Footballing myths are often so entrenched into the consciousness of the average fan that it becomes difficult to separate fact from fable. Most supporters will tell you that you’re at your most vulnerable when you’ve just scored a goal, yet there is substantial and resoundingly conclusive statistical evidence to disprove that (check out The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson).
Marcelo Bielsa’s career has evoked a theory which is much more difficult and complex to analyse through numerical data in comparison with post-goal vulnerability.
That theory is, of course, commonly-known as Bielsa burnout. Much has been made of Leeds United’s tangible improvement in intensity levels both on and off the ball this season, so surely a point will arrive when the players crumble, with fatigue finally getting the better of them.
That’s how the theory goes, at least. But Leeds’ thrilling 3-2 victory over Millwall on Saturday provided yet another telling example to help debunk a myth which has followed Bielsa throughout the entirety of his career.
Those who subscribe to the theory of Bielsa burnout, one which dates back all the way to his first season with Newell’s Old Boys in the 1990/91 campaign, will be struggling to apply their ideas to events unfolding at Elland Road.
A series of dramatic late goals have carried Leeds over the finish line on a multitude of occasions this season. First they struck late to salvage a point away at The Den in September to preserve their unbeaten start to the season, then a late equaliser at home to Brentford salvaged another point, and two months later an 82nd minute strike gave them a priceless win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
But the true heroics were yet to come, as Leeds staged consecutive late shows during the notoriously season-defining Christmas period to clinch a pair of 3-2 victories over Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers.
The point is this: contrary to the essence of the Bielsa burnout theory, his side appear to possess an unrivalled ability to summon a second-wind, not only in terms of 90 minute chunks of football, but also in terms of a 46-fixture season.
Whether that is an emotional or physical second-wind is verging on irrelevant; that Leeds regularly find a way to win in the dying embers prove the player’s legs are going above and beyond what most of their Championship rivals are capable of.
The latest late show against Millwall attested to the fact that Bielsa burnout is indeed a myth after all, or at least it is now.
Naturally, it is particularly pertinent to acknowledge that seven fixtures still remain and that conclusion will go up in flames if exhaustion suddenly manifests itself, but there is a glaring lack of evidence to suggest that a physical and mental collapse is looming on the horizon.
The drama and euphoria of late goals have defined Leeds’ season so far: without them, they would have been cut adrift of the top-two and would be vying for a promotion place at best. They have also served to encapsulate the buzz in Yorkshire which has captivated an entire city and seemingly attracted neutral fans to admire a side who are renowned for their unpopularity.
Ander Herrera, now plying his trade at Manchester United, once claimed that Bielsa had left Athletic Bilbao in all kinds of physical trouble towards the end of the season, per I: “We were a completely different team than we had been before because, to be honest, we were physically f****d.”
Leeds players may well share similar sentiments when the season draws to a close, particularly the regulars who have managed to steer clear of the injury crisis which has plagued the club, but until then they will continue to fight until the last whistle, searching for those precious points which can end their top-flight exile.
Promotion or not, Bielsa has already busted a long-standing myth.
The Argentine’s ability to shift the narrative could yet define both his and Leeds United’s season.