Image: Alejandro Vásquez Núñez [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia
Old rivalries may dictate that some fans of other clubs may not relish the prospect of seeing Leeds United return to the Premier League. But for others, such as lovers of sports fairytales and tactical beatniks, the thought of a Leeds team under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa competing in the Premier League sends them giddy with excitement.
It’s not that the club itself deserves any special place amongst the elite, but that the man who likes to sit on a blue bucket is seen in some circles as the overlord of football coaching. A grandmaster who has long been misunderstood but whose genius is waiting to be unleashed upon the philistine audience of the Premier League.
But there are others who are grimacing at the thought of a union between Bielsa and the Premier League. The Argentine coach is a notoriously spiky character but one who is also intellectual and engaging. His methods are unorthodox, his tactics can be bemusing and his personality is unpredictable. You are either charmed by his eccentricities or nonplussed by them; there is no middle ground. And amongst all this, Bielsa’s tenures often end in undignified implosions as the physical and mental demands of his methods take their toll.
With the club currently priced at 1/4 to get promoted in the Championship betting, a top-flight return looks likely. Historically, the Premier League and the media surrounding it has been slow to embrace those whose methods do not comply with the norm. Over the years, we have seen pundits recoil in horror (and some still do) at concepts such as tiki-taka, playing out from the back, zonal marking or high-pressing, all of which have become commonplace in the modern game. So what the hell will they make of Bielsa and his obsessive man-marking strategies?
He has already been the subject of condemnation in the Championship for sending a spy to watch the opposition train and then spending an hour explaining to reporters why the information gathered was not useful but just helped him keep his anxiety low before the match.
After his presentation, in which he showcased the in-depth analysis he performs on every team and player, we had the likes of Dean Saunders claiming that, “Even non-league clubs go into that much detail.” Whether that is true or not is irrelevant because it totally missed the point that Bielsa was trying to make: that the spying was insignificant in the overall context of the analysis, he just did it to satisfy his own shortcomings.
This kind of quirk will grate with some, especially those who seem resentful that the Leeds boss is held in such high esteem. Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Tata Martino, Diego Simeone and Jorge Sampaoli all cite the Leeds gaffer as a major influence on their own coaching styles.
If Leeds United do get promoted, the Premier League will need to brace itself for the arrival of the man they rather disparagingly call “El Loco” (the crazy one). And he will have to prepare himself for the backlash of former players and pundits queuing up to explain why he is nothing special.