Leeds United: What the club must do to make Marcelo Bielsa a success

The West Yorkshire club have sensationally snapped up the services of the legendary Argentinian tactician - but will it work in the Championship?


For a certain type of football fan, Marcelo Bielsa’s name holds a special kind of meaning.

When delving into the nuts and bolts of the sport, his name is a constant. Be it in The Blizzard’s quarterly installments of highbrow essays, Jonathan Wilson’s history of tactics Inverting The Pyramid, or TIFO’s insightful series of videos, his name is inescapable. 

RealSport’s Etienne Fermie has provided a good primer of the revolutionary Argentinian manager

But the appointment, arguably the most outlandish and exciting in the history of football outside the top flight, has been met with scepticism as much as excitement. This is a man who lasted days at Lazio, was sacked by Lille a few months into last season, and hasn’t lasted more than a couple of years at a European club. 

Leeds United have a track record of sacking managers (they’ve had ten coaches since Simon Grayson departed in 2012) and there’s already speculation on how his time in Yorkshire might parallel Brian Clough’s infamous 44-day reign. 

People have also questioned his suitability to Championship football. But if Leeds play this right they can get the best out of him. 

Here’s how:

  1. 1 Change the culture and allow him to build the team in his image

    "Do You Want To Win?", a documentary and book released last year, chronicled Leeds United's remarkable 1992 title win. But before that title win was Howard Wilkinson building a squad with a mix of experience and youthful vigour, and training them intensely. 

    The seriousness with which he approached training was a game changer at the time. After ending an eight-year spell out of the top flight, before finishing fourth and then Champions, there was a strong argument that Howard Wilkinson was the best manager in the country between 1989 and 1992, at least while Alex Ferguson was still to establish himself as a force in English football. 

    It's difficult not to think that this team could do with something similar. It's a fallacy that a good Championship manager needs to be an old Brit that "knows the league", as Rafael Benitez, Nuno Espirito Santo, David Wagner and Slaviša Jokanović have proven in recent seasons.

    The likes of Pontus Jansson, Pablo Hernandez, Gaetano Berardi and Kalvin Phillips have the dedication and fervour that Bielsa will demand. The entire squad will need to match such commitment going forward.

    With such a manager, compromise threatens to undermine the whole arrangement. Bielsa is somebody to go all-in with, and that means giving him whatever he wants. 

  2. 2 Use the loan market effectively

    It's impossible to read a profile of Marcelo Bielsa without reading about how Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola are massively influenced by him. 

    Guardiola famously travelled to Argentina just to sit and talk football (for hours and hours) with him, while Pochettino has called him his "footballing father" after Bielsa originally scouted him for Newell's Old Boys. They won the title there together in 1991, before working together again for Argentina and briefly, Espanyol. 

    Leeds have often missed out on the best loan talent from the Premier League, as they have seen the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Marko Grujić make a big impact at other clubs. The bigger clubs like their young players to play for good coaches and learn under experienced coaches, and there are none in the Championship with a better reputation than Bielsa. 

    Manchester City have built one of the best academies in England while Tottenham have been famed for bringing through younger players. The reverence their coaches have for Bielsa is something Leeds must use to their advantage - and Bielsa's extensive contact network will help, too.

  3. 3 Give him financial backing

    To hark back to Howard Wilkinson for a second time, he could only deliver the goods at Leeds after being given sufficient financial backing by the chairman Leslie Silver, who signed the likes of Mel Sterland, Vinnie Jones, Jim Beglin and Gordon Strachan as Leeds pushed for promotion.

    Now is the time for Andrea Radrizzani to do the same. Asking Marcelo Bielsa to achieve promotion with this squad would be like asking Leonardo da Vinci to work with lego. 

    The fact that he's agreed to take charge in the first place is an encouraging sign. Rumblings about high-profile signings have been boosted by the extra investment from the San Francisco 49ers Enterprise group, and the likes of former loanee Kyle Bartley and Hull's free agent Abel Hernandez have been linked. 

    Leeds have the right manager, but they must invest to give him something to work with.

  4. 4 Have patience

    The Championship is becoming increasingly competitive. The three relegated teams all enjoyed long periods of stability in the Premier League and have the personnel and riches that comes with that. 

    Nottingham Forest are looking to emulate Wolves, making signings from Benfica, while Middlesbrough and Derby will look to improve after last season's playoff disappointment.

    Finishing fifteen points behind the top six last season, it's a big ask to get straight back up there and the new coach might need more than pre-season for his methodology to start seeing results. 

    Even if Leeds don't improve on midtable next season, the experience and development will be valuable in seasons after. There's unlimited potential with Bielsa in charge and to change course at the first sign of trouble would be a mistake. Unlike others before him, his stature in the game means he deserves time.

    The team will be geared towards him. For him to get chewed up and spat out at Elland Road would be a huge opportunity missed, unlike fanciful punts Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom. 

  5. 5 Form a deeper squad

    One of the most repeated concerns about his suitability for the job is how long and gruelling the Championship season is. With 46 games to play, the team would be in serious danger of burnout if they're to play the intensive pressing game that he demands.

    Especially given that Bielsa's teams have suffered from it in the past, most notably his Athletic Bilbao side, who demolished Ferguson's Manchester United in the Europa League, failed to play their best football in the two finals at the end of such a draining and demanding campaign. There's no shame in losing to Barcelona (Copa del Rey) or Atletico Madrid (Europa League) but they failed to give their best. 

    With potential play-offs, the same cannot happen with Leeds. The only solution is to allow plenty of options and rotate, with the Christmas and Easter periods particularly obscene in terms of fixture congestion. 

    Young players such as Tyler Roberts, Sam Dalby, and Tyler Denton should be utilised, but further investment is needed too. 

    Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group G in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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