Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: ACTION IMAGES/Lee Smith
Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: ACTION IMAGES/Lee Smith

London — Leeds United are back in the Premier League for the first time in 16 years with a style of play under eccentric manager Marcelo Bielsa that is as far removed from their historic “Dirty Leeds” image as it can.

During a long and varied career, the 65-year-old Argentinian coach has deployed an exhilarating, whirlwind brand of football designed not to let the opposition breathe — although it risks leaving his own players exhausted before the end of the season.

Bielsa’s teams invariably deploy a high press and attack using quick, vertical passes, with his two seasons at Leeds in the Championship (second-tier) being no exception as he steered them to the title and promotion to the top flight.

For Bielsa, taking the initiative is a sacrosanct principle and he has no time for teams who sit back in defence, or “speculate” as he disparagingly describes it. He famously displayed his dislike for negativity after his Chile side lost 1-0 to Italy in an under-23 tournament in 2008.

At the end of the match, a livid Bielsa angrily reprimanded his opposite number Pierluigi Casiraghi for alleged spoiling tactics. “Hitting long balls over the top for the number nine — that is not football,” he ranted.

Bielsa’s influence is widespread, with Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino among those who regard him as their mentor, even if the contents of his trophy cabinet are modest.

Rather than big-name players, Bielsa works better with those who are prepared to adapt themselves to his heavily demanding style, making Leeds an ideal club for his Premier League debut.

It will be the third of Europe’s top leagues to experience Bielsa after La Liga and Ligue 1. He led Athletic Bilbao to the finals of the Copa del Rey and Uefa Cup in his first season there, although his second was a disappointment.

His Olympique Marseille side topped the table at the halfway mark of his only full season in charge before fading to finish fourth. Arsenal experienced a foretaste of what is to come during a 1-0 win over Leeds in the FA Cup last season.

“They are a nightmare for any team to play against,” said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. “It is like going to the dentist. It’s tough, they make it really hard. It’s man-to-man around the pitch and if you are not ready you get exposed.”

It is all far removed from the 1960s and 1970s when the Yorkshire club’s perceived win-at-all-costs approach under Don Revie earned them the “Dirty Leeds” nickname as they swept up trophies including the league title, FA Cup and League Cup.

But even if that label no longer applies on the pitch, Leeds still quite like the concept.

“We have a history of being ‘Dirty Leeds’ and we actually channel that,” club chairman Andrea Radrizanni told the Fifa magazine.

“We want to play great football and we are doing that, but we also need to fight every time we go onto the pitch. All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds United player.” 

Reuters

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