Carlos Corberan's opinion in demand with reputation growing at Leeds United

KEY INFLUENCE: Carlos Corberan and Marcelo Bielsa with Jamie Shackleton as the midfielder gets ready to make his Leeds United debut in August's 4-1 win at Derby County.
KEY INFLUENCE: Carlos Corberan and Marcelo Bielsa with Jamie Shackleton as the midfielder gets ready to make his Leeds United debut in August's 4-1 win at Derby County.
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PEP GUARDIOLA’S thoughts on Marcelo Bielsa were well documented as the South American became Leeds United head coach last summer.

“It doesn’t matter how many titles he had in his career,” said Guardiola back in 2017.

“We are judged by that how much success we have, how many titles we have won, but that is much less influential than how he has influenced football and his football players. That is why, for me, he is the best coach in the world.”

Guardiola’s thoughts on Carlos Corberan as Corberan replaced the outgoing Jason Blunt as Leeds under-23s head coach in June 2017 were somewhat lesser known.

Five and a half years earlier, in February 2012, it was Guardiola who recommended Villareal assistant Corberán to Saudi Arabian team Al-Ittihad.

Guardiola was in the last of his four seasons in charge of Barcelona and knew all about Corberan as a La Liga rival as assistant boss to Manuel Pellegrini after beginning his coaching career at the club as a 26-year-old under head coach Juan Carlos Fernandez.

After joining Leeds from Cypriot side Ermis five-and-a-half years later, Corberan was an unfamiliar name for most following earlier spells at as Academy manager at Segunda Division side AD Alcorcón and then coach at Saudi outfit Al-Nassr in between his time at Ittihad and Ermis.

But not unfamiliar to Guardiola and definitely not for Whites board member Ivan Bravo, technical director Victor Orta and Academy manager Adam Underwood who appointed Corberan as under-23s boss.

After a steady start, Corberan’s talents have come shining through in his second season at Leeds with his homeland now calling for his services which comes as no surprise given the 36-year-old’s reputation within the game.

Fresh from winning a league title and the PDL play-off final in charge of Leeds United’s under-23s this season, Corberan is wanted by Spanish third tier side Cultural Leonesa who want to make the former goalkeeper their new head coach.

Leonesa are controlled by Qatar’s Aspire Academy, the development centre which Leeds established an official partnership with in 2018.

United board member Bravo, the head of Aspire, oversees the running of Cultural as part of his role and Leeds were briefly involved in a tie-up with the club during the 2017-18 season.

Bravo is understood to have singled out Corberan as a possible replacement for former Deportivo La Coruna defender José Manuel Aira and it is easy to see why.

As a player, Corberan started out with hometown club Valencia and made it to Segunda División B but called time on his playing career as a 23-year-old to concentrate solely on his coaching.

The 13 years that have followed have taken in two spells in Saudi Arabia and one in Cyprus and a rather unconventional route but one that ended up in Leeds in the summer of 2018. It is now for Corberan to decide if his future education comes back to his homeland or under Bielsa at Leeds.

But United are keen for the Spaniard to stay put and that way of thinking comes as no surprise given the esteem Corberan is held in and his progress at Thorp Arch.

Beneath the surface of the Bielsa revolution with United’s first team, the success of United’s under-23s under Corberan has been one of the stories of the season at Leeds and indeed the Spaniard has played a key part in the fortunes of United’s first team.

Bielsa knew enough about Corberan to make him first team coach at the beginning of the season and Bielsa has regularly spoken about the huge influence that Corberan has had upon both Leeds United’s first team and his own coaching.

Back in August, the image of an 18-year-old Jamie Shackleton awaiting his first team debut as a second-half substitute in the 4-1 win at Derby County spoke a thousand words.

As Shackleton looked on, two men stood ether side of the teenager embraced by arms around his shoulders – those of Bielsa – and Corberan.

After two years in charge, nobody knows United’s youngsters quite like Corberan and the gentle introduction of the club’s young stars to the first team has been a key feature of the team’s success, even if the bid to gain promotion ultimately ended with tears in the play-offs.

Will Huffer, Leif Davis, Aapo Halme, Tom Pearce, Jordan Stevens, Clarke Oduor, Ryan Edmondson, Jack Clarke and Kun Temenuzhkov have all featured for United’s first team this season having graduated under Corberan’s watch for the 23s.

Shackleton and Clarke have had the biggest impact and big things are expected of both next season with Edmondson also tipped to take a huge step forwards.

There are others bubbling below the surface led by the likes of Pascal Struijk, Robbie Gotts and Alfie McCalmont and Corberan provides the perfect link between the under-23s of which he is in charge of and United’s first team as one of Bielsa’s inner circle coaches.

The talents and influence of Corberan is clearly illustrated not just by the superb success of United’s under-23s this season – but the seamless transition that those youngsters have made to the first team when called for.

And such success and influence has also been measured by the words of Bielsa, who back in October left little doubt as to the esteem the Spaniard was held in.

“Carlos is a good colleague, I have found that,” Bielsa said. “He is very talented. I listen more to his opinion than I give mine to him.”

Not for the first time, that opinion is now wanted elsewhere, and a club quietly progressive in Spain. Leonesa might only be in the Segunda División B – the third tier of Spanish football – but last season saw them threaten to make the jump to the second tier.

The third tier of Spanish football is divided into four divisions of 20 with Leonesa finishing fifth in Group One and only beaten to the division’s fourth play-off place on goal difference by Real Madrid Castila who finished fourth to Fuenlabrada, Ponferradina and Atlético Madrid B.

Promotion from the Spanish third tier is a bit of a minefield with the four Group winners qualifying for the group champions’ play-offs which this season involved the aforementioned Fuenlabrada, Racing Santander, Atlético Baleares and Recreativo.

Two teams of that quartet then go up with Santander – something of a sleeping giant in Spain – securing promotion this season along with Fuenlabrada.

The other 12 ‘qualifiers’ then do battle to seal the other two spots meaning plenty of work to do even in the event of sealing a play-off place before booking dates against the likes of Zaragoza, Tenerife and Rayo Vallecano in the second tier next term.

Leonesa are not at that level yet and the third tier of Spanish football ultimately features plenty of reserve sides.

Nevertheless, their efforts saw them qualify for the Copa Del Rey next term. A bigger stage but it is for Corberan to decide if the best stage for him remains to be under Bielsa at Leeds.

From a Whites perspective, best for all concerned if he does.