Given the praise Marcelo Bielsa lavished on Pep Guardiola – and received back in return before Leeds’ superb triumph over runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City – it was perhaps no surprise the veteran manager avoided answering a question about what it felt like to beat the man he describes as “magical”.
“That Leeds beat Manchester City doesn’t mean I imposed myself over their manager,” said Bielsa.
“That Guardiola is the manager of the team Leeds beat today, I don’t consider anything on my part. The value belongs to the players.”
It is typical of Bielsa, who remains an enigma within the English game, partly because he still conducts all his media conferences in Spanish, often with his head down, making it virtually impossible to analyse him.
But if evidence is required to show what he means to Leeds’ re-emergence as a Premier League force, it is easy enough to find.
Exactly three years before his two goals allowed Leeds to become only the second team from 29 opponents to both prevent City winning and beat them, Stuart Dallas completed the full 90 minutes in a 3-1 defeat at Preston.
The loss was towards the end of a terrible run of four wins in their final 22 league matches under first Thomas Christiansen and then Paul Heckingbottom as Leeds finished 13th in the Championship.
Five regulars from that sorry period in Leeds’ history also started against Manchester City. In addition to Dallas, Ezgjan Alioski, who created the winner, current England international Kalvin Phillips, plus defensive pair Luke Ayling and Liam Cooper, traverse the gap between then and now, with Leeds sitting in the top half of the Premier League after a season beyond their expectations.
Bielsa has led the transformation.
Little wonder some fans want his contract extension signed to stop them having to think about what they would do without the 65-year-old, whose deal expires at the end of the season.
Bielsa’s contract concern
Talk to people at Elland Road and they exude an air of calm about Bielsa’s future.
He prefers to deal with contracts after seasons have been completed, they say. This is true. Indeed, his most recent one was announced on 11 September, 24 hours before the current campaign began.
Yet, for all the understanding over how the Argentine’s mind works, the uncertainty does have an effect. Owner Andrea Radrizzani showed that in an interview he gave to CBS Sports in February.
“It’s up to him,” said Radrizzani. “We wait on his decision but in any case, we have already analysed the options and what to do in case Marcelo doesn’t want to be with us.”
The problem for Leeds is that, as with Guardiola at City, getting another coach is not the issue. The issue is getting one who can squeeze performances like the one at Etihad Stadium out of players, some of whom, three years ago, were in the bottom half of the Championship.
“It is a little bit strange to say it would have been fair for City to win but that we deserved to win,” said Bielsa.
“They dominated the game. The majority of the chances at goal were also in their favour. But the result was deserved because of the character, personality, effort and fortitude from a mental and physical point of view.”
Bielsa has his detractors. On Leeds’ last visit to Manchester, when they lost 6-2 at Old Trafford, his critics were furious at how a coach could be praised for such a heavy defeat after employing tactics that left his players exposed.
The grit, determination and organisation required to repel the Premier League’s most potent attacking force with a team reduced to 10 men for the second half by Cooper’s needless red card was more in keeping with English traditions.
Although Leeds have secured some notable results this season, their latest victory is surely their best in the Premier League since the 3-2 win at Arsenal in May 2003 that ensured they would remain in the top flight for another season.
Not that Bielsa would agree.
“It is part of Leeds’ campaign in the Premier League,” said Bielsa.
“Of course for the players to be able to overcome the difficulties of the game today, it adds value to each of the participants in the game, but the position that Leeds obtain in the Premier League this year will be above any one performance.”