The magic of Marcelo: how Bielsa restored Leeds fortunes

A new book explaining how Leeds’ boom years turned sour and how Marcelo Bielsa later restored the club’s switchback fortunes is reviewed by ERIC BROWN.

The year was 1961, a year infamous for the Bay of Pigs Invasion and a Harold MacMillan-led Conservative government heading full tilt towards the Christine Keeler scandal.

Alan Shepard took the US into space and Elvis Presley was number one with Wooden Heart as I paid one shilling and sixpence to see Leeds United for the first time at my local club Charlton Athletic.

They were nothing special. Just an average second division outfit with little money and ambition beyond avoiding relegation. Jack Charlton played centre forward, Fred Goodwin at centre half, long-serving Grenville Hair at fullback and a very young Billy Bremner impressed at wing half.

Charlton won 2-0 (Edwards and Lawrie, since you ask) and there was nothing to suggest Leeds would top the division just three years later.

Since then Leeds blossomed into a domestic and European force, imploded in a financial hiatus and eventually hauled themselves back to the upper echelons of the English game.

Their recent history, much more colourful than the plodding early 1960’s, is set out in Dave Tomlinson’s new book Leeds United in the 21st Century.

It’s a cautionary tale of a club trying to go too far too fast and suffering financial consequences which almost turned burning ambition into oblivion.

In 2001 Leeds reached the Champions League semi-finals. Just six years later they plummeted into the third tier of English football for the first time after recording huge losses of £50million in 2003.

Two financial collapses were somehow negotiated by Ken Bates, the former Chelsea owner, whose controversial spell at the helm is investigated thoroughly by Tomlinson. He reveals Bates had a contract with the club to fly him back and forth from his Monaco home to Yorkshire by private jet.

Also examined are the disastrous Massimo Cellino years when the Italian corn magnate often brought Leeds into conflict with the Football League and managers came and went regularly as summer swallows.

The boom years under Peter Ridsdale and David O’Leary had been tarnished by a spell under Peter Reid yielding a series of player rows. Terry Venables didn’t fare much better. Fortunately, Andrea Radrizzani came along in 2017 and recruited manager Marcelo Bielsa who ignited the flames of revival.

From those bankrupt days when their most difficult opponent seemed to be the taxman, through the first revival and the ignominious departures of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Rio Ferdinand (plus Bates and Ridsdale) , the Bowyer-Woodgate scandal and financial manoeuvres to make a chancellor proud this is an important history of a club repaired so decisively by their latest boss that supporters coined the phrase “In Bielsa We Trust”.

Tomlinson, a fervent Leeds fan, has written two previous books on the club but his ability to decipher complex balance sheets and expose the truth behind some of the deals suggests this is his best yet.

Leeds United in the 21st Century by David Tomlinson is published by Amberley Publishing price £16.99 paperback.