On Leeds United
Last night Leeds United were beaten in the second leg of the play-off semi-finals. This ended the team’s season.
In actual fact, our season was over by Christmas, and since that point we’ve simply been delaying the inevitable.
Twitter’s 140/280 characters aren’t nearly enough to cover the emotional rollercoaster that being a Leeds fan is, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts here. I’m hoping it’ll be cathartic.
But at the very least it’ll be a reminder of what happened in years to come.
Bielsa brought belief
I really can’t understate this. In recent years, the club has been a laughing stock – for any number of reasons – not least of which was the high turnover of mostly inadequate and uninspiring coaches.
This season we recruited one of the best. He was willing to come to Leeds.
And despite the season’s ultimately sour-end, he transformed a team that finished 15th last season into one that were challenging at the top and who ultimately finished in third place – bronze medal position.
But he’s not a god
He could only do so much. People have talked about Bielsa’s teams fading before, and it happened here. I don’t think that’s a failing on his part, but rather because he managed to get the very best from a rag-tag bunch of odds and sods.
We’re not the third best squad in the league, but by playing with high energy, we overpowered teams and overperformed. At least in the first half of the season.
Sadly, once teams learned how to play against us, and the energy levels fell, the results faltered.
Invest or die
This means that if we want to challenge next year, we must invest. Our defence hasn’t been consistent enough, we haven’t scored nearly enough goals in the latter half of the season, and the goalkeeping towards the end of the season has been calamitous. When injuries have hit – and they do when you play with the energy and drive that Bielsa demands – our squad has been paper thin; embarrassingly so.
All the talk last night and this morning is of whether we’ll keep Bielsa. But we should only do so if we can support him with a squad that can compete.
Bielsa’s personal integrity means that he rarely criticises the players – preferring to shoulder the blame himself. This is an honourable trait. Despite that, he has said that the he doesn’t think he could repeat this season with the current squad.
So invest, or let Bielsa leave with his reputation intact, and we’ll remember this season as something special, something almost, but not quite good enough.
It’s hard right now to picture what next season looks like. Off the field, Leeds United are in a better position than ever before. By bringing back belief, the crowds have returned to Elland Road and they’re supporting a club that seem to care about the fans once more.
Will this continue next year? I certainly hope so. But we’re not cash rich like some other clubs, we don’t have parachute payments of some other clubs, and crucially, we’ve taken the decision not to invest at key times on too many previous occasions. So we can’t be certain of anything.
Lots of people have said things like, ‘there’s always next season’ or ‘come back stronger’, but the truth is we just don’t know.
If previous performance is anything to go by (and five play-off defeats in a row suggests it might be), our next chance of success will be in the 2013/32 season. Until then it’s the occasional giant-killing appearance in the FA Cup!
I doubt that things are that bad, but there is definitely a ‘head versus heart’ thing going on here.
A good season?
After so many seasons of mid-table mediocracy, finishing third can only be considered an improvement.
But, to be top at Christmas and not go up is a new level of failure – no one else has done it in recent memory. To blow the final few games and play offs with woeful performances is a new low.
Had the season been played in reverse, we’d be happy. But the reality is that it isn’t. We started strongly and managed to blow it.
And that hurts.
To be honest, it hurts more than a season that’s over by Christmas. Maybe because it’s so unfamiliar.
And while it was unfamiliar, the implosion had a curiously Leeds United feel about it.
Isn’t that the problem?