Marcelo Bielsa will always be revered by Leeds City, not just Leeds United. He restored the club to the Premier League, but his impact on the wider community ran deeper than that.
His legacy transcends Elland Road and cannot be measured by long-awaited promotion or, when he is at his best, the jaw-dropping beauty of his football alone. Bielsa has helped one of the UK’s biggest cities rediscover its sporting identity.
A town center street renamed in her honor and murals depicting Bielsa the Savior in suburbs such as Holbeck, Guiseley, Hyde Park and Wortley bear witness to this.
As did the outpouring of sadness, outrage and even outrage from fans on social media at the manner of his departure. Should we leave now, like this?
There will be demands for a statue as after 16 years of hopeless failure on and off the pitch, Bielsa has made fans fall in love with their club all over again.
He made the city stand up and sing for Leeds United.
And new fans, from South America and around the world, came to share the dream and stand by their side.
In six short weeks in the summer of 2018 after being unveiled as Leeds’ new head coach, he transformed a mid-table side in the Championship into promotion contenders.
It was true what they said about ‘El Loco’. If he was trusted and allowed to do things his way, they said, he would perform miracles. And he did.
He turned the dream into spectacular reality for negligible financial outlay. Even Gary Neville and Roy Keane have become big Bielsa-ball fans.
But all dreams must come to an end and as the next page turns when Leeds are set to announce Jesse Marsch as their new manager on Monday, fans may begin to realize that was how it was meant to be.
Leeds are the up and coming club of English football after all and even Bielsa can’t keep pulling rabbits out of his hat forever. Not in the Premier League.
He dropped out because he had no more players. The ones he had molded into a notoriously small team, which he believed was the only way to work.
At one point this season, Bielsa was without 11 injured first-team players and the loss of Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford and captain Liam Cooper to long-term issues was an enigma too far.
Bielsa’s critics said it was only a matter of time the physical demands required to play his turbocharged pressing brand of football would take their toll.
In his fourth year at the club, Leeds struggled to replicate the form that propelled them to ninth place in their first season in the Premier League.
Bielsa’s great performers have always made for compulsive viewing, but 20 goals conceded in February, a new top-flight record for a calendar month, and 60 in total this campaign left them facing relegation.
A few boos were heard after Saturday’s 4-0 home loss to Tottenham and chairman Andrea Radrizzani felt compelled to act.
The Italian was savagely criticized by a large part of the fans for not giving Bielsa until the end of the season to try and turn things around.
Bielsa the romantic against Radrizzani the realist.
But let’s not forget, Radrizzani backed football director Victor Orta’s romantic idea that Bielsa could be the one to wake the sleeping giant in the first place.
Radrizzani will say he had no choice but to apply the brakes on a thrilling rollercoaster ride to protect the club’s wider interests, but also his own.
Radrizzani has always maintained that Leeds need deeper pockets to enter the Premier League’s ‘top six’.
This is why Radrizzani and his board have decided that Leeds’ love affair with Bielsa must come to an end.
Bielsa does not practice pragmatism. He himself admitted he could never change his style of play and the Leeds co-owners refused to risk bigger defeats.
Bielsa the maverick, the reluctant hero, offered more than just a promotion and the city will be forever grateful for his coming.
But whether we like it or not, it looks like romance alone will never be enough to challenge the Premier League.