'Everything I heard is true' - Spanish Euros hopeful Diego Llorente on Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa and bad habits
Everything Diego Llorente heard about Marcelo Bielsa before arriving at Leeds United was true.
The Spanish international did his homework on the club and its world famous head coach, before making the summer move from La Liga side Real Sociedad to Elland Road.
With the European Championships delayed to 2021, it was a big decision for Llorente.
Already ensconced in Bielsa’s set-up and almost guaranteed to play, when fit, was club captain Liam Cooper. He had been joined by up-and-coming German international Robin Koch, who signed from SC Freiburg at the end of August in a move that ended a long pursuit by Leeds director of football Victor Orta.
Beyond the two international centre-halves with their feet under the table was Pascal Struijk, a young prospect who had found favour with Bielsa and was hopeful of playing a few Premier League games in the 2020-21 season.
If Llorente was going to swap the Spanish top tier for its English equivalent, he needed to know that the move was going to be the right one and that his new head coach was going to enhance, not damage, his hopes of representing Spain at a major tournament.
He made a phone call to fellow Spaniard and Leeds attacker Pablo Hernandez, with whom he played at Rayo Vallecano while a pair of loanees in 2015-16, and liked what he heard. And although his debut season in the Premier League got off to a rocky, injury-ravaged start, six months into his stint as a White, Llorente is content that what he heard about the Argentine in charge of Leeds was accurate.
“I had some positive reference to him and everything I had heard is true,” he told Spanish outlet AS.
“He has a very particular methodology and gives a direct preference to the game in each training exercise and is very analytical.”
Bielsa, says Llorente, spots bad habits and makes them clearly visible to his players so they can improve their game.
“He has a knowledge of football that transmits it wonderfully well and I think that at this stage I’m going to improve as a player,” said the defender.
“He usually shows you videos on an individual level to see what you can improve because sometimes we do not realize certain vices that we develop and to improve in returning to position, in pressure or helping the team without the ball. Once you see it you realize it and you try to improve it.”
Llorente’s experience of Bielsa for the first five months of his time at Leeds had been mostly limited to the training ground, so scant was his playing time due to a series of niggling injuries.
But he returned to fitness just in time to start the final five games before the international break and earn a call up to the Spain squad for their trio of March fixtures.
Luis Enrique included the centre-half among his substitutes for the 1-1 World Cup Qualifying draw with Greece but started him in the game against Georgia.
Llorente, on a yellow card from the sixth minute, was withdrawn at the break and replaced by Iñigo Martínez, with Spain a goal down.
Enrique’s men came back to win 2-1 in stoppage time and will hope for a much-improved performance tonight against Kosovo.
Llorente will hope to be involved again, but his efforts to make the Euro dream come true will mainly take place at Thorp Arch and whenever he plays under Bielsa in the final nine Premier League games of the season.
When he signed for Leeds, there were no guarantees of first-team football, promising game time is not how Bielsa operates, so Llorente knew he had to work for it.
A Spain shirt is another thing he won’t be taking for granted. He’ll be returning to Yorkshire with work to do.
“Not giving up and my work at Leeds are the keys to being here [in the Spain squad],” he said. “I think I’m at a good level. I always work, first to help my team, and then with the aim of coming here.
“[The Euros] is the dream and motivation. It is my priority and when I return with my team I have to try to perform at my best to be on the final list, being [here] does not guarantee anything to anyone.”