From Ronald Reagan to Kevin Keegan and why Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa will respect Hoops FA Cup tie

MEMORIES: Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
MEMORIES: Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
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THE 40th president of the United States of America would not be the most obvious link to a third round FA Cup tie.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa who initially recalled (Ronald) “Reagan” as one of his memories of FA Cup football.

“This striker with long hair, short, not very tall, a very important number nine for English football.”

Not Reagan, but Keegan that is - with Bielsa evidently having taken notice of the striker’s 1970s FA Cup exploits with Liverpool, even if narrowly failing to remember his name.

But the message is a serious one - that Leeds United’s Argentinian head coach has full respect for the competition which he will not belittle even in spite of United’s priorities obviously lying elsewhere.

Bielsa is nearly seven months into his role as Leeds United head coach but the 63-year-old Argentinian will take in a new first at Queens Park Rangers on Sunday with his first ever involvement in an FA Cup tie.

United’s priorities quite clearly lie elsewhere with Leeds looking at their best chance yet of finally returning to the country’s top flight after a 15-year absence.

Through Bielsa’s magic, United sit top of the Championship with a four-point gap back to the teams outside of the automatic promotion places, even in spite of back to back losses to finish 2018 and ends 2019 at home to Hull City and at Nottingham Forest.

Key men Pablo Hernandez, Pontus Jansson and Kemar Roofe will all be rested for Sunday’s third round clash at Loftus Road ahead of United’s return to Championship action five days later when Frank Lampard’s sixth-placed Derby County visit Elland Road - looking to cut an eight-point gap.

Yet despite not managing in England until his early 60s, Bielsa says he would not dream of disregarding the FA Cup with the Whites head coach admitting the competition is highly regarded all over the world with Bielsa himself evidently having taken note of tales of yesteryear.

Asked if he had any particular memories of FA Cup games or finals - fellow Argentina natives Ossie Ardiles or Ricky Villa playing for Tottenham perhaps - Bielsa smiled: “It’s a good question. Because you expose me to see if what I am going to say is true or not!

“I’m going to tell you the truth. You know that English football is very popular around the world. You know that in England people are in love their traditions so we have a mix of two things.

“Everybody wants to see to watch what you’ve been building throughout the centuries.

“I don’t have in mind all the specific moments of the English football. My memory recalls Regan and Bobby Charlton.

“Regan was this striker with long hair, short, not very tall, a very important number 9 for English football.

“Keegan! (not Regan). I take the name of a former American president and I say he was a number 9!”

Bielsa has already revealed that his own no 9 will be something of a surprise on Sunday with Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison set to play the lone striker role with top scorer Roofe rested and Patrick Bamford still injured.

Bielsa has taken the unusual step of already naming his starting XI which will feature six changes from the side that lined up at Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day.

Bailey Peacock-Farrell will keep his place in goal, behind a back four of Leif Davis at left back and Jamie Shackleton at right back with Luke Ayling partnering Aapo Halme at centre-half.

Adam Forshaw will again play the holding midfield role but behind Lewis Baker and Tyler Roberts as a no 10 with Jack Clarke bagging his first Whites start on the opposite flank to Gjanni Alioski who also keeps his place.

Six changes, four teenagers and a Whites debutante but still a strong side that Bielsa expects to get the job done.

“We have players that are not usually starters but they deserve to be starters,” said Bielsa.

“So I take these players into account for the competition.

“You also have players who are starters but they need to play too. “You also have players who prefer to play rather than rest. “These arguments are the ones I take into account to build the starting XI.

“Before starting the season I know what is the calendar of the team. So we draw plans to play all the competitions. I never underestimate an official competition.

“It’s among the compromises of the team. The FA Cup has a history, I don’t have to make any summary of it and of course I will respect this competition. Either if the rules oblige me to respect the competition or not, I will respect it.”

Opening up on his decision to name his entire starting XI two days before Sunday’s clash at Loftus Road, Bielsa said: “I wanted to explain case by case I did not disrespect the competition because the beneficiaries of the competitions are the fans and they have a link with the shirt and we can’t betray them.

“I have a lot of hope of the game on Sunday. I am looking forward to seeing the team that is going to start, I’m sure they will make us happy, winning. Because if you play well and you don’t win, it doesn’t make any sense and if you win but don’t play well it doesn’t last long.”