After a 15-week break from competitive action due to Covid-19, Leeds make their Championship return at Cardiff City on Sunday lunchtime.
It is the first of nine definitive games in the modern-day history of the Elland Road club, who have been out of the top-flight since 2004.
While conscious that Leeds’s return to the big time would be automatically confirmed if final tables were determined via a points per game formula following any curtailment of the 2019-20 season, Bielsa’s strong preference is to achieve promotion on the field of play.
The Argentine head coach is the first to admit that going up via what amounts to a mathematical equation would leave him with a hollow feeling.
Achieving promotion in conventional, time-honoured fashion after the fulfilment of a season’s fixtures in full is much more to his liking, although it arrives with a caveat with the absence of supporters on a match-day being something that he laments.
Despite there being no fans –_viewed as the game’s lifeblood by Bielsa – he is wise to the notion of supporters still deriving considerable enjoyment in difficult times by being able to potentially watch the club go up on their TV or computer screen.
Bielsa said: “For me, to think if we got something without playing it would be very disappointing.
“Football is the favourite pastime for people in general. This situation with the virus forces people to be at home a lot of the time. Finding a reason to give fans enjoyment is always positive.
“Not being able to share this last period of nine matches with the fans is something I would never wish for.
“We know public health is above everything else and football is secondary if we compare it with public health, but we have to say that the communication between the players and the supporters makes football a different sport. Without this relationship football is different.”
Leeds must make do without talismanic playmaker Pablo Hernandez and loan forward Jean-Kevin Augustin for their return to action in the Principality on Sunday, while midfielder Adam Forshaw (hip) remains sidelined.
Hernandez is expected to return to training next Wednesday and could be available for the crunch clash with promotion rivals Fulham at Elland Road on Saturday week.
Third-placed Fulham, seven points adrift of Leeds, welcome the side immediately below them in Brentford in a key London derby tomorrow lunchtime.
Bielsa’s side hold a one-point lead over West Brom, who host West Midlands rivals Birmingham City tomorrow.
The 64-year-old remains confident that his players are ready, from a fitness perspective, for football’s resumption, but he admits that it will be mentally challenging for them in what constitutes a ‘new normal’ for the game.
It will see matches played in front of empty stadiums in what will be a soulless and surreal environment for the rest of the season, and most likely beyond.
Bielsa observed: “I think that the most important thing is the mental adaptation of the players to the new situation.
“In football, the most important people are the fans and people who watch the match on TV is a different kind of supporter, even if they are the same.
“The presence of the supporters is something very important, but this is for football in general and every team.
“Everyone in the Championship has to adapt to this lack of supporters and what they mean in football.”
On the physical front, Bielsa remains effusive in praise of his players ‘very serious and admirable’ work in following fitness programmes remotely during lockdown, before reconvening at the club’s Thorp Arch training base.
Bielsa has also revealed his appreciation for the efforts of his backroom staff and club personnel in helping to ensure that the transition back to the work-place for his players has been a relatively seamless one.
He said: “During the period where players had to work at home, we found that our players did very serious and admirable work. After, we had individual training in small groups and then after the full group training together.
“In all this time, we had some details to resolve, but all the problems we had were easy to resolve for us.”
Hailing the input from behind the scenes, Bielsa – whose second anniversary of his time in charge arrived at the start of this week – continued: “The club, the institution and everyone in Leeds who makes it easy for the work of the players offer us very important support.
“All the people around the players that the club employs have supported us in a lot of different ways. We want to say thanks to them for this support.”
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