AN INTENSELY professional man with a predilection for perfection in his work, it is the human qualities which also mark out Marcelo Bielsa to be a special figure who will be revered long after he leaves Leeds United.
It is manifested in many ways. In handing out sweets to children before home games, and posing for countless selfies whether it be around Elland Road or Wetherby, the town where he resides.
A man who is a long way from home, but generous in human spirit in giving himself to his new people. Above all, it is a man who cares. Someone with a footballing soul, but also a human one.
And then, of course, there is also the beguiling football that he has endeavoured to create with care, dedication and precision.
That beauty, temporarily at least, was absent on the last occasion that Wigan came to Leeds. A Good Friday in name and in religious context only.
Those who congregated at Elland Road – aside from an enclave of ecstatic visiting supporters – suffered a brutal Spring afternoon. It was an unfathomable result and one which Leeds never truly recovered from in that crazy 2018-19 campaign.
Work (and) trying to find solutions, this is not a problem as the group is united.Marcelo Bielsa
Upon arriving in Yorkshire in the summer of 2018, Bielsa soon familiarised himself with various Yorkshire traditions; showing a liking for fish and chips and also paying a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show to learn about the county.
A perceptive individual, Bielsa will have learned about just what Leeds United means to many people with White Rose affiliations on that shattering afternoon of April 19, 2019 – with the blow of that defeat being a wounding one.
Now Wigan arrive at Elland Road with a month of winter still to go and time still firmly on United’s side.
For many, a Leeds win would represent a cathartic moment. Bielsa is too professional in his work and respectful of an opponent to think that, but he will still recall the pain of supporters on that grievous occasion. It is hard to forget.
On dealing with difficult moments and spells – with Leeds’s midweek result against Millwall thankfully arresting one such moment of mini-crisis – Bielsa said: “I have experienced a lot of bad moments, it does not avoid it.
“But that does not avoid the sadness of the people who evaluate our work and for who is our work – that is the supporters.
“When you have bad results in one period, you can look at it in three different ways.
“Work (and) trying to find solutions, this is not a problem as the group is united. This is not a problem because it is a group with great human beings. When you have good people in one group, bad moments are easier to overcome.
“There is something we do not have solutions for, that is when we make supporters sad for our results.”
All the same, righting wrongs represents a significant and ongoing emotional ‘driver’ for a Leeds squad in their quest to channel the hurt of last season into a joyous May conclusion this time around.
Leeds have a king-sized cause in 2019-20 and this was shown in events on Tuesday night when they hauled themselves off the floor after trailing 2-0 to Millwall to emerge as winners in another intoxicating Elland Road occasion – and claim just their second Championship win in eight outings.
A further significant event on the night saw promotion rivals West Brom lose, with the upshot being that United head into tonight’s Roses occasion with a two-point lead at the summit.
Bielsa is too shrewd to look at league tables at the start of February, but his sense of satisfaction at a group of individuals who plainly care and who have done it tough in recent times with their mentality questioned, was clear.
He continued: “I live with professionals. I have learnt to respect, admire and love them.
“So when one group of footballers is doing well, the work is not what makes me proud, because that looks like I am proud of what I have done.
“But how I feel is happy because this group deserves to do well for two reasons: this group works really hard to get positive results because they are human beings with big integrity; they are good people.”
As Bielsa correctly opined, only true satisfaction will arrive after 46 games.
“We all know the most important(thing) is how we finish the competition. Every point we get is one step forward regarding our objective,” he said.
“So we cannot anticipate every sensation and feeling regarding the step the team is giving. It is not time to be satisfied.
“There is one reason to be happy and that is achieving our objective.
“After the achievement we have in the same period, we can comment.”
Wigan head to Leeds in a similar position to last Easter, when the hosts – like today – occupied a top-two position.
One place and two points above the drop zone prior to their last trip to Elland Road, Paul Cook’s side now find themselves with a four-point gap to make up on the side just outside of the relegation placings in Charlton.
It might suggest that their position is more parlous, but Bielsa is vigilant.
As for comparing last season’s class to this year, Bielsa believes it is a futile exercise.
It is also wise, more especially given Wigan’s midweek rally against another Yorkshire side with promotion aspirations in Sheffield Wednesday.
Bielsa said: “I cannot compare if I want to forget it. What I wished was that we won. So to make a clear difference with the last match.
“It is a team which does not have a good position in the table, but they are in a positive moment of the competition.
“They have a regular base in their team. A lot of players of theirs continue from last season. They won important matches.
“We have all the arguments to know we will not face a simple, easy match.”