Marcelo Bielsa claimed he had taken on a job which was “bigger than I deserve” as the renowned Argentinian prepared to launch his Leeds United revolution against Stoke City on Sunday.
Bielsa said he had been flattered by the chance to take charge as head coach at Elland Road, despite the scale of his reputation, and insisted his aim this season was to “show I deserve the opportunity I’ve been given.”
Bielsa’s highly-anticipated reign begins in earnest this weekend with Championship title-favourites Stoke set to provide a major examination of his pre-season planning.
The former Marseille and Athletic Bilbao boss has been in control of United’s squad for seven weeks having arrived as a high-profile replacement for Paul Heckingbottom who Leeds sacked at the beginning of June.
Leeds spent weeks courting Bielsa and agreed to make him the highest-paid coach in their history in the hope of finally breaking their 14-year exile from the Premier League.
Bielsa, now 63, brought with him a track record of almost 30 years in management and the endorsement of numerous top coaches, including Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino.
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United classed his appointment as a significant coup having assumed before talks began that Bielsa, who is managing in England for the first time, was likely to reject the opportunity to come to the Championship.
But speaking through translator Salim Lamrani, Bielsa spoke of his honour at being handed the post and said he was cautious of underestimating it by thinking about where this tenure could rank amongst his prior achievements.
Bielsa said: “The project of Leeds, the line of work Victor Orta proposed, the history of the club, the importance of the club and the support from the president (Andrea Radrizzani) for my ideas made me think that the possibility to work here was bigger than what I deserved.
“When they proposed to me something bigger than what I deserve, I take it as a challenge and I try to win this challenge. I’m in a place that is bigger than what I deserve.
“My goal is to show that I deserve the opportunity I was given. But to show you that I’m not a demagogue, think about the manner of making this a successful project and think about the big challenge I have this year as a head coach. You can understand then that I can’t think about the future. My goal is to face this challenge.”
Stoke have thrown money at their squad, completing deals for Tom Ince, James McClean and Benik Afobe, and Gary Rowett’s side are outright favourites to win the Championship following their relegation last season.
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The fixture list threw up a difficult start for Leeds and Sunday’s televised match, in front of a crowd of over 30,000 at Elland Road, will be the first test of Bielsa’s tactics and the recruitment carried out by United in the transfer window.
Asked if he felt any nerves with the season about to kick off, Bielsa said: “There is always tension when you have competition. If I didn’t feel any tension I would be worried. The first game is our first challenge where we will be able to show what we can do. You always have a question about it.”
Bielsa’s appointment has dominated the agenda at Elland Road since he accepted a two year contract but, in another lengthy press conference, he played down the focus on his coaching ability, saying: “If we compare the history of Leeds with my own history, you will find out that the attention regarding me is not very important.”