Defender's return for Arsenal, Marcelo Bielsa's January transfer window clarification and spiky response all good news for Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa came to his press conference armed with some good news - only eight of his senior Leeds United players will be unavailable on Saturday instead of the nine originally feared to be missing.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 17th December 2021, 4:40 am

As he countered the bad news – fresh injuries for Jamie Shackleton and Daniel James – with the return of Robin Koch, Bielsa was giving off a far more upbeat vibe than the one that clung to him on Tuesday night after the Manchester City defeat.

“I’m in high spirits,” he said.

“Part of my job is to be able to face the most difficult moments – you come out of them correcting things, taking them on board and not delegating responsibility or looking to blame others.”

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This was, for Leeds fans concerned by the most dejected body language seen from the coach since 2019, a good start.

And it got better as he clarified, for anyone uncertain of his January transfer stance, that whilst he did not feel he could demand more new signings, he was not against them in principle as long as anyone joining was better than the players the club already have.

“I never said I don’t want players to come in January, as you guys informed I am opposed to it,” he said.

“The only thing I said and I reiterate is that to bring in players they should be better than the ones we already have. The club has invested £130m in this squad; I don’t know if they can or can’t invest more. But I’m not in conditions to demand incorporations when the organisation has been so responsible.

GOOD NEWS - Marcelo Bielsa will only have eight senior players out when Leeds United face Arsenal and not nine, as Robin Koch is available again. Pic: Getty

“That type of information [if discussions have taken place over potential targets] we only give if we are going to sign a player. What I don’t have any doubts about is that the club will do the maximum they can to resolve the needs.”

As Jim Carrey’s character in 1994 comedy Dumb and Dumber said: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

The best was arguably still to come from Bielsa, however, as the press conference moved into the national newspaper section.

This was when he delivered, in word and attitude, what any football fan would want to hear and see from their team’s manager in times of adversity or in the wake of a humiliating defeat.

His response to questions over pundit suggestions that he had taken Leeds as far as he could was spiky, as if he was rising to a tacit challenge to a scrap.

“Of course I am going to continue fighting until the end of the season,” he said.

“I always think with adversity you have to fight, you never know if strength is going to be enough and what the progression is of the difficulties we face. Having said that, I am going to fight until the end of the season without any doubts. I hope nothing happens that doesn’t allow me to act on what I’ve said.”

A subsequent follow-up on whether or not he feared getting the boot from his job at Leeds, met a similar response and some back and forth as the interviewee became the interviewer.

“Do you think that any coach isn’t able to be sacked?

“Do you think that after suffering a 7-0 defeat I can disregard the instability?

“Do you think I’m so vain that I think I can’t be sacked?”

He expected, and got, a response to each of his questions. They were not rhetorical.

“The job of a coach is not stable,” he went on.

“I don’t have anything that makes me immune from that characteristic. After losing 7-0 it is the situation I have to live through. In all of these circumstances, all I can do is fight.”

Those questions might have turned a blind eye to the reality that no-one in the decision-making realms at Elland Road is considering Bielsa’s position for the remainder of the 2021/22 season and they might be very premature, given Leeds are closer in points to 11th than they are the drop zone, but they teed the Argentine up for a volley that was welcomed by fans.

And there really is nothing else for it, but a bit of fight, when you’re missing Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper, Patrick Bamford, Junior Firpo, Pascal Struijk, Rodrigo, Shackleton and James.

Making excuses of that list would introduce a culture Leeds can scarcely afford, offering the remaining players a way out of accountability for their individual and collective performances.

The Bielsa way is to face the difficulty, correct mistakes, take them on board and assume full responsibility.

If that isn’t enough, he knows full well what the cost is. But until such a time as that becomes a reality, if ever it does, he’s here to fight. That was the real story of his press conference.