David Prutton: Keep Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United, back him and he’ll do the business

This is when it’s hardest to take; the days immediately after a game which kills your season dead.
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

By the time a club gets round to pre-season, the sun’s out, the grass is freshly cut and life’s moved on but there’s no quick way of getting over a play-off defeat.

In Leeds United’s case, they’re finished until the end of June now and what more is there to do but sit and stew over that defeat to Derby? Worse still will be the build-up to the play-off final and the thought that they should or could have been there.

It’s always a world of regret.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I remember it well after the club lost to Doncaster in the League One final at Wembley in 2008.

For the average player, moments of significant success don’t come around regularly and when the chance goes begging, it’s difficult to stop yourself going back over the game time and again: what if this had happened, what if I hadn’t make this mistake, what if he’d taken that chance?

All the things you can no longer control.

It’s pointless trying to disguise what happened on Wednesday. Leeds had a play-off final place in the palm of their hand and let it go.

I take absolutely nothing away from Derby because to go to Elland Road with that crowd and 36,000 people baying for blood is a serious ask but I probably echo the thoughts of everyone when I say that Leeds looked like they were home and dry before Kiko Casilla lost his marbles.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Everyone has an error in them, some of us more than others, but the lapses of judgement we saw from him just aren’t what you expect of a goalkeeper with La Liga experience who signed from Real Madrid.

He should have made Leeds safer at the back but on nights like Wednesday, it’s inevitable that some of what he’s doing seeps into the consciousness of the back four.

They’ll start to worry about what’s behind them and what’s going to happen if the ball goes over their heads. There’s simply no doubt that the gift to Jack Marriott right on half-time was the instant where everything changed.

You could dissect it all night, and Bielsa probably did, but in my experience you need to leave play-off defeats behind very quickly.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s already the middle of May and the crazy thing about the English season is that the dates for the start of pre-season aren’t much more than a month away.

The bottom line for Leeds, the only question which matters as a starting point, is does Bielsa stay? That’s almost rhetorical because the club’s answer to that is clearly yes but it’s pretty apparent to anyone who’s followed Bielsa that he won’t stick around if he doesn’t want to.

I can’t imagine that someone like him would want to leave a half-finished job behind either but at the same time, he’ll have taken the defeat to Derby very personally and very heavily. And we all know who he’ll be blaming for it.

I’m firmly in the camp which says Bielsa needs to carry on at Elland Road but I’m not blase in thinking that a play-off place this season means promotion next season.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s the natural step, the natural progression, but it’s no secret that the way Bielsa works his players is exhausting and exhaustive, keeping them in a hyper-tense state every step of the way.

In the main it’s done the trick for him, even though Leeds didn’t get there in the end, but you still have to be sure that a plan or a project is sustainable.

I always think of Antonio Conte and his regime at Chelsea: champions one year but a washout the next, although that has to take into account the influence of player power at Stamford Bridge and in the Premier League as a whole.

That’s one thing Bielsa doesn’t really have to worry about at Leeds but he would need his squad to go with him for a second time; to commit to killing themselves for the cause in the way he asks them to.

I’d like to think that it would be a no-brainer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There can’t be many individuals in that dressing room who don’t think they’ve been enhanced by Bielsa’s coaching because the evidence on the pitch is there to be seen.

His style won’t be fresh this summer in the way that it was a year ago, and sometimes that can make raising yourself a challenge, but I always go back to the same point: some in this squad might never work with Bielsa again.

Make the most of it while you can.

None of us really know what the man himself is thinking and that, ultimately, is what this comes down to. But if he is staying, the club need to throw as much behind him as possible before next season and make the most of the fact that with improvements and a higher calibre of player in some positions, automatic promotion could be in their grasp.

It’s never an exact science and football would be dull if it ever was but look at the facts: this team, in the main, finished 13th last season and were so far off play-off standard it wasn’t true.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Bielsa rode an unbelievable number of injuries and a learning curve in the Championship to take the club to within 46 minutes of the play-off final.

All of which creates a very obvious conclusion: keep him, back him and trust him to do the business at the second time of asking.

I’d feel confident that he can.