Marcelo Bielsa thanks fans for the love as Leeds revel in promotion party
Leeds United have been promoted to the Premier League after 16 years away.
Their place in the top flight for next season was confirmed by West Brom's 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield Town on Friday.
Leeds will now be crowned champions if Brentford do not beat Stoke on Saturday or the Whites then take a point from Sunday's visit to Derby County.
Argentine Marcelo Bielsa has led the Yorkshire side to promotion in his second season in charge after finishing third in the Championship in 2018-19.
Even allowing for the enforced break because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a campaign where Leeds have never really looked like repeating mistakes of previous seasons and they have not been outside the top two since November.
They had seemed set to win promotion last season only for back-to-back defeats by Wigan and Brentford to leave them third behind Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United, before a dramatic 4-3 play-off semi-final defeat by Derby.
After that setback, fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst about the future of Bielsa and the talented group of players he had assembled.
But he opted to remain with the club and together they have reaped the rewards.
Social distancing was suspended outside Elland Road on Friday night as Leeds fans celebrated the club’s long‑awaited return to the Premier League.
The moment the final whistle blew at Huddersfield, where West Brom’s 2-1 defeat meant Marcelo Bielsa’s team were guaranteed a top-two place in the Championship, supporters began congregating outside the famous ground exiled from the Premier League for the past 16 years.
As fireworks illuminated the sky, beer was drunk by the Billy Bremner statue and banners emblazoned with “In Bielsa we Trust” were brandished. Car horns blared and chants of “Bielsa is God” were interspersed with: “Are you watching Manchester?”
The manager was spotted outside his home in Wetherby saying: “Thank you, thank you,” to fans declaring: “We love you,” before exchanging elbow bumps and posing for selfies.
Bielsa’s players celebrated inside the stadium, from where Pablo Hernández and Patrick Bamford waved enthusiastically from an upstairs window and the injured Kalvin Phillips briefly stepped outside to greet fans through a gate near the main reception.
Phillips said: “We’re ecstatic. Promotion means everything. There’s no manager I’d rather be under than Marcelo Bielsa. He’s the best in the world.”
The goalkeeper Kiko Casilla encapsulated the team’s collective excitement with an emotional tweet: “We are BACK !!!! We are In premierleague !!!! Yessssssssssss!!! We are Leeds !!!! LUFC. Many days dreaming of this Day!!! We deserve it! Proud of this TEAM, proud of our supporters! I can not describe this moment! Yesssssss!! Thanks for your support, Imposible without you!”
Howard Wilkinson, the manager who steered Leeds to their last top-tier title in 1992, was quick to predict his former club could “grace” the Premier League. “Marcelo Bielsa’s dared to be different,” he said.
In Bielsa’s native Argentina, broadcasters had taken the unprecedented step of screening Huddersfield v West Brom. Normally the only Championship matches shown live involve the Leeds side coached by the brilliant and idiosyncratic 64-year-old, whose previous roles include the Argentina and Chile national teams.
In Poland, the front of the family home belonging to the Leeds midfielder Mateusz Klich was covered by a banner declaring: “Premier Klich.”
As the party spread to Leeds city centre, Twitter seemed in danger of crashing under the volume of congratulatory messages from former Leeds players including James Milner, Rio Ferdinand, Nigel Martyn and Vinnie Jones.
The goalkeeper Paul Robinson, relegated in 2004 amid the club’s financial meltdown, told Sky Sports: “It’s been long-awaited and long overdue. When I played that last game in 2004 you never envisaged Leeds would be out of the top flight for so long but Bielsa has been fantastic. He’s an oddball, a scientist, a professor.”