Mock­ery of Bielsa ig­nores his 40 years of in­tegrity

Leeds man­ager de­serves bet­ter than to have Fair Play award jeered over ‘Spy­gate’,

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle - writes Rob Bagchi

Mark Chap­man’s face was a pic­ture on Mon­day night. The broad­caster dis­solved into up­roar­i­ous, scorn­ful be­muse­ment, a cry­ing­with-laugh­ter emoji made Lan­cas­trian flesh, when he in­formed his guests on Ra­dio 5 Live that Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa had been given a Fifa Fair Play Award.

In the stu­dio, Micah Richards and Chris Sut­ton treated the news as if it were the sick­est of jokes.

Fifa had re­warded Leeds for the mo­ment in their penul­ti­mate match of the sea­son, when the man­ager or­dered his play­ers to al­low As­ton Villa to equalise, a goal which killed off their van­ish­ing chances of au­to­matic pro­mo­tion.

“Do pre­vi­ous mis­de­meanours not count?” asks Sut­ton, pre­sum­ably re­fer­ring to the pearl-clutch­ing hys­te­ria spawned by Jan­uary’s so-called “Spy­gate”, the de­tails of which were ex­pertly spun un­til Leeds were for­mally rep­ri­manded and fined for a breach of “good faith”, rather than for break­ing any ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tion.

It cap­tured the com­mon re­ac­tion: that a man and his team who had been con­demned could not pos­si­bly war­rant recog­ni­tion for an honourable act, never mind that Paolo di Canio was sim­i­larly com­mended in 2001 for re­fus­ing to ex­ploit Paul Ger­rard’s in­jury dur­ing West Ham’s match against Ever­ton a cou­ple of years af­ter he had shoved the ref­eree Paul Al­cock to the ground.

Which was the more heinous “mis­de­meanour”, Bielsa’s breach of pro­to­col, or di Canio’s of the laws of the game? Which was greeted with the con­tempt Gore Vi­dal re­served for Henry Kissinger re­ceiv­ing the No­bel Peace Prize?

Lit­tle won­der, then, that Leeds United sup­port­ers smell dou­ble stan­dards. The out­rage of other fans amuses them, as if Fifa has ef­fec­tively trolled or flicked two fin­gers to the rest of the English game on their be­half, en­sur­ing the “Dirty Leeds” cliche re­ceives an­other air­ing.

But it masks a salient point. Frank Lam­pard and John Terry, for ex­am­ple, were fined for re­gret­table be­hav­iour in the af­ter­math of 9/11 yet both are ven­er­ated through­out the game. Does be­ing per­ceived as an in­sider af­ford some foot­ball fig­ures the kind of un­der­stand­ing and pro­tec­tion de­nied the likes of Bielsa?

Leeds United have been get­ting up peo­ple’s noses for 55 years, ever since they were pro­moted to Di­vi­sion One un­der Don Re­vie and ar­rived with an out­law rep­u­ta­tion bur­nished by a mis­lead­ing Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion dis­ci­plinary ta­ble, which tarred the first team with the youth and re­serve sides’ in­dis­cre­tions.

The play­ers who served in that golden age for the club have long since given up car­ing what oth­ers think of them. They have the re­spect of their peers and, cru­cially, of each other, an un­break­able bond forged in de­fi­ance of sus­tained crit­i­cism and grotesque bad luck. Bielsa’s 40 years in foot­ball and his loy­alty to the in­tegrity of his vi­sion of the game in­su­late him from the snark­ing.

But to ma­lign him for scout­ing the op­po­si­tion’s train­ing and to em­ploy it to scoff at his fit­ness for the award is to use a tiny frag­ment of the mo­saic of his ca­reer and pass it off as the whole pic­ture. In 15 months at El­land Road, he has trans­formed the club, heal­ing di­vi­sions, pro­duc­ing the finest foot­ball sup­port­ers have seen for nearly 20 years, and be­haved at all times with un­pre­ten­tious grace, whether dis­turbed on his trips to Costa or Mor­risons in Wetherby, or in his di­ver­gence from the cus­tom of blam­ing ref­er­ees for set­backs.

Last year, he do­nated £3 mil­lion to his first club and life­long pas­sion, Newells Old Boys, which he called a debt, not a gift, for the joy and op­por­tu­ni­ties they had given him. When Spy­gate blew up, he im­me­di­ately took re­spon­si­bil­ity for it.

There was no dis­sim­u­la­tion or cover-up. On his in­sis­tence, the club ac­cepted the English Foot­ball League sanc­tion with­out com­plaint and he set­tled the fine him­self.

As soon as he was made aware that Ma­teusz Klich had scored against Villa with an op­po­si­tion player down in­jured, thereby fall­ing foul of the English foot­ball code, Bielsa made in­stant repa­ra­tion.

When Bielsa twice found him­self on the wrong side of the il­log­i­cal rec­ti­tude of cer­tain un­writ­ten English foot­ball con­ven­tions, he apol­o­gised and tried to make amends.

Leeds fans, like their great­est play­ers, no longer ex­pect any­thing other than stereo­typ­i­cal de­nun­ci­a­tions. But Bielsa, who con­tin­ues to in­spire coaches of the cal­i­bre of Pep Guardi­ola and Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino, de­serves bet­ter than the mock­ery of the foot­ball phone-in es­tab­lish­ment.

Leeds fans no longer ex­pect any­thing other than stereo­typ­i­cal de­nun­ci­a­tions

Sport­ing: Marcelo Bielsa or­dered his play­ers to al­low As­ton Villa to equalise in a cru­cial game

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