WATCH - Opposing fans have no effect on me, says Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa
WHEN Millwall decamped a few hundred yards across south London a quarter of a century ago there was talk of the club taking with them the only road '“ set amid a labyrinth of railway arches and narrow streets sitting just off the Old Kent Road '“ actually to touch the old ground.
Such thinking was understandable. If the Lions’ gleaming new 20,000 all-seater home was to retain the aura of its predecessor what better way than for visiting fans and teams still to make their approach along the grim-sounding Cold Blow Lane.
In the end Millwall made do with naming the home ‘end’ after their old address. But in the 25 years since The New Den came into being there can be little doubt that it has established itself as a worthy successor in the intimidation stakes.
Leeds United’s record there certainly backs up that theory, the Yorkshire club’s nine visits in the past decade having resulted in eight home wins.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa is well aware of that record and also of how United, under Thomas Christiansen, made the trip to south Bermondsey exactly a year ago sitting on top of the Championship, but returned north battered and bruised, and were never the same side again.
But the Argentinian, a veteran of some truly powder-keg atmospheres from his time coaching back home, is far from a worried man.
“I have been doing this job for the last 30 years and I have never been affected by the fans,” he said. “Maybe because I have a big tolerance for that.
“I have been insulted in my career, and spat on and had bottles thrown at me, but nothing serious ever happened to me. Violence is not an argument of value in football.
“There are clear limits to hostility and it is a civilised competition. I know it can’t go over some limits and everything that happens under these limits we should be ready for.
“I can’t think of any fans that could have more influence than ours, and we don’t win all the games just thanks to the fans.”
The Den – the ‘new’ was dropped in a similar fashion to how ‘new’ penny disappeared in the years after decimalisation – is sold out for the visit of Leeds.
Manager Neil Harris, whose side have already lost twice to Yorkshire opposition this term in the form of Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United, has spoken about how Bielsa’s side can expect a “Millwall atmosphere”.
During the build-up Steve Morison, the Millwall striker who spent a couple of years at Elland Road, has also had his say on facing a Leeds side that has become renowned for their fitness levels.
“I’ll turn up,” said the Londoner, “pull out my Zlatan Ibrahimovic kit, whack that on and take care of it.”
Liam Cooper yesterday refused to take the bait from his former team-mate. The Leeds captain said: “All that tripe about Ibrahimovic – if it makes him feel better then so be it. We know what we have got to do and we know the standards we have set.
“We know what we have got to do. We know our jobs and the standards we have set ourselves and if we reach those standards we will leave ourselves in good stead to get a positive result.”
United will head to the capital buoyed by their start, but depleted in terms of numbers.
Kemar Roofe is missing due to receiving a kick in training meaning Tyler Roberts will make his first league start up front.
Patrick Bamford is out for four months with a posterior cruciate ligament injury.
Also missing are Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi, leaving Bielsa’s already small squad stretched to the limit.
“I do not ignore the reality, but I am always full of hope before a game,” said the 63-year-old. “Before any game a lot of hope invades me. I have expectations for what I can get.
“I can’t deny the fact that it is difficult. We always talked about the fact that we had 18 starters and four players were in this group as youngsters. So now we will see how good the work was that we did when we built the group.
“I have the intention of giving an answer that isn’t an excuse, but I can’t betray common sense.
“If I say we can solve the absence of Pablo, Bamford and Roofe it would be ignoring what they represent for the team. But I have the conviction that we have been working with more than 11 players.
“We have to find solutions to the problems we are facing. When we talk about football we talk about comparisons and our opponents also have realities different to ours, and problems to face.
“We designed a group that has to be able to solve these kind of problems. This is a good time to show how we worked regarding this.”