Like all love affairs, it must come to an end.
At 11am on Sunday 27 February 2022, after three and a half years of mostly joy, the end did come. Marcelo Bielsa has been relieved of his duties as Leeds United manager.
Some, like Adrian Pope at BBC Radio Leeds suggest it should never have ended like this. Phil Hay has said something similar. In truth, I wonder if it was actually always inevitable?
Bielsa is all encompassing. He’s the real deal. There are no half measures. In football and in life.
To my mind, that meant the end was always going to be abrupt. A plaster being pulled or maybe a limb being torn from your body.
As soon as the doubts start to niggle and the cracks appear, there’s only one result – however undesirable.
When the news broke on Saturday evening (from Talk Sport of all places. I mean, come on), it talked of it being “by mutual consent”. That was always unlikely. Marcelo would have left if he felt he couldn’t deliver and would stay if he felt he could. There isn’t really a middle ground. Sunday’s announcement confirmed that.
Truthfully, after conceding fourteen goals in three games and the bottom of the table inching nearer thanks to the form others have found, the writing couldn’t fail to be painted on the wall.
I won’t dissect Bielsa’s performance here, suffice to say that his worth is so much greater than the goals conceded column in the table would suggest.
Losing Marcelo really is a loss. It feels like a bereavement. To fans of any of the other 91 teams in English football, that sounds ridiculous. I know that. I get it. But ask any Leeds fan and they’ll tell you it’s true.
He didn’t just achieve what so many others failed to do, and get us promoted. He transformed the club. He brought professionalism back. He reminded the players of why they play and why the supporters pay. He transformed the mindset to one in which the greater good means everyone achieves more.
Look around Leeds and you can see colour, where once the landscape was grey. From Burley Banksy and his transformed telephone cabinets, to the prominent murals of Beilsa and his transformed players, his influence is everywhere to see.
So it feels very sad to know that is no more. The people of Wetherby are sad he won’t be living there. Fans are sad they won’t chance upon him in Costa or Morrisons, where he always had time for a smile and a selfie. I’m sad for all of the above and I fear the man we quickly came to love will never visit this patch of West Yorkshire again. His work here is done.
Those days are gone now. But hopefully so much of what he brought will remain.
They say that when you lose someone, you shouldn’t mourn, but instead remember the good times, and we will do that.
From that first league game, where the fans were left as shell-shocked as Stoke when they saw something new and un-Leeds-like on display, to the blistering performances that saw promotion not just secured, but grabbed eagerly with both hands.
We’ll not forget taking on teams like Liverpool on the first day of last season, and bloodying their nose before a narrow loss. Or the win and draw against ultimate title winners Man City.
This season they both hammered us, scoring six and seven unanswered goals. Bielsa’s approach centres around playing high intensity football that creates chances. Even if we’d been better at converting those this season, we weren’t going to score seven or eight.
I am sad this day has arrived, but it’s been coming. We might have wished for a dozen more games to give Marcelo Bielsa the send off we all believe he deserved. But if that was a relegation battle we ultimately lost, it wouldn’t quite have worked, would it?
Instead we say thanks for the memories and hope the season ends as he thought it would.