How 'brilliant' Marcelo Bielsa helped Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford through his goalscoring drought
Marcelo Bielsa’s reputation as a head coach who likes to keep his distance from his players has not stopped him from supporting striker Patrick Bamford through a difficult spell.
Bamford revealed last season that Bielsa did not want to get too close to his Leeds United players, because he didn’t want to ‘see things he would judge badly’.
Bielsa was then asked about his relationship with the squad and admitted that while he loved them, becoming close might risk the affection felt by each party, familiarity might breed contempt.
“If the players were closer to me, they would respect me less because they would see how I am really. It doesn’t mean I’m acting in a way I shouldn’t, but it’s better for them to see me from a certain distance than to see me closer,” he said.
The Argentine is known as a tactical guru, a stickler for peak physical performance, a man who drills his methods relentlessly into his players and keeps them accountable over the food they consume.
But none of those things and the distance between Bielsa and United’s playing staff appear to stand in the way of his man-management skills.
When Bamford was going through a 10-game goalless run, a period that led to calls for him to be dropped, the head coach was there for his forward.
“He was brilliant, to be honest,” said Bamford after scoring twice at Luton, one of which was taken from him by the EFL’s dubious goals committee.
“He said ‘it was a cunning case, a unique case because normally if a striker is not scoring it’s because he’s c*** or because he’s not playing, but with you it’s neither of them so it’s a unique case that I don’t understand so I am sure you should be scoring every game’.”
While Bamford evidently appreciated the patience and trust being shown to him by Bielsa, it is something the striker has evidently earned.
Bielsa believes the former Middlesbrough man, who will come face to face with his former employer at Elland Road on Saturday, is a ‘great player’ and consistently pointed out the work the 26-year-old does for the team, in the face of mounting pressure to drop Bamford and start Eddie Nketiah instead.
Whether or not the head coach is any closer to Bamford and the squad, after nearly 18 months in charge, the trust he places in them has grown, to a level where Bielsa now has less to say and do – Leeds are now intuitively, instinctively playing Bielsaball.
“I am less involved in the sense of the development of the group, you don’t have to give too many messages to the players as I did last season,” said Bielsa.
“They have more independence, they need less messages from me. When I observe that the group is mature, experienced, I try to be less involved.”
Yet when the occasion called for it, Bielsa involved himself in Bamford’s plight to focus the striker on what really mattered.
Goals are important, particularly for a team who have found them harder to come by than nine of their Championship rivals and Bielsa wants goals from Bamford, but in the period when they just weren’t coming, he ensured he got everything else he wants and needs from the number nine.
“He’s been good but the most important thing is that I work for the team,” said Bamford.
“If we win and I don’t score, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because we got the three points so I think in terms of that he just keeps pushing at me to make sure I am there for the team, make sure I am doing the running for the team and make sure I am basically part of the team and showing something.
“If I am not showing the goals then show something else so I feel like I was doing that whilst I wasn’t scoring. It would be nice to be doing both obviously.”
Both, against Blackburn and Luton at least, is what Bamford gave his head coach.
At Reading, clear chances simply did not come the frontman’s way and, until Jack Harrison’s 87th-minute winner, it was another frustrating night.
But with Bielsa’s backing and his own self-belief, Bamford can cope with those.
“Obviously, every striker goes on a bit of a goal drought and whilst I am sure people were panicking and thinking we haven’t got a striker scoring goals, I was never panicking because in the majority of those games I was still playing well.
“I think that was important to me, to play well and bring yourself out the other side.
“It’s just nice to come out the other side.”