The gift that keeps on giving: Five of the best Marcelo Bielsa moments this season

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    LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 19: Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa watches on during the second half during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Wigan Athletic at Elland Road on April 19, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images)

    While many opposition football fans love to hate Leeds United as a brand, club and identity, the man currently at the helm escapes such animosity.

    Marcelo Bielsa has made English football fans applaud, laugh, snigger, salute, admire, befuddled and plenty more during his first season in this country.

    Whether you dislike Leeds or not, the overwhelming majority of football fans will admit the game is far better with characters like Bielsa around.

    This season has seen the eccentric Argentinian catch the eye of mesmerised onlookers with an array of idiosyncratic coaching methods and actions.

    Plenty of publicity has already been showered on a man whose midas touch has turned a bucket into something of a holy relic, sold in the official club shop as if it was a majestic throne.

    Here are five standout moments from Bielsa’s tenure in West Yorkshire so far, which demonstrate the unique appeal of the 63-year-old.

    5. Reaction following defeat to QPR

    For a man who has directly bestowed his knowledge upon the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, the sight of Bielsa with his head bowed following a damaging defeat to QPR signified his fallibility.

    Here was a man who looked lost, even disconsolate as he leaned against the wall deep in his own thoughts.

    Bielsa was mulling over a 1-0 defeat against a QPR team who had not won in seven. It was potentially a defining point in the automatic promotion race with Leeds failing to seize the opportunity to move back into the top-two on the night.

    What it did show was that even those regarded as the very best have a human side too. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions being a football manager as this image perfectly encapsulates.

    Marcelo Bielsa after the 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road in February. Image credit: Reddit

    4. Difficulty with Ipswich

    Tomorrow will almost certainly be the first time Marcelo Bielsa will have stepped foot in the Suffolk town of Ipswich.

    After struggling with the pronunciation of the town during a live interview, he may be relieved it could well be his last visit with “Ipswhit” now playing in League One following their relegation.

    A light-hearted moment in which Bielsa’s translator Salim Lamrani could only break into a wide grin as his colleague struggled to spit out the word needed to complete his sentence.

    “Ok, I give up,” Lamrani said in translation to the amusement of journalists in attendance before the ensuing circulation on social media inevitably followed.

    3. Act of generosity recognises those behind-the-scenes

    The sight of Bielsa handing out sweets to excitable children after stepping off the team bus at Elland Road has been a warming sight. Bielsa symbolises a fatherly figure, looked to for reassurance that everything is alright with the world whether we continue to screw up Brexit negotiations or not.

    LEEDS, ENGLAND – APRIL 28: Manager of Leeds United Marcelo Bielsa signs an autograph for a young fan as he arrives at the stadium prior to the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Aston Villa at Elland Road on April 28, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

    Yet one particularly eye-catching touch of his compassionate nature has relatively slipped under the radar.

    During an extensive piece for FourFourTwo magazine, Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post retold an amazing story.

    It highlighted how Bielsa organised a raffle at Leeds’ training ground (which he had completely revamped himself) where he ensured all members of staff including canteen workers were involved.

    The act conjures up stories of Don Revie creating an extended family at the club where everyone needed to be looked after and treated with respect.

    Bielsa has that same level of attention to detail, with a kit man winning a £11,000 Volkswagen Polo through the raffle funded by El Loco himself.

    The car was subsequently sold with the proceeds being distributed fairly amongst staff. A television was also won. A sense of togetherness shone through.

    As can often be the case with Bielsa however, there is also a touch of “What the hell just happened there?” as the unexpected unfolds. The unpredictable is what makes him so intriguing, a true maverick of the game.

    Marcelo Bielsa getting off the team bus, almost certainly with sweets in his pockets. Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

    2. Gifting play-off rivals a goal to confirm Sheffield United’s promotion

    As much as Pontus Jansson hated it, Bielsa’s decision to gift Aston Villa an equaliser was generally applauded by fans, pundits and fellow managers alike.

    Bielsa was apoplectic with rage at the thought of Leeds winning the match with a dubious goal after Villa stopped for what they thought was a surefire foul.

    It was generally accepted that Bielsa had done the morally-correct thing, something not always the case in the fiercely competitive sporting arena where marginal gains are sought after. Just ask Ghana fans about Luis Suarez for example.

    Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa gives Pontus Jansson instructions after his side scored a contentious goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Aston Villa at Elland Road (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

    While Patrick Bamford emerged as the pantomine villain of the incident, Bielsa emerged as the hero for the good of the game.

    Although easy to say with the goal confirming his side’s automatic promotion, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder spoke on behalf of many when he said: “I’ve got to say full respect to Marcelo Bielsa in terms of the way he handled today. I think it was right, correct and proper.”

    “Watching the game today, absolutely 100 per cent credit to Marcelo Bielsa.
    Not to back Patrick Bamford obviously, but to the manager I think he comes out with with an enormous amount of credit and shouldn’t take any criticism whatsoever.” Amen.

    1. Spygate

    In complete contrast to the reaction to Bielsa’s principled gesture to Villa, there was total uproar when it emerged the South American coach had sent a member of staff to spy on Derby County’s training session in the suburbs of the city in January.

    It turned into a venomous backlash with the club accepting a financial charge and rumours of a points deduction lingering.

    Bielsa somehow found a way of redeeming his likeable persona after the initial disgust had died down.

    He fronted up to his mistake in a television interview ahead of the Derby match, portraying a man who was generally bemused by the storm he had created.

    For Bielsa, it was one aspect of his meticulous preparations rather than an unfair advantage. He almost brushed it off as if it was an accepted routine in South America to him.

    His apologetic response extended to one of the most extraordinary press conferences of all time as Bielsa invited the media to Thorp Arch. What followed next was an extensive 66-minute insight into his game preparations.

    As many privileged journalists commented, they had been treated to a Marcelo Bielsa masterclass unexpectedly.

    It perfectly demonstrated why Bielsa is universally respected in the footballing world, mentioned in the same echelons as the likes of Guardiola and Klopp. He offers something beyond the norm.

    It has also just emerged he even paid for the Spygate fine himself.

    “The sanction (the EFL) gave us of £200,000 – it is a financial sanction against the club, not against me, but I am responsible for it,” Bielsa said.

    “That is why I paid it from my pocket, the financial sanction.”

    While Leeds may ultimately fall short under Bielsa this season, he has worked wonders with the same players who limped to 13th last season.

    Without a full pre-season to prepare for his first stint in England, Bielsa has already created a seismic change at Leeds. The wounded beast has taken a huge stride in the right direction towards the aim of Premier League football after a 14-season hiatus.

    Whatever the next chapter in the Bielsa story brings, it would be of little surprise if he continues to studiously pore over the details of the game right until his very last breath.

    Dedication is a word synonymous with Marcelo Bielsa.