At a time when ‘win at all costs’ is becoming the motto that football’s players and managers are encouraged to live by, we should be thankful that we have such a fine advertisement for sportsmanship as Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United.
Fifa honoured Leeds at the Best Fifa Awards 2019 in Milan with their Fair Play Award for Bielsa’s decision to order his team to allow Aston Villa to equalise in April at a crucial juncture of the season.
Granted, Leeds man Mateusz Klich had scored while Villa’s Jonathan Kodija was down and the entire Villa team had been appealing for the ball to be played out and had basically stopped playing.
And sure, Leeds had built a 20-pass move, having to pick their way around Kodija’s sprawled and groaning body, before taking advantage of 30 yards of clear space vacated by Villa players, ignoring at least 100 chances to play the ball out.
🤔Who would you pick for your FIFA Fair Play Award 2019?
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) September 24, 2019
Nonetheless, it was a truly saintly act from the Argentine coach who many had presumed would instead order his team to pretend to allow Albert Adomah to score only to lull the Villa back line into a false sense of security and run it back the other way for a killer second – a Bielsa training ground special.
After all, what says Fair Play Award more than a full-on brawl between two sets of players resulting in a red card for Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi, which was later rescinded, presumably by Bielsa?
We also need some heroic music to set the scene as Bielsa, swatting his hands around as if he’s spotted a fly, is told flatly to ‘f*** off” by John Terry on the sideline after Adomah nets. It was a truly heartwarming moment.
Even after the goal, Leeds carried on showing some amazing Fair Play by squandering a series of shooting chances in the Villa box to make sure nothing spoiled the mood of fellowship.
— Andrea Radrizzani (@andrearadri) September 23, 2019
However, there should probably have been an asterisk to point out that Pontus Jansson was absolutely not included in the award as he made a valiant attempt to ruin the touching moment in the style of a lone player on FIFA that refuses to take your orders.
In fact, Jansson should by rights get some kind of Unfair Play Award for his hilarious efforts to prevent Adomah’s goal and his gesticulations at his fellow defenders as if they had all just forgotten how to play football.
Bielsa’s commitment to the spirit of Fair Play is so great that he ensured that Jansson was sold to Brentford in pre-season even though he was still Leeds’ best defender.
By the same token, of course Bielsa did spy on Derby County before doubling down and proudly presenting his ill-gotten information to the press, simply to troll Frank Lampard, but he then had the decency to ensure that Leeds lost to the Rams in the Championship play-off semi-finals.
Where was Bielsa’s award for that particular act of gallantry?
At least we’re finally seeing some recognition for Bielsa who is famous for his laid-back attitude and his view that there are more important things than winning.
We can only hope that the possibility of an award encourages more teams to carry on playing while an opponent is poleaxed and peer over training ground fences. What a world of sportsmanship that would be.