ALTRUISTIC in terms of spirit and deeds and a humble man whose time with Leeds United has clearly touched his soul, head coach Marcelo Bielsa will have felt the pain of his footballing disciples intensely on Wednesday night.
Elland Road’s version of a high priest has inspired hope and reverence during his time at the club and seeing the torment of Whites supporters will have been compounded by the sight of his crestfallen players laying desolate on the turf after their Premier League dream was shattered by Derby County.
His empathy with a squad who in his words had given everything to the cause in 2018-19 and bought into his credos, to a man, after his arrival at Thorp Arch was clear in its aftermath.
Going forward it will perhaps be a driver in his decision-making as to his next step, with healing that hurt likely to represent a prime motivation for the 63-year-old, who places great value in human relationships and shields his players like a protective father.
He said: “You must accept the pain. I feel very sad first of all for the players. I don’t think there is anyone who feels more pain.
“It is never good to compare pain, but for me it is hard to believe that someone is suffering more than my players.
“I also feel sad for the pain of the fans because I know it is big. This is the responsibility I have to assume.
“It is very difficult for a head coach to take on the disappointment of all these people, especially when I make two conclusions, firstly about the difficulties this team overcame and also the results.
“It might make us think that this team reached a point which was higher than we thought they could, but that is not true. The team deserved to finish first or second and we had the conditions and the skills to win the play-offs.”
The tone of Bielsa’s comments late on Wednesday hinted at unfinished business. Focus now turns to the future with United fans desperate for him to be at the helm next season.
Their remarkable outpouring of support and fanaticism in a sell-out Elland Road – where the fervent atmosphere will have surely drawn parallels to Bielsa’s time in his native Argentina in the similarly football-obsessed cities of Rosario and Buenos Aires – will have been duly noted.
As should the presence of a group of largely young players ripe for further enhancement in terms of footballing intelligence under a Svengali in Bielsa – and fully receptive to his ideas.
Amid the desolation of Wednesday the thought of just what the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Jamie Shackleton, Jack Clarke can evolve into with another year under the assiduous watch of Bielsa is a tantalising one.
This surely will not be lost upon Bielsa as he mulls over his future, with the United hierarchy desperate for him to remain at the club and build on a season that has earned Leeds many admirers far and wide.
Promotion would have seen Bielsa’s contract automatically extend into a second season, but the terms negotiated last summer gave him and chairman Andrea Radrizzani the right to renew his deal at the end of each season for up to three years.
It did come with a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that would allow Bielsa to leave if he wished and was no longer happy.
There will be disappointment at Wednesday’s finale, yes. But in the bigger picture Bielsa should have no reason to be unhappy at a year of accomplishment and reawakening at Leeds, with potential still for so much more.