Bielsa's sporting gesture celebrated

A controversial goal by Leeds' Mateusz Klich, scored while Aston Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia was injured, sparked a series of on-field melees among players from both teams at Elland Road on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS
A controversial goal by Leeds' Mateusz Klich, scored while Aston Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia was injured, sparked a series of on-field melees among players from both teams at Elland Road on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Marcelo Bielsa's sportsman-like decision to allow opponents Aston Villa to score unopposed was "a remarkable gesture" given that it ended Leeds' faint hopes of earning automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Sunday's 1-1 draw at Elland Road meant that second-placed Sheffield United joined leaders Norwich City in regaining their top-flight status, consigning the third-placed home team to the lottery of the English Championship play-offs.

Leeds needed a victory to stay mathematically in the hunt - in reality, the Blades were all but promoted the previous day as a win for the hosts would have still left them three points behind with a hugely inferior goal difference - but their fans still held out hope for an unlikely miracle.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was left astounded but full of praise for Leeds manager Bielsa's instructions to his players to allow the visitors to equalise unchallenged.

His team had opened the scoring through midfielder Mateusz Klich in controversial circumstances as Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia lay stricken on the pitch.

That goal sparked a series of on-pitch melees, one of which resulted in Villa's Anwar Al Ghazi being sent off.

Bielsa was then seen to order his players to return the favour, instructing them to allow Villa to net unopposed. The Villans duly did, through winger Albert Adomah .

While Wenger disagreed with the protests, insisting that "only the referee can stop the game" and Dean Smith's players should not have expected Leeds to kick the ball out of play when Kodjia was down injured, he admitted it was praiseworthy.

The Frenchman told beIN Sports: "It is a kind of fair play that is usually on the football pitch. Only the ref can stop the game, but it is remarkable from Bielsa.

"They (Leeds) are playing to come up to the Premier League and there is something at stake... the whole world has to watch that.

"I would like to say, 'Thank you' to Marcelo Bielsa."

Villa coach Smith, who had former Chelsea captain John Terry aiding him on the touchline as assistant manager, agreed with Wenger. He hailed the decision as "sportsmanship prevailing in the end" before expressing his "full respect" for the Argentinian's ethical principles.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Bielsa's sporting gesture celebrated'. Print Edition | Subscribe