David Prutton: Why Bielsa’s man management skills have been so impressive at Leeds United

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When you hear a manager saying he’ll take responsibility for a poor game, you’re not always sure what he means. Is he conceding that the result was essentially his fault? Or is he saying that when all’s said and done, it’s him who’ll pay with his job if his players don’t get a grip?

Taking responsibility for a team who let you down is very different to taking responsibility for the way you prepared them.

Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa.

It’s possible to hold your hands up while at the same time listing individual errors and basically saying ‘look, once the players cross the white line…’

In other words, point the finger elsewhere.

With Marcelo Bielsa, I doubt he cares about PR or bothers with calculated statements. It seems to me that he says what’s in his head.

So when you read about him blaming himself for Leeds United’s defeat to Birmingham City – and not only that, specifically outlining where he went wrong – there’s no suggestion of him fishing for headlines.

As an example of good man management it’s right up there. But he won’t always be this forgiving.

David Prutton

As one of his players, I’d appreciate that style of management immediately.

I’d be a little wary too because Bielsa’s temperament tells me that he probably pulled no punches when his squad got back to the training ground last week.

The biggest problem might have been his formation and the role that Kalvin Phillips was asked to play in front of the back four but there were errors over the course of 90 minutes which won’t have gone unnoticed.

I read some quotes from Pontus Jansson a few weeks back saying how Bielsa tore into his squad after last month’s draw at Swansea and everything we know about the Argentinian tells us he’s obsessive about standards.

Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa.

Monday was probably one of those days where the players weren’t sure what to expect: he’s taken the blame himself in public but what’s he going to say when he gets us behind closed doors?

Behind closed doors is where the most constructive criticism takes place. There are certain moments in games which force a manager to speak out strongly – red cards, for example, are sometimes indefensible no matter how hard you try – but a tight camp don’t wash their dirty laundry in the open.

You only have to look to the west of Leeds to see what happens when issues between a player and a manager become public and messy.

God knows how Bielsa would handle Paul Pogba but I doubt he’d tolerate the situation as it is.

Kalvin Phillips.

Kalvin Phillips.

I was lucky in my career to deal with a lot of managers who were straight up about what they expected from you.

It was pretty much a case of ‘do what I’m asking you to do and I won’t criticise you if it goes wrong.’

It has to be said that the same message did always ring out in the media – I guess the natural reaction of a beaten coach is to bemoan the things that didn’t go to plan – but I rarely felt like a manager was hanging us all out to dry in circumstances where they deserved most of the flak.

It’s an important balance for a boss to strike. Absolve yourself of blame too often and players will start bitching behind your back.

It fuels the feeling that the man in charge has no idea what he’s doing. But at the same time, managers are too often the victims of players underperforming.

In reality, if football was simply about tactics boards then we’d all be brilliant at management.

But football depends a lot on human judgement and human error, those two things you can’t always control. It’s nice to know that Bielsa doesn’t think of himself as infallible, although when I look at his track record and the confident, stubborn way in which he sticks to his tactics, he won’t allow anything to bend him away from his philosophy.

The fact that he named an unchanged line-up at Sheffield Wednesday on Friday is proof of how strongly he believes in what he’s doing. But he evidently felt that his players needed protection last weekend because defeats always raise questions and a first defeat of the season raise more than many. Rather than leave the press to pick over the players, he preempted everything by dropping the result on his own head.

That says to me that Bielsa has developed a really strong bond with this squad; that he rates them and respects them and wants them to feel like he’s on their side.

I don’t think he was bulls******* in any way but I reckon he was conscious of making them think that they’re in this together and living the same dream.

You mess up, I mess up, nobody’s perfect and nobody’s asking you to be perfect.

As an example of good man management it’s right up there. But he won’t always be this forgiving.

And if I was in his dressing room, I doubt I’d be pushing my luck too far.