IAN LADYMAN: Leeds United’s future is bright with or WITHOUT Marcelo Bielsa… a hungry fanbase, strong American backing and history of success allows Whites to be ambitious

IAN LADYMAN: Leeds United’s future is bright with or WITHOUT Marcelo Bielsa… a hungry fanbase, strong American backing and history of success allows Whites to be ambitious

Pep Guardiola made seven changes to his team on Saturday and that made sense given a tough Champions League return leg at Borussia Dortmund this week.

That is not why Manchester City lost at home to Leeds anyway. Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa can beat good sides.

They continue to be one of the more fascinating stories of the Premier League season. Just as interesting may be what happens to the club next.

Leeds are all about Bielsa at the moment but they are also a club looking ambitiously to what lies ahead.

Largely under the radar earlier this year flew news that the American NFL franchise the San Francisco 49ers paid £50million to increase their stake in Leeds to 37 per cent. At the same time one of the 49ers’ key figures, Paraag Marathe, was appointed to the board at Elland Road as vice-chairman.

During two decades at the 49ers, Marathe has been responsible for both player acquisition and the move seven years ago to the quite fabulous Levi’s Stadium, which has already hosted a Super Bowl.

Leeds will continue to be run by majority stakeholder Andrea Radrizzani, who has already achieved a lot at the club. Because of the Italian, Leeds are once again the owners of their own ground.

But it would be a surprise if someone with Marathe’s back story has arrived merely to shuffle papers.

‘Leeds today reminds me of the 49ers 15 years ago,’ Marathe told ESPN in a recent interview.

‘Both teams have a great fan base and history. The 49ers had such great success in the ’80s and ’90s, like Leeds in the ’70s, and both were struggling a little bit on and off the pitch.

‘The 49ers were playing at the oldest unrenovated stadium in the NFL. So we built a new stadium, which completely transformed our franchise, and it’s the same thing that we want to do here at Leeds.

‘We have the right people, the expertise and the blueprint.’

Strip away some of the jargon from that and you have the bones of it. The Americans have spotted the clear potential that lies within Leeds. Elland Road may be tatty but it is iconic and sits on land crying out for development. The fan base remains large and hungry.

The platform of Premier League football is secure after a first year back in the top division for 16 years. If any modern English football club appears ripe for development into a new era, then it is this one.

Bielsa has been a magnificent force for good at Leeds. Nobody will forget what he has done, neither the progress made nor the football played.

Equally, Leeds cannot afford to allow themselves to be characterised only by him.

The great Argentine is only contracted until the end of this season and, although he is fancied to sign a new deal, he is 65 and will not be around for ever.

Leeds must establish themselves as a club capable of thriving with or without their coach. With this in mind, Leeds supporters must be hoping that Marathe stays true to his word.

It took something of a leap of faith to invest in football during a global pandemic, at a time of zero ticket income and such uncertainty.

But you only have to drive into Leeds from the south-west to see for yourself what that investment is all about.

Elland Road stands like a gateway to the city. Equally, it screams out for a bit of love.

It will be interesting to see if the American money and expertise can do what history suggests it can.


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