David Prutton: Leeds United need to strengthen the spine of the team
THE FACT that Marcelo Bielsa is staying on as head coach at Leeds United for another season is extremely positive and from a fans’ point of view they will be really excited.
I was driving through Leeds the other day and there was a big poster with Bielsa’s face on saying ‘we go again’ which is a great way of keeping people’s excitement nicely bubbling over the course of the off-season.
Of course it was disappointing that Leeds didn’t end up being promoted last season. But you have got to take great heart from pushing all of those teams as far as they possibly could and maybe it gives them a real insight into what they need to do next season.
Marcelo wanted new facilities at Thorp Arch including a new 1km running track and the recommissioning of the swimming pool and he has been very fastidious in what he has done so far.
We thought that he had left no stone unturned over the course of last season but maybe he is going to be even more forensic in terms of what he believes he needs to do, not just from a tactical point of view but also in terms of the conditioning of the players.
Right now, understandably, having been there, all the lads involved are having a well-earned rest.
The players will be extremely happy that Marcelo has stayed on but they will also know exactly what is coming and maybe even more so when it comes to the work that they are going to have to do and they will almost certainly be asked to go one step further.
There will be that nice balance between excitement and a slight bit of trepidation because Marcelo won’t let up.
You only think that he will go harder and further with them so it’s right to make sure the infrastructure is there and even more forensic.
To be fair to Marcelo, it is about the immediacy of trying to get up next season but if he manages to keep these things like the pool and the track ticking over then it is also laying the foundations for whoever comes in in the future so that is to be applauded.
Also, the fact that his wages were not even discussed during the talks about staying another season shows that he is quite an honourable fellow who wants to make sure that the job here is done.
Leeds are expected to rely mainly on the loan market, and loan signings from Premier League teams made the difference last year, not just at Aston Villa but at West Brom too. Look how many goals Dwight Gayle scored. If he is someone that is available I would look seriously into that.
In terms of what Leeds need, the team has done tremendously well to be as consistent as they have but I would look straight down the middle of the team. Go and get a goalscorer? Yes. A creative midfielder? Yes. And if you can get another central defender then, yes.
We saw that Patrick Bamford still had questions to answer when Kemar Roofe was out of the team. They lacked a real goalscorer. Centrally, Kalvin Phillips has done wonderfully well but I would put another player in there to make sure the good work that he and Pablo Hernandez do is complemented by maybe someone with a bit of dynamism.
It’s unfashionable to call them this and they don’t call them this anymore but a ‘box-to-box midfielder’ – one that covers the ground.
And then centrally in defence, someone that can lead from the back. Liam Cooper has done a great job this season and Pontus Jansson has as well at times but collectively it’s consistency and performance and decision making at the most important times that let them down so that’s what they need to look at.
It’s not a case of adding for addings sake and you have got to be careful that you don’t upset the chemistry of the team because they have got a hell of a team spirit there.
But Leeds need something special to get them over the line and if that involves addressing the spine of the team then that’s what they should do.
The spine of the team is the first port of call but Bielsa needs to make sure that he gets players in early so that he can bed them in for how he teaches and coaches them, so it’s not a culture shock.
You can be a player from the outside looking in at what he does but once you get in the middle of it, it will be a shock to the system and the sooner that shock is worked through and embedded in these new players the better.
If you have got players in Premier League teams that aren’t getting a look in or you are getting players that have potential from other teams in the Championship or League One, I can’t think it would be too hard a sell for them to say ‘come and play for us here.’
The challenge of getting into the team for any footballer should be one that excites them and you also get to play for a coach that is unique, eccentric and got a lot of character and personality.
He might seem aloof in certain situations but there is no doubt that he has got a real affinity and empathy for his team and his team feel exactly the same way back.
If you are asked or chosen to be part of that then it would be an honour and a privilege for a player to be put in that position; to be asked to come to this club that could be in a position this time next year where they are back in the big league.