Leeds are ‘United’ in wanting Marcelo Bielsa to stay on after near miss
So it was not be for Leeds United as their promotion bid ended in brave failure and more play-offs misery – and it is all eyes on Marcelo Bielsa now for clues on what happens next.
The dust is still settling on a season that promised much, but ended up so near yet so far with regards to delivering the Premiership promised land.
The reality is that United will be heading for Barnsley and Luton next season not Old Trafford and Anfield and they really blew a golden chance to go up.
Top of the table and six points clear of third plus eight points clear of the eventually promoted Sheffield United at Christmas, they failed to lock down the top two place that looked to be theirs most of the season and then lost out in the play-offs lottery that Leeds seemingly cannot win.
Fans were warned that Bielsa’s teams have had habits in the past of running out of steam after bright starts and a glimpse at what happened with the Whites managing just one win in their last six matches would suggest that. But that was not really the case – the players were still running every bit as hard in the heartbreaking play-off semi-final second leg against Derby County as they were at the start of the season so fitness was never an issue.
If there were problems at the end it was mind ones as it does appear they succumbed to the pressure of everyone wanting promotion so much. And in the end it was small margins that have done for Leeds. Had they beaten Sheffield United in March – as they deserved to – and not lost to them they would have only needed a draw in their last game at Ipswich to have gone up in one of the automatic promotion places.
Perhaps had referee Anthony Taylor seen the obvious fouls on Gaetano Berardi the feisty defender would not have taken matters into his own hands to get himself sent-off at a critical stage of the play-off semi-final at Elland Road. It may then have been a different result and a Wembley trip would now be on the horizon. The game was level on aggregate at the time with United looking the more likely winners so the red card was crucial.
But also perhaps if Leeds had strengthened their squad with a proven goalscorer in the January transfer window they would not have been sweating so much at the end and that lack of investment now has meant a much bigger loss of revenue with Championship money again for the club next year instead of the riches of the Premiership.
Hopefully lessons will have been learned. They do not need to spend big, but do need to keep their best players now and top up a squad that was only really lacking in the final third of the pitch.
It was a regular complaint that Leeds were dominating games, but not emphasising this with the goals their attacking play should have brought. It was not just putting the ball in the net, it was also a lack of quality with the final pass or cross and this must be improved if the team can move forward.
First things first, however, before transfer targets are made Leeds need to decide what direction they want to go in now and the key to that is who will be the head coach.
There have been encouraging signs that Bielsa wants to stay for a second year and that can surely only be a good thing. His transformation of the side in just one year is such that fans cannot wait to see what he can do with a second year.
Whatever the disappointment of the way the season has just finished there has been little criticism of a coach who has galvanised the club again with a brand of football never seen at Elland Road before.
There has been doubts about whether the current regime have enough money to be able to continue to back Bielsa and it may mean they have to sell one of the prized asset players in order to do so, but the fact that talks appear to be taking place about the Argentine’s continued involvement have to be seen as positive.
Bielsa’s contract gives Leeds the right to extend it by a further 12 months following his first season, but the head coach can leave if he chooses.
He has said he would be open to talks and was seen with United’s director of football Victor Orta at the weekend with the club seemingly hoping to agree an extension to Bielsa’s deal before he travels home to Argentina for a summer break.