There have been, and will continue to be, casualties of Marcelo Bielsa’s marriage with Leeds United but his on-going cull of players is nothing like a bloodbath. Bielsa was frank with the club about who should depart and several of those have already gone but there were, in his words, “plenty of players on the books I believe we should keep.”
Leeds made the Argentinian – famously particular and demanding with his expectations – assurances about the transfer market but Bielsa promised in turn that he would bring more out of the squad he was inheriting, irrespective of so many damning verdicts on their performance in the Championship last season. Bielsa does not use the term ‘marginal gains’ but Leeds, who to date have made just one new signing, expect to see steep improvement amongst a group who failed to finish in the top half of the division.
Pre-season is almost two weeks old and as they have been doing from the first day, the players on Bielsa’s to-keep list are arriving at Thorp Arch at 9am and leaving after 7pm. On certain nights they have roomed in a nearby hotel, cutting out the drive to and from Wetherby.
Angus Kinnear, United’s managing director and a former employee at Arsenal, said he saw shades of Arsene Wenger in Bielsa’s insistence on managing so much of his squad’s preparation.
“All of the physical training appears to be in context,” Kinnear told the YEP. “Rather than running for the sake of running, everything’s with the ball, everything’s done in game scenarios. The players are receiving a lot more individual coaching than they have previously.
“Anybody who followed Leeds last season will have seen that the players didn’t play to 100 per cent of their potential. I know there’s a massive interest about who we’ll bring in but I also think we’ve got players with fantastic potential if they’re playing at 100 per cent, rather than 70 per cent. That could be the difference between last season and doing something significant.
“I know people get frustrated about the speed of the progress we make (in the transfer market) but the key for us is that we make the right decisions and that they’re fully considered. Marcelo had clear areas that he wanted to strengthen and where he saw weaknesses but also, it makes sense for him to spend some time with the squad as he fine-tunes his requirements.”
Leeds began pre-season training with three distinct groups: a main collection of players who Bielsa had earmarked to retain, another group of Under-23s and senior footballers he was undecided on and a final collection of professionals who he asked United’s board to move on. Those deemed surplus to requirements were given an extra week away and time to find new clubs. Several, including Pawel Cibicki, Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan, moved to cut their ties quickly.
In the interim, the other two training groups have been fluid. Kinnear revealed that a handful of academy players, including Jamie Shackleton, Ryan Edmondson and Jack Clarke, were already training with Bielsa’s main crop and Yosuke Ideguchi – the Japan international who finished last season on loan at Cultural Leonesa, a spell which cost him his World Cup spot – has also made the step up in the past week.
“We have some hugely talented young players and one of the other differences is an immediate integration of the young players into working with the first team,” said Kinnear, talking at the launch of United’s new club store at the Trinity shopping centre in Leeds yesterday. “The philosophy clearly is if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Marcelo’s very diligent, with huge attention to detail. He’s an expert in getting players to quickly adapt to his philosophy. There’s a buzz about the place.Angus Kinnear
“Marcelo’s very diligent, with huge attention to detail and very demanding in terms of his requirements, not only for the players but the rest of the staff and the training ground set-up. The last week has been a big learning curve in terms of how he feels Thorp Arch is going to work. What you can see is that he’s an expert in getting players to quickly adapt to his philosophy. There’s a buzz about the place.
“We’re really satisfied. He has a clear philosophy and a clear gravitas. He’s not learning on the job.
“He’s been there and done it and there’s very much an Arsene Wenger approach in the breadth of his influence: how does the canteen operate, how does the gym operate, how do the leisure areas work, where are the players parking, precisely what happens on a matchday.
“He hasn’t talked about the theory of marginal gains but he’s looking at every area of the club and how we can get better. We’re a week in but there’s clearly a huge impact and a big difference.”