the course of a season.
The 63-year-old enjoys a mythical status amongst other coaches, with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino (who he signed as a youngster at Newell’s Old Boys) among his fans.
His methods rarely yield much in the way of silverware – although it could be argued he has never had the chance to implement them at an elite club – and his tenures at club level have rarely extended beyond two years. But everyone seems to enjoy the ride while he is in charge – with the exception of some exasperated owners.
There is hope Bielsa can wake a sleeping giant and return Leeds to the glory days of the early 2000s when they were competing in the Champions League. The club are currently 11/2 in the Championship betting to win the league and 7/5 with to get promoted. Just leading the club back to top-flight would ensure legendary status for the one they call “El Loco.”
For football fans across the world, seeing Bielsa go up against the likes of Guardiola, Pochettino, Klopp, Sarri, and Emery would be something special and could provide one of the most entertaining seasons of Premier League football ever. The big question is whether Leeds can perform at their current level of the course of the season.
There have already been signs of a dip in form, with just one win in four during late September/early October. But most of their slip-ups have still resulted in draws rather than defeats. As of the second week of October, Leeds have only lost one league match, a feat only matched by Aitor Karanka’s Nottingham Forest.
Considering the pedigree of the coach and the fact the players seem to have embraced his ideas, Leeds United look like genuine promotion candidates.