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In May 1980, the world was not suffocated by the round-the-clock media platforms that exist today. However, that summer Leeds United were regularly linked with transfers in and out of Elland Road.

Manager Jimmy Adamson wasted no time in shaping his squad for the August kick off and less than a week after seeing his Leeds side end the season on a high with a 2-0 home win over Manchester United, he entered the transfer market.

Adamson had been under pressure for much of the 1979-80 campaign. Calls for his sacking, from the terraces, were a constant throughout the season as United suffered early exits in three cups and a dour brand of football ensured a mediocre league campaign. Collectively, Leeds had scored just 46 goals in the First Division and the fans were crying out for some attacking creativity.

The Scottish centre-forward, Derek Parlane had been signed a few months before but despite scoring on his debut, he would end the season with three goals in 11 games. The Newcastle United striker Peter Withe was heavily linked with a move to West Yorkshire but those reports were strenuously denied and the first summer signing came from down the M1 motorway. 

Rather than purchasing Sheffield steel, Adamson spent £400,000 on some South American flair in the form of the Argentinian, Alejandro "Alex" Sabella. 

Sheffield United signed Sabella, from River Plate, in 1978 after having a bid to sign a young Diego Maradona rejected by Argentinos Juniors. 

Although the Blades had fallen on hard times, Sabella's array of skills and close ball control ensured he became a firm favourite at Bramall Lane. However, he could not prevent relegation to the Third Division and although Sunderland had a bid accepted, the Argentine was keen to display his talents in the top flight and his wife didn't fancy living in the North East. 

Adamson won the race and the supporters from the red and white half of Sheffield were not best pleased with their star man walking down the same path as Mick Jones and Tony Currie who had left for Leeds in the two previous decades.

As the new man was introduced to the media in West Yorkshire, the Leeds United marketing team went to work with slightly embarrassing results.

Despite Argentina being famous for the Tango, "SAMBA WITH SABELLA" merchandise was soon on sale in the souvenir shop, much to the amusement of the tabloid press. The United faithful didn't care that the Samba came from Brazil as t-shirts and badges were snapped up to acclaim the signing.

The man with magic in his boots was seen as the player that could light up Elland Road and bring success back to a club that had largely struggled under a succession of managers since the departure of Don Revie.

In preparation for the big kick-off, Leeds travelled to Zurich to take part in a four team tournament. Grasshoppers, with a 1-0 win, denied the Whites a place in the final and instead they lined up against FC Zurich in the third place play off match the following day. Despite Sabella scoring his first goal for his new club, Leeds were held to a 1-1 draw. A penalty shoot was required to determine the outcome and from 12 yards, the Swiss outfit beat Leeds 3-2. 

Aston Villa, who would end the season as Champions, travelled to Elland Road on the opening day.  Sabella was named in the starting line up, the stadium was baked in sunshine, hopes were high and Leeds got off to a flying start in the opening minutes. 

Brian Flynn was brought down in the area by Eammon Deacy and Bryron Stevenson calmly slotted the resulting spot kick past a helpless Jimmy Rimmer. Just two minutes later, the Villa custodian superbly denied Arthur Graham and Leeds were left to rue the missed opportunity as Tony Morley, just before half-time, and Gary Shaw, after 58 minutes, scored to turn the game on its head. 

Adamson was subjected to the common chant calling for his sacking as Villa won the game 2-1 and after the game the Leeds manager acknowledged that his side had been ripped to pieces and he was even more hated than JR Ewing.

It was a quiet debut for the new signing and a knee injury saw him miss the visit to Ayresome Park just three days later as Leeds were well beaten by three goals to nil by Middlesbrough.

Sabella was fit enough to be recalled for the next game, a trip to East Anglia to face Norwich City and the new man stole the show with a superb display. Early in the second half he was unlucky not to score after bursting clear of Kevin Bond, he saw a fine strike cannon off the legs of the City 'keeper Roger Hansbury. 

With just six minutes left and Leeds leading 2-1, Sabella beat three men and pulled the ball back for Terry Connor to score. Despite Norwich pulling one back, a minute later, Adamson struggled to hide his delight as his side picked up the points:

"Among all the hard work and effort we showed, we also had moments of pure magic from Argentinian Alex Sabella. He did things you don't get from English players particularly when he laid on the third goal for Terry Connor."

Unfortunately for Adamson, that was as good as it got. Leeds lost the next four games, including defeats in both legs of the League Cup Second Round, and he was sacked. A dismal 3-0 defeat at Stoke City was the final straw for the board of Directors.

Sabella was dropped for Clarke's first game in charge as Leeds picked up a point in a goalless draw at home to Manchester United. Whilst Leeds were getting thrashed 4-1 at Sunderland the following week, Alex Sabella, who the fans were pinning their hopes on just a few months earlier, was turning out for the reserves at Elland Road against Blackpool.

After the debacle at Roker Park, Clarke had little option to recall Sabella for the trip to Ipswich Town who were sitting at the top of the First Division. Leeds, to the surprise of many, took the lead at Portman Road. From a Carl Harris corner, Paul Hart nodded the ball down to Arthur Graham whose shot was saved by Paul Cooper but Sabella gleefully swept home the rebound. Despite a John Wark leveller with 20 minutes left, it was a valuable point for the struggling Whites.

Two successive wins were followed by two successive defeats and Sabella found himself on the bench for games against Crystal Palace and Coventry City. It was clear that Clarke, the legendary striker of the Revie era, preferred hard graft over silky skills and Sabella was never a regular.

Sabella scored his second and last Leeds goal in a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa and on 14th February 1981, he made his final appearance coming off the bench in a 3-1 home defeat to Stoke City - a game in which Lee Chapman scored a hat-trick for the visitors. 

The Argentinian made a total of 27 apperances during the 1980-81 campaign and was linked with a move to Paris St Germain during the summer of 1981. Despite Leeds' struggles the following season, Clarke never named Sabella in a first team squad as he languished in the reserves.

On 4th January 1982, Alex Sabella's time at Leeds United came to an end as he moved back to his homeland to play for Estudiantes. The fee was a reported £180,000 a huge loss on the initial outlay.

It's fair to say that his time in West Yorkshire was not a success but his sad passing on the 8th December 2020, at the age of 66, had fans recalling the time when Leeds United's message was "SAMBA WITH SABELLA".

Alex Sabella rest in peace.