Party time for Leeds but more work lies ahead

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Total Football - Cham­pi­onship By John Percy

Derby County

Martin 54

Leeds United

Her­nan­dez 56, Shack­le­ton 75, Clarke 84 og

The pro­mo­tion party con­tin­ues. Af­ter a painful ex­ile of 16 years, Leeds are March­ing On To­gether to the Premier League and re­turn as cham­pi­ons.

This was their 27th league win of the sea­son, and at the end Leeds play­ers cel­e­brated with cham­pagne and flags, as yel­low and blue smoke flares snaked into the sky.

There have been scenes of joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion since pro­mo­tion was confirmed on Fri­day night and Marcelo Bielsa, their bril­liant and in­no­va­tive head coach, has uni­fied a city by re­turn­ing this fa­mous club to foot­ball’s na­tional con­science.

“The city is very pas­sion­ate and peo­ple had a lot of hope for this pro­mo­tion. It wasn’t dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the hap­pi­ness peo­ple are feel­ing at the mo­ment,” Bielsa said. “The tro­phy makes me happy but I’ve been in foot­ball for 40 years, so one ti­tle doesn’t re­ally change the per­cent­age of tro­phies I have.

“Love is what ev­ery hu­man be­ing wants in life. You have two kinds of love – the love that comes from those clos­est to you and that which comes from sit­u­a­tions like this. The sup­port­ers give us back this love. What also makes me happy is the fact I have won with this group of play­ers. What got the pro­mo­tion was the fan­tas­tic abil­ity of the play­ers.”

Bielsa will dis­cuss a new con­tract with the club later this month and has etched his name into Leeds his­tory by do­ing it his way. They have scorched a trail in such an un­for­giv­ing divi­sion with a unique iden­tity, fu­elled by those “mur­der-ball” train­ing ses­sions, and will not be en­ter­ing the Premier League just to make up the num­bers.

Bielsa will be a wel­come ad­di­tion to the land of cash and con­tro­versy, go­ing toe to toe with man­agers such as Pep Guardi­ola, who con­sid­ers him one of the greats. The Ar­gen­tine will cel­e­brate his 65th birthday to­mor­row.

This vic­tory over Derby was par­tic­u­larly fit­ting for Bielsa, too. Last sea­son it was Derby who stunned Leeds in the play-off semi-fi­nal se­cond leg, months af­ter the in­fa­mous “Spy­gate” saga.

As the play­ers cel­e­brated af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle, di­rec­tor of foot­ball Vic­tor Orta was seen high in the stands watch­ing with a pair of binoc­u­lars. Aside from Bielsa’s man­age­rial ac­u­men, there have been so many he­roes on the field too, from in­spi­ra­tional mid­fielder Kalvin Phillips to out­stand­ing Brighton loa­nee Ben White.

Liam Cooper, their cap­tain, has been with the club six years and must have won­dered if this day would ever come.

He said: “It’s un­be­liev­able. I’m lost for words. It’s not sunk in yet. I’ve not seen my kids yet to cel­e­brate with them and it doesn’t feel real, but it is. Leeds United are back.

“It’s been a tough 16 years, we’ve been to the bot­tom and now we can en­joy it and de­servedly so.

“We’ve been the best team all sea­son through sheer sac­ri­fice.”

It has been a chaotic week­end since Hud­der­s­field – who sacked man­ager Danny Cow­ley yes­ter­day – confirmed Leeds’ pro­mo­tion by beat­ing West Bromwich Al­bion.

Around 50 Leeds fans gath­ered out­side Pride Park be­fore kick-off to greet the team coach, then the play­ers were given a guard of hon­our by their hosts.

Wayne Rooney, the cap­tain, led Derby out and it must have felt like pulling teeth for the 34-year-old. When Rooney last faced Leeds in the Premier League in 2004, he scored for Ever­ton at El­land Road and was on the brink of his move to Manch­ester United.

The first half was a non­de­script end-of-sea­son af­fair, with Bielsa mak­ing seven changes, and the ab­sence of sup­port­ers for such a high-pro­file en­counter was never more glar­ing than it was here.

Bielsa watched in his trade­mark po­si­tion, crouched down in his tech­ni­cal area and car­ry­ing the air of a man­ager whose team were fight­ing to stay up on the last day.

Ten min­utes into the se­cond half, a foot­ball match fi­nally broke out. It was Derby who took the lead, cap­i­tal­is­ing on some sleepy de­fend­ing with Chris Martin pok­ing the ball past goal­keeper Kiko Casilla.

Derby’s lead lasted less than 60 seconds, with Pablo Her­nan­dez equal­is­ing from out­side the box af­ter his ini­tial shot had been blocked.

Leeds moved in front 15 min­utes from time af­ter a fine, flow­ing move and a clin­i­cal fin­ish from an­other of their academy grad­u­ates, Jamie Shack­le­ton. And vic­tory was se­cured with an own goal by Matthew Clarke, in­ex­pli­ca­bly di­vert­ing Ezg­jan Alioski’s cross into his own net.

Job done, and now the hard work re­ally be­gins.

(4-2-3-1) Roos; Bogle, Davies, Clarke, Forsyth (Buchanan 65); Bird (Mar­riott 82), Rooney; Waghorn, Si­b­ley (Shin­nie 65), Lawrence (Knight 7); Martin. Hamer (g), Joze­f­zoon, Evans, Lowe, Whit­taker. Si­b­ley.

(4-2-3-1) Casilla; Dal­las, White, Ber­ardi (Ayling 33), Dou­glas; Dal­las, Stru­ijk; Poveda (Har­ri­son 77), Her­nan­dez, Alioski; Roberts (Bamford 82). Mi­azek (g), Cooper, Davis, Klich, Bo­gusz, Casey.

Oliver Langford (West Mid­lands).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.