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Premier League newcomers Leeds United have a new icon to worship in the form of manager Marcelo Bielsa, whose unique tactical viewpoint has guided the club back into the top-flight after a 16-year absence. The enigmatic boss has brought endless joy to the Elland Road faithful, but he certainly isn’t the first from the football-adoring nation of Argentina to do that, with the respect and admiration he garners on a par with his compatriot and club legend Luciano Becchio.
Plucked from the third division of Spanish football, the young forward was known to very few before his switch to England over a decade ago. But Becchio quickly made sure he became a household name, with his legacy set to live long in the memory of every Leeds United fan and indeed many others in the footballing world.
The youngster had high ambitions from the very start, moving east from his hometown Cordoba to play youth football for the mighty Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. Things didn’t quite work out in the capital, forcing the 20-year-old to go much further east in a bid to really kick-start his career. The move took him to Spain, where he earned his trade at a handful of lower league teams across the country, including a stint at Barcelona B.
But the attacker came alive in the 2007/08 campaign with Segunda Division B side Merida, where his 22 league goals helped him finish as the competition’s top scorer, while also earning him a trial at League One side Leeds. The 24-year-old joined up with the squad for their final couple of pre-season fixtures, impressing boss Gary McAllister enough to earn a three-year contract.
Becchio then took becoming an immediate hit at a new club to a whole new level, scoring just 25 seconds into his first league start in a draw at Yeovil. He followed that up with his first home goal in a League Cup victory over Crystal Palace soon after, becoming an instant fan favourite in West Yorkshire. He netted 18 times in all competitions in his first campaign in England, and more importantly formed a formidable pairing with strike partner Jermaine Beckford, who himself managed 34 goals.
The duo continued their stunning form in the 2009/10 campaign, with the Whites securing promotion to the Championship thanks to 25 and 15 league goals from Beckford and Becchio respectively, despite an injury-hit season for the latter. They added further strikes in a memorable FA Cup run that saw them knock Manchester United out of the competition, with a 2-2 fourth-round draw against Tottenham Hotspur adding even more reason to celebrate. The unforgettable journey ended in a replay loss against the north London outfit, with Becchio’s effort outdone by a Jermain Defoe hat-trick.
Nonetheless, there was now a Championship campaign to look forward to. But Simon Grayson’s men were dealt with an early blow, with Beckford reportedly rejecting a new deal to sign for Premier League Everton. But with that cloud came a silver lining in the form of a contract extension for Becchio, who penned a new three and half year deal soon after. Despite further injuries, the Argentine adjusted to the climb in standards with ease, with his 19 goals seeing him finish behind just three others in the scoring charts as Leeds narrowly missed out on a playoff spot.
The centre-forward’s nine assists simply furthered his reputation, with the campaign also bringing up several records for the star man, including his 100th league start for the club, as well as reaching the 50-goal mark. A nasty hamstring injury that required surgery meant his goals (11) and assists (2) slightly dried up the following season, with Ross McCormack taking up the mantle in front of goal as Leeds slipped to a disappointing 14th place finish.
Another stunning start to the new 2012/13 season saw the attacker smash in 19 goals by January, with his winner from the spot against Bolton on New Year’s Day securing him a place in the club’s top ten all-time league goalscorers list. But just 30 days later, the unthinkable happened. Talks of a new deal broke down, and a deadline day move to Premier League side Norwich City materialised all too quickly in the eyes of the Elland Road faithful. Breaking the hearts of all those associated with the club, Becchio departed after 87 goals in 221 appearances.
However, in one of English football’s most unsuccessful deals, the striker failed to score in his eight Premier League appearances for Norwich, with the majority of his minutes coming from the bench. Becchio was given even fewer opportunities in the following campaign, appearing in just five top-flight games, even spending time with the U21 squad as the senior Canaries side were relegated from the Premier League.
A brief loan spell at Championship Rotherham United in 2014/15 brought a temporary halt to his nightmare time at Carrow Road, which was finally ended later that season upon the termination of his contract. Having left Leeds a hero, the striker left Norwich without a single goal to his name from 16 appearances.
Back home, Club Atletico Belgrano provided him with a grateful respite from English football, before the forward rejoined Rotherham in January 2016 for the remainder of the season. His 14-year playing career came to an end a year later at Spanish minnows CD Binissalem, and he has since moved into management, returning to former team Atletico Baleares to assist boss Horacio Melgarejo on the touchline.
He may not go down as one of the all-time Leeds greats like Billy Bremner, John Charles or Eddie Gray among countless others, but he stands proud among a group of strikers who have attained cult-hero status thanks to their heroic displays in front of goal. The names of Beckford, Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink come to mind, with the Argentine sitting above them all in the club’s all-time goalscoring charts. Whether new-signing Rodrigo can hit similar heights remains to be seen.