Looking forward to Leeds UnitedA mid-table Championship team, Leeds United had seen glory days in the Premier League era.
Legend has it that Marcelo Biesla, then coaching at the Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys, recruited young Mauricio Pochettino on the evidence of the size of his thighs seeing him sleeping. He had arrived at the young kid’s home late and did not want to wake him up. Before Pep Guaridola began his managerial career he went to meet Biesla to pick his brains and later called him “the best coach in the world”. When Leeds United representatives approached him before the 2018-19 season began, he flummoxed them with a tactical analysis of every team of the Championship.
He is El Loco, or the crazy one. In August 2015 he quit Marseille after a game into the season saying he had not been supported in the transfer window, having already managed the team one full season. Next year, he quit Lazio two days after signing as the manager and even before the season began again for the lack of support. The year after that Lille sacked him after 13 games in-charge with the team second from bottom following disagreements with the club.
Leeds United players were initiated into his exacting ways early on. Training sessions were grueling, and sometimes there were two a day. He demands that players are on the move all the time playing in a 3-3-3-1 system with seven players attacking and nine defending while he watches from the sidelines sitting on a ‘plastic bucket’ with height of his specification because that is where he gets the best view of the game. The exhaustion the continuous movement entailed had its say in Biesla’s first year. They had been neck in neck with Norwich at the top throughout the season. However, the 46-game league was too much to take with the Biesla brand of football. Having lost the automatic promotion places, Leeds played in the playoffs and lost to Derby County in the semi final.
But the fans had been won over. A mid-table Championship team, Leeds United had seen glory days in the Premier League era. In the 2000-01 season they reached the semi-final of the Champions League, beating Real Madrid on the way. While in the Premier League from 1992 to 2004 they routinely competed for European places. The gamble for riches Europe promised, signing players beyond their reach, however, proved to be their undoing. They were relegated to the Championship, slid further down to League One in 2007, went bankrupt, changed ownership three times, lost in the play off fincal in 2016-17 before the arrival of the maverick.
Two off the pitch incidents in Biesla’s first season stand out. He made his players humbly pick litter around the training ground to make players understand the work fans put in to earn enough to watch them play. The other was Biesla sending a member of the coaching staff, equipped with binoculars, to spy on Derby County’s training session. Hell broke loose. Leeds were fined 200,000 pounds. Biesla never denied the accusation and paid the fine from his own pocket. True to form, the crazy one, instead, in his next press conference, which lasted two hours, expounded on the tactics of every opponent as if to say, “I don’t need to spy. I know all I need to know anyway.”
Biesla’s second season was more of the same as his first, competing with West Bromwich Albion, the recent arrival from the Premier League, and armed with parachute payments, for the top spot throughout the season. Fortunately, there was no repeat of the first season. Some say had it not been for the pandemic break, the team would have unravelled again. But we will never know. Leeds United, the team with a fan base that competes with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United in English football, won the Championship trophy and are back in Premier League after 16 long years. And a philosopher of the game leads it.
But with El Loco uncertainty always reigns. He is yet to renew his two-year contract.