Marcelo Bielsa wouldn’t waver. A defining day is approaching for Leeds United but their methodical manager refused to get caught up in the emotion.
‘We just go for the win,’ Bielsa said plainly, when asked yesterday about the potential attached to their Elland Road showdown with Barnsley. ‘We are not thinking about the consequences if we win. I cannot say what will happen if we win.’
The Argentine deals in matter-of-fact and is thinking simply about is another three points but there is nothing prosaic about this fixture. To understand what is riding on this for Leeds, you simply had to spend time on Bremner Square in the shadows of their towering stadium.
Leeds United can move within inches of promotion to the Premier League by beating Barnsley
Fans are daring to dream of a historic moment but manager Marcelo Bielsa is staying calm
A victory would come in emotional circumstances after the passing of legend Jack Charlton
This has been an emotionally-charged week. Jack Charlton’s passing has led to a shrine being created with old replica shirts, scarves, cards – even flat caps and fishing paraphernalia – left in honour of a man who gave his heart and soul to the club over 21 years and 762 appearances.
They have been coming in their droves to reflect on those old days. But they have also been turning up as they know they are on the cusp of what they have been dreaming about since May 2004: Leeds are coming back to the big time.
Bielsa’s rather circumspect outlook is at odds with supporters, who are daring to dream. They may have been bitten by bad luck and fallen short in defining moments before but the tone of conversation around Elland Road has changed. There is no longer room for pessimism.
Leeds have been out of the top-flight since 2004 but have been ruthless since the restart
‘Promotion will be really something for the club, particularly with Jack in our minds and our hearts,’ says Professor Mahendra Patel, a long-time season ticket holder who had taken time off work to pay his respects to Charlton. ‘Let’s say it now: we are going up.
‘I saw the emotion of Liverpool fans when they won the title but I think, for this city, Leeds going up will be just as big – maybe even bigger for some. The last four months, with people in lockdown and going through such difficult times, have been so tough.
‘All the emotion is ready to come out. There will be euphoria, there will be noise. I don’t think it will comparable to anything before. You wonder sometimes whether things happen for a reason and how fitting would it be if we were to go up in the week that everyone was remembering Jack.’
Three points against Barnsley will mean Brentford can only overtake them on goal difference
Charlton, though, will not be the only legend in their thoughts; 2020 has seen Leeds lose Norman Hunter (after contracting coronavirus) and Trevor Cherry, names who will forever be synonymous with a golden era when the club was at the summit of English football.
‘People like that, to me, were the best of the best,’ Dominic Matteo, who was part of Leeds’ last top-flight team, tells Sportsmail. ‘Those guys are legends. Brilliant people. They renamed the South Stand after Big Norm and that was a class touch.’
Bielsa, skilfully, is taking them back to where they belong and they have been relentless since the campaign restarted last month, taking 13 points from the last 15 culminating in Sunday’s last-gasp victory at Swansea. Pablo Hernandez’s goal was the club’s biggest in 16 years.
Leeds are ready to celebrate once more after years of turmoil and an emotional season
‘My blood pressure was through the roof when I was listening at the weekend,’ says Norman Hawkins, a fan of more than 50 years. ‘That was three points for Jack but it was also one foot back in the door of the Premier League. This manager we have got is absolutely unbelievable.’
Few would disagree. Since their relegation in 2004, they have through the mill. There has been administration, three years in League One; play-off final losses, home defeats that brought led to ignominy and frustration. There have been a staggering 18 changes of manager.
Beat Barnsley, however, and it will all be forgotten. A city and a football club is ready to celebrate again – no matter how cautious Bielsa may be.
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