David Prutton: Bielsa’s an exciting choice for head coach at Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa
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Leeds United are so deep into discussions with Marcelo Bielsa that you almost can’t see a way in which they can let this appointment go. I know how negotiations can be and they’re liable to trouble at any time, often when you don’t expect it, but rarely get a more glaring first choice than Bielsa is now.

Clubs are usually diligent enough to have options in reserve and Leeds won’t be any different but after two weeks of back-and-forward talks there’s no hiding the fact that Bielsa is their man. Given the anticipation about him, there’d be deflation inside Elland Road as well as outside if a deal went south at the death.

This has been a pretty audacious bid to land a coach who probably surprised Leeds by agreeing to pick up the phone in the first place.

It doesn’t make sense, does it? A man who Pep Guardiola describes as a genius agreeing to speak about a job in the Championship, with a club who have just finished 13th. But in a lot of ways I admire Leeds for having the nerve. I like the fact that they’ve written his name on a list and said: “Why not? Why not have a go at him?”

You don’t ask, you don’t get.

Leeds need this appointment to cross the line but I don’t doubt it’s been complicated. It sounds like wages aren’t an issue but Bielsa will want everything to be just-so. You don’t get to where he’s been, or earn his reputation, by bending on principles and letting clubs call the shots. You get what you want or you walk away and there’s no point pretending that Leeds hold the stronger hand here. Bielsa, from what I’ve read about him, doesn’t kowtow to anyone. You either keep him sweet or he’s on his way.

Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani

Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani

In terms of the risks of this appointment, that would be one: the challenge of controlling his temperament and the threat of him blowing up. His methods and his philosophy are utterly ingrained and no wonder. His style has stardust and so many coaches seem to love his ideas. The football he dreamed up has been taken on a quantum leap by Guardiola in particular but Guardiola’s reverence towards Bielsa tells its own story. This guy, in a tactical sense, is something special.

Beyond that there’s the money and Leeds will be coughing up a big salary by their standards. No doubt there’ll be bonuses and other aspects of the contract too and increasingly, given the profile of the potential signings who are being talked about, I wonder if Andrea Radrizzani is throwing everything at this season coming up. There’s almost a sense of urgency to make it happen now, despite all that talk of a five-year plan, and it would surprise me if Bielsa was largely content with the squad as it is.

Players, for me, are the key to all this. For starters, the squad are going to need a level of fitness which allows them to cope with a brand of attacking football which sounds like it will suck every ounce of energy out of them. It’s not much of a surprise that Bielsa wanted the players back for pre-season a week early, presumably for some seriously hard work.

But the levels of quality in the squad aren’t high enough and a large percentage of it is much of a muchness; below the level which gets you out of the Championship. If Bielsa is true to his style, Leeds need technical players with the skill and pace to make his tactics work. But they also need numbers to allow him to rotate the team. Forty-six games at full pelt is a hell of a lot to ask.

In terms of the risks of this appointment, that would be one: the challenge of controlling his temperament and the threat of him blowing up. His methods and his philosophy are utterly ingrained

David Prutton

Bielsa, no doubt, has analysed the Championship to get himself ready. I’d love to know what he makes of it. The teams who’ve won promotion recently could leave a layman scratching his head.

Wolves went up with all the flair you could ask for and some brilliant football. Cardiff City were right behind, through pragmatism, a pretty direct style and occasionally Sol Bamba in holding midfield. Fulham are silky and Aston Villa generally aren’t, yet both made it to the play-off final.

The only conclusion you can draw is that one size doesn’t fit all. That’s good news for Bielsa. We all go on about how the Championship’s a unique league but that doesn’t mean that coaches can’t follow their own mind with some success. But as a basic starting point they need the right calibre of footballer. A genius or not, I don’t think Bielsa could turn the current team into a top-six side. And I doubt that he’d believe that either.

If his appointment comes off, it’ll be a big story with no assurances about anything. Bielsa at Leeds could be absolutely mega. Bielsa at Leeds could be a complete disaster.

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola

What I think Leeds have to do is ensure that if it does go wrong, they’ve protected themselves in a way where moving on won’t cost them more than they can afford.

They need to be in a position where they can take the risk of hiring Bielsa but also handle the eventuality of paying him off. That way, it’s a measured gamble. It’s a punt on a revered figure who is made to sound like the mother of all tacticians but it’s not investing the kitchen sink in him.

I felt for Paul Heckingbottom when he was sacked because I thought he was dealt a poor hand but it’s probably true to say that his appointment failed to catch the fans’ imagination.

That’s probably been true of a few Leeds managers over the years, and I mean no offence because I respect the way they put their necks on the line.

But Bielsa is the polar opposite, an exciting, almost outlandish choice who would make me want to strap myself in for the ride.

I’m not saying it’s the right appointment. But hell, I’d like to find out.