Things can turn very quickly of course, but at the moment all is well in Leeds United’s world.
Tomorrow there will be some Premier League clubs opening their gates for the first time since February or March 2020 with a degree of trepidation, worried about the discontent blurted out at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium or St James’s Park in midweek. For Leeds, a game against West Bromwich Albion should only be a celebration.
A top-half finish is secure.
That West Brom, close rivals throughout last season, are heading straight back into the Championship, shows what an achievement that actually is after 16 years in exile, even more so when you consider one of the biggest weapons in their armoury, the Elland Road fans, have been locked up at home for 14 months.
When it comes to partying, those Leeds fans have lots of catching up to do. They have not yet had chance to salute their purgatory-ending title win of last summer from within their spiritual Elland Road home, never mind the highlights that have flowed regularly since.
Even the sadness should be joyous. It will be Pablo Hernandez’s last game as a Leeds player and whilst it is sad the club could not have eked more than two Premier League starts out of the Spanish playmaker’s 36-year-old body this season, tomorrow will be about celebrating the games he did play – 174 of them – the goals – 36 – the player of the season awards – five in three astonishing seasons – and the ridiculous flicks and passes that can neither be quantified nor forgotten.
For cult hero defender Gaetano Berardi, this season has been added time, a season by rights he should not have had having suffered a serious knee injury in the final days of his previous contract. For Leeds to have given him another – let us be brutally honest, an act of charity in a usually cut-throat business – says a lot about the very good place they are in right now.
Time may not be able to stand still – coach Marcelo Bielsa was apologetic yesterday for not giving Hernandez more minutes this season – but even in this era of ultra-professionalism, there are times when sentimentality is still important.
When referencing what has gone so very right for Leeds this season Bielsa, not known for his soppiness, is quick to reference the “human factor”.
That human sense, that feeling that this is a club worth emotionally investing in, one to be proud of even as it cuts adrift heroes like Hernandez and Berardi to try to compete, is valuable.
Diego Llorente will be absent with a minor muscle injury tomorrow but as Leeds have stepped up a level the torch has been passed from Berardi and Hernandez to him and fellow upgrade Rodrigo.
“The team’s achievements has the happiness of the fans as an objective,” says Bielsa with his characteristic mix of technocrat and romantic. “It applied to other teams too but at Leeds especially, the public helps the achievement. The Leeds supporters add something to help the team.”
And that is the point, this is not even Leeds behaving as they are simply because it is the right thing to do, it gives them strength beyond the sum of their parts.
The bonds, though, are about more than just fans to players, team-mates to team-mates. Berardi’s contract was an example of the unity and loyalty that exists – to a point – but most of the best ones go unseen by us. Not by Bielsa.
Billy Bremner’s famous phrase “Side before self” was quoted more than once in the epic press release to announce Hernandez and Berardi’s departures and if it has almost been fetishised at Elland Road, it goes way beyond lip service.
“It’s very difficult to be as united on the pitch as they’ve shown to be without being in a similar way outside of the field,” the Argentinian, a distant figure from his squad, points out, reeling off “the togetherness within the squad, the human factor, the values, the living together, the generosity, people looking after their own interests but also that of their own team-mates, and the respect the gratitude for the support they received throughout the club.
“The players are the most important thing that happens within the club. The rest of us are employed to tend their needs. Everyone is at the service of each other, and each one has to be at the service of the rest.
“There have been numerous demonstrations of gratitude from the players to everyone who has worked with them. I’m not referring to the technical staff, they’ve also been very considerate with us, but to those who accompany them who shine less.
“They work so that the team can show its potential.
“Within the club there are a lot of anonymous people that deserve to be recognised given all they add to the team.
“The people that make the food are a great bunch. What the players eat is linked to how they perform. Who hasn’t asked their mother to make their favourite food? All of us can remember how we felt when our mums fed us.
“There is something like this within the club from those who are the most anonymous, those who look after the cleanliness, the ones who look after the pitches. There are a lot of people around the club who have a big emotional connection. The players remember them, they appreciate them and have them present in their mind. They care for them.”
It is even more powerful than it is precarious. Leeds would be well advised to nurse it for as long as they can.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.