Everyone has an opinion on the Leeds United starting XI and Marcelo Bielsa is all ears
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to Leeds United’s starting XI and Marcelo Bielsa will happily listen to them all in an attempt to be as informed as possible.
But ultimately, the Argentine forms his own opinion and that becomes the foundation upon which his selection process is built.
Already this season the debate around Elland Road has focused on several positions.
Eddie Nketiah or Patrick Bamford or both? Gjanni Alioski or Barry Douglas? Jack Harrison or Helder Costa? Tyler Roberts or Jamie Shackleton, in place of the injured Adam Forshaw? Pablo Hernandez on the right or through the centre?
This is the kind of debate that surrounds every club. It is, for the most part, healthy, so long as it doesn’t cross the line into abuse.
Social media analysis, message boards, podcasts, fan YouTube accounts, they are nothing new, not really, they’re just the modern day equivalent of readers’ letters or post-game discussion in the likes of the The Peacock.
Conversations that begin with ‘did you see the match’ have got a little fancier, in the digital era.
The citation of data and analytics is on the increase in supporter-led debate, particularly on social media. The Leeds United fanbase is well represented on that front.
Both @AllStatsArentWe and @LUFCDATA look at and beyond the numbers that help explain exactly what Bielsa’s team is doing well or not so well.
Players coming in for criticism can be seen in a more positive light when analysis reveals the unnoticed parts of their game or hint at a different role they have been asked to do.
The Argentine’s brand of football has inspired a host of Twitter accounts that clip sections of Leeds games and theorise about what exactly is happening when the Whites are on the pitch; player rotation, space creation, passing combination.
His philosophy fascinates fans all over the globe and provokes discussion.
Bielsa himself leaves no stone unturned when it comes to analysing a performance or examining how Leeds can move forward.
“We focus the situation with all the points of view,” he said, when asked what he could do to build players’ confidence after a defeat, in the light of Saturday’s disappointment at Charlton Athletic.
It was another occasion when Leeds dominated possession and created but failed to take their chances.
Those calling vehemently for Nketiah to partner Bamford up front or Costa to play from the start got their respective wishes, yet they did not get the proof to back up their arguments.
“What we can do in training, what we can do reviewing footage and also what we can do talking with the players, as a group and individually.
“We try to pay attention to all aspects, first of all because it is our job and we have a lot of time to do it and also because this one is a problem the team is having and we want to resolve it.”
For supporters and the media, the debate after a defeat focuses on what a coach could or should do differently to produce a different result next time out.
The solution is almost always change – a different player up front, two players up front, dropping the winger, swapping formation.
After a series of poor results, it seems, the debate begins to shift and focus on the manager and if a change in the dugout is necessary.
That kind of talk feels a long, long way off around this football club.
Some managers ignore the noise, filter everything out. Some say they do, yet their words often betray them, unwittingly revealing an awareness of the debate going on around their club.
Bielsa is well aware of what is being said.
He has shown that this season, referencing the Bamford and Nketiah conundrum more than once in press conferences.
He gathers input from as many sources as possible, because there might be a potential gain for Leeds United and, if not, simply to satisfy his own curiosity.
“I don’t ignore it. I listen to that.
“I am very curious about the opinion that is around about all the decisions I take, because sometimes there are some opinions that help us.”
It is difficult to imagine Bielsa scrolling through Twitter or reading Facebook comments.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility for a grey-tracksuited intern or analyst keeping the boss briefed on what is being said about his team.
The thought of Bielsa mulling over their suggestion would fill most fans with a warm glow, or send them on a deleting spree perhaps.
Leeds fans need fear not, however.
Bielsa won’t be making a game-changing decision on the basis of your tweet.
He gathers information, reams of the stuff, whether that is from video, data, his staff or ‘the noise’ and then comes to a decision that he is convinced is right.
The man whose job is on the line when all these decisions stack up, over time to yield a particular set of results and a league position, believes a manager can only win a team of footballers to their way of thinking if they believe what they’re saying.
“There is an obligation that managers are forced to do what they think,” he said.
“Their job is to convince one group of footballers.
“It wouldn’t be possible to be influenced by this [noise], taking decisions they don’t believe.
“I try to listen to all the opinions but make my own.”