Sunday’s battle, in more ways than one encapsulated the best and worst of the beautiful game within around a 10-minute span.
With playoff berths already sealed, that suggested Villa’s trip to Leeds would be a placid affair, at least from Villa’s point of view as Leeds United could still technically, albeit extremely unlikely, seal automatic promotion.
From the off, a friendly game was a distant and hopeful memory – Leeds’ centre-back pairing of Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper bullied Jonathan Kodjia while midfield battles were fought for 90 minutes, strong challenges and all.
Before the controversy, an end to end game was a great spectacle – one of those really bloody nervy games where everyone mutters “thank fuck for that” every few minutes.
A Game of Two Goals
As Jonathan Kodjia lay on the floor for Villa in the 72nd minute, admittedly not the first time, Tyler Roberts slowed the game down just enough to appear to be doing the decent thing before playing the ball down the line to the on running Mateusz Klich. The midfielder subsequently slotted the ball past Jed Steer, absolute fucking chaos followed.
Hourihane looked ready for battering Klich and company, and to be honest, luckily escaped without a red card. Tyrone Mings wasn’t best pleased either, much like the near 3,000 travelling fans at the other end of Elland Road.
Shithousery was at its absolute finest, from a Leeds perspective anyway – Patrick Bamford embodied the United stereotype, highlighted to its highest degree by none other than Brian Clough. A dirty bloody cheater is what Bamford is. What Bamford did wasn’t out of the ordinary for modern footballing standards, but it added even greater insult to injury, feigning a blow to the face resulting in Anwar El Ghazi seeing a red. He was nowhere fucking near him!
The goal was technically legal but had Conor Hourihane not been so sporting earlier in the game, putting the ball out of play so the injured Liam Cooper could receive treatment, it is likely Marcelo Bielsa wouldn’t have taken the noble action that he did.
The Mad One sees Sense
For all that is said about Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa, a footballing purist would be an accurate description of the Argentine Leeds coach.
Whether he feels like he has making up to do after Spygate, or to conform to English football’s traditions of sportsmanship, Bielsa’s understanding that his sides’ goal was morally wrong shows was a breath of fresh air in a game of dwindling integrity.
Allowing Villa to score an uncontested (apart from Jansson’s efforts) goal, after a request from Dean Smith was a true mark of the man, especially considering Klich’s wrongful goal could have kept United in the auto-promotion race but very unlikely. Instead, Bielsa showed class, likely confident his side would still win but even risking that showed his integrity, love for proper football and equally, just how mad he really is.
Apart from a slight distaste for Leeds United Football Club, more so after Sunday’s antics, Marcelo Bielsa is a shining light not only in West Yorkshire, but for the footballing world – one that most personnel in the game should strive to emulate.
A Change for the Better
The actions of Conor Hourihane, stopping the game by kicking the ball out of play is one of the biggest pet hates I have regarding football. It may be a fair thing to do but with the amount of acting that goes on when players are challenged, it is never certain when a player is actually injured.
Ultimately, the referee should be the only man able to make a judgement on this, and if it was my choice, putting the ball out of the play would be punishable by yellow card to encourage a better flowing game along with less diving (Kodjia didn’t dive for the record) and deceiving.
I would even go as far to say that referees shouldn’t stop the game unless a clearly bad head injury has occurred – I have seen far too many a referee pause the game much like Hourihane did. Take the player’s ability to suspend the game away and you will see an awful lot more players staying their feet.
By Jack Cudworth