EDDIE GRAY has just returned from spending the morning at Elland Road. After almost 50 years in myriad roles as player, coach, caretaker manager, ambassador and broadcaster for Leeds United, the club is a habit he finds impossible to shake.

Unsurprisingly, he still refers to United as “we” and talks with all the passion of a hardcore fan on The Kop. Passion is a word he returns to regularly. Not least when discussing the merits of Marcelo Bielsa, the idiosyncratic Argentine who has assumed messianic status among the Leeds United supporters.

Gray, still a resident of Yorkshire, is well placed to observe the uptick in fortunes experienced by Leeds since the arrival of Bielsa in 2018. A jinking winger, he was the George Best of Don Revie’s dominant Leeds side of the late 1960s and early 1970s, scoring 52 goals in 454 league appearances for the club. He was caretaker manager when Leeds were relegated in 2004, their last season in the top flight since promotion was achieved in July and – in a year when the club has lost legends in Jack Charlton, Trevor Cherry and Norman Hunter – he is a figure that links Bielsa’s Leeds with its glorious past.

He remains apologetic to this day about his role in

the relegation campaign

16 years ago even if culpability lay in the fiscal recklessness

of the Peter Ridsdale era at

the club.

“It was a tough time,” he recalls of his period as caretaker manager which culminated in the drop three years after Leeds’ appearance in a Champions League semi-final.

“But even although it was tough, you are still disappointed in yourself that you couldn’t turn it around. I don’t mind saying that. We were selling too many players. It just wasn’t working but you’re still disappointed.”

Disappointment has given way to excitement for Gray, though, following a rebirth delivered by the irrepressible Bielsa, Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani and managing director Angus Kinnear.

“I am just delighted to see them back in the big league. They’re dining at the top table again. The players have bought into Bielsa, [but] the city has bought into him as well and he has bought into the passion of the fans. I think he is like that himself.”

Bielsa is famously known as “El Loco” because of that passionate outlook. But his obsession is born out of an unrequited love for the sport. What may seem like unorthodox methods are better described as a fastidious attention to detail as a result of his desire to be the best.

His brilliance has some compelling advocates. Pep Guardiola – whom he goes up against this evening when his side take on Manchester City at Elland Road – and Mauricio Pochettino both regard him as a genius. You can count Gray as a fully paid-up member of the fan club, too.

“All managers are different in their outlook. Marcelo Bielsa himself is different to any manager in the Premier League,” Gray added. “No managers in the Premier League come out and sit on a bucket. He’s just different. The thing all the great managers have in common is their belief and their authority. Go back to Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Don Revie, Sir Alex [Ferguson]: all the great managers. You do it their way or you don’t do it at all. I think from that point of view you can compare all the great managers.”

He sees similarities but also differences between Bielsa and Revie.

“Don was very famous for his dossiers. We’d get the rundown on the opposition and Marcelo is exactly the same. Don was friendly with the players but Marcelo is completely different in how he goes about his own life. He walks around Wetherby. He lives in a little flat, he walks to the ground, he walks back. He goes into Morrisons for a coffee. He just goes about his life as he sees fit. His big obsession – there’s no doubt about it – is football and trying to get the best out of the team and the players he manages. I think that’s his aim in life – to get the best out of everybody.”

An interested club must bend to Bielsa’s will and so it took hours of painstaking conversations in Argentina for Leeds to convince Bielsa to take over two years ago. Gray is full of praise for the persistence shown by Radrizzani and Kinnear.

“[Bielsa has] got his own staff. He controls everything that happens at the football club from the footballing side. He’ll look at every detail. If the club fancy a player and he doesn’t fancy him – I don’t think that player will be coming. I think everything to do with the footballing side, he runs it. You’ve got to give the owner and the chief exec Angus Kinnear credit, for them to have the foresight to go to Argentina to bring him from there.”

There was a similarly protracted effort by Leeds in 1962 to bring Gray, a Scotland schoolboy international, to Elland Road. Revie was a regular visitor to his parents’ Castlemilk home and he put a protective cordon around the youngster with a host of other clubs interested in signing him.

“I went down to Leeds to have a look when I was 14 and, as soon as I met the manager Don Revie, he impressed me so much that – even although they were in the old second division and I was a huge Celtic fan and trained at Celtic Park and could have gone to quite a lot of clubs in the top league – I had made my mind up that that was the club I wanted to join.

“I would go to other clubs and a chief scout would meet you from the club to take you to where you were staying but Don met me himself and took me up to my hotel and told me there would be a car for me the next morning to take me down to the ground. Then when I was sitting with all the other boys for a trial, he came into the dressing room and said ‘come out, you’re training with me [the first team] today’. Don used to be up in our house all the time, too.

“That’s where they are completely different. Don was friendly with the players. Marcelo is completely different in how he goes about his own life. He walks around Wetherby. He lives in a little flat, he walks to the ground, he walks back. He strolls about. He goes into Morrisons for a coffee. He just goes about his life as he sees fit. His big obsession – there’s no doubt about it – is football and trying to get the best out of the team and the players he manages.”

Under Revie, Leeds won two league titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and had an appearance in a European Cup final to boot. Gray, one of their talismans, says their success was founded on Revie’s principles of the three Cs: confidence, concentration and courage and believes Bielsa is laying the same brickwork in his bid to re-establish Leeds among the division’s heavyweights.

“It is exactly the same,” he says. “That was something that Don always used to say to us when we were kids. ‘Have the concentration level to play for 90, 95 minutes, however long it goes. Have the confidence in your ability and the courage to use it.’ I think that is exactly the same as how Leeds play. The players going on to the pitch compared to three or four years ago feel capable of beating everybody. I don’t think Marcelo will rest until we are looked upon as a top Premier League side.”

Gray will be an eagle-eyed observer with City in town tonight. Following wins over Fulham, Sheffield United and a narrow defeat at Liverpool – after which Jurgen Klopp looked visibly shocked by Leeds’ level of intensity – he would not be surprised if Bielsa conjured up another eyebrow-raising performance.

“People have said ‘will you settle for a point?’ Yeah, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he picked the three of them up. People said Liverpool were a bit slack but maybe that was the pressure that we put them under,” adds Gray. “They all work hard for each other whenever anybody makes a mistake. They recoup the ball quickly, they help their team-mates and they seem to have that togetherness which all great teams have.”

And he should know.