Wow, what a season this has been for Leeds United. When Italian entrepreneur Andrea Radrizzani bought 50% stake in Leeds United in 2017, the club was not in a good place. Five months later, Andrea acquired 100% ownership, with the ambition of ‘bringing Leeds home’.
A typical entrepreneur, Andrea openly admits that he was attracted to risk, and would tend to invest in businesses which satisfied his appetite for adrenaline. I can see why he was attracted by Leeds United. This adrenaline junkie was not disappointed.
Before a fall from grace in the 1960s-70s, Leeds United were England’s top team, with a reputation which earned respect across the whole of Europe. In 2001, Leeds United reached the semi-finals of the European Champions League. Sadly, failure to qualify for the same competition the following year led to a financial downfall. Top players were sold, reputation faded, and Leeds were relegated in 2004.
While many managers came and went, Leeds fans stayed loyal. The passion and loyalty of Leeds fans astounds me. Like the Mafia, Leeds is a family. I joke that I know my husband is loyal, because he is a Leeds fan. He will quite happily drive a 3 hour journey to Elland Road, knowing that it will be a frustrating experience.
Dedicated to seeing Leeds United rise to the Premier League, Andrea’s first task was to recruit a top management team. Each member of the management team had something unique to bring in.
Finishing the 2018 season at 13th in the Championship League, enter Bielsa.
Marcelo Bielsa; the Argentinian who is said to make the whole team want to lead. This empowering leadership style makes him a firm favourite of players, managers and football fans across the globe. He is surrounded by people who have the upmost respect for him, many describing an inspiring aura which surrounds him. As a person, he fascinates me. He goes against the football management stereotype; refusing to wear a tie, living in a small flat above a shop and not exactly flashing his money around. This man strikes me as humble, a man who has made it to where he is today based on honest graft, hard study and by being passionate about football. Argentinians describe him as their teacher, a descriptor, which suggests a nurturing role as he takes players and helps them to reach their potential.
Like Andrea, Bielsa is said to like focusing on goals that aren’t easy to achieve. Sharing a passion for the risk and adrenaline that comes with taking on challneges, it is easy to see what motivated Bielsa to take on the role.
As a result, Leeds United saw the change they were ready for. A change in culture and a fresh management style saw the team empowered. Where new managers tend to look at forming a new team to make their mark, Bielsa saw potential in the existing team. Yes, players such as Patrick Bamford and Barry Douglas were welcomed into the squad, but on the whole Bielsa saw potential in the existing players. Really showing the impact of his management style, Bielsa took the existing ingredients and created something quite spectacular.
At the start of his tenure, he studied the team hard; re-watching footage of every match played during Leeds United’s previous season. Paying attention to the importance of the training environment, Bielsa meticulously altered the training facility to replicate the stadium environment.
Marcelo Bielsa has raised the game of Leeds United; from the players, to the fans and everyone in between. He has not just changed the game, he has changed the culture of the club; a change in culture which everybody bought into. They were ready. They committed. It paid off. Their belief in Bielsa and their trust in him, although challenged at times, has been rewarded by seeing them be promoted to the Premier League this weekend, after winning the Championship with two games to spare and without kicking a ball.
Bielsa was committed to his task, had well earnt respect from players and the fan base, and a new found passion for all things Leeds. Bielsa fell in love with Leeds; the city, the club and, the people. He became Leeds.
From a business perspective, the story of Leeds United is a stark reminder of the mechanisms at play behind the scenes. For further insight, I recommend you watch ‘Take Us Home: Leeds United’ on Amazon Prime.
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