Leeds United’s players have not been asked to sleep at their training ground, as Lille’s were invited to by Marcelo Bielsa 12 months ago, but they are rapidly clocking up the hours in the first week of pre-season at Thorp Arch.
The clutch of senior professionals put to work by Bielsa were on the grass for long laps around 10am yesterday morning and drove home after 7pm, at the end of a third session of training.
Bielsa’s programme will keep them in each other’s pockets until the summer gives way to competitive football.
The Argentinian, who was appointed as head coach almost a fortnight ago and began the job in earnest on Monday, has divided United’s first-team and development-squad players into three specific groups: a central core he is intent on working with, a blend of Under-23s and senior names who might yet feature next season and a collection of others who are surplus to requirements.
A total of 12 players were in the main group yesterday, led by last season’s club captain, Liam Cooper. Some of the absences spoke for themselves: Pontus Jansson is away at the World Cup with Sweden and Ronaldo Vieira was given additional time off after England Under-20 duty, though the midfielder has reported back regardless and watched the early running session yesterday.
Tyler Roberts, having failed to play once due a cracked shin bone suffered after his £2m move from West Brom in January, was elsewhere in the gym having done extensive fitness work before pre-season began. Vurnon Anita is still recovering from ankle surgery carried out on him in April.
Alongside Cooper were Adam Forshaw, Kemar Roofe, Kalvin Phillips, Tom Pearce, Luke Ayling, Samuel Saiz, Pablo Hernandez, Stuart Dallas, Gjanni Alioski and Gaetano Berardi.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell was the only goalkeeper involved with Leeds still in the midst of talks about the potential signing of Angus Gunn from Manchester City and David Stockdale from Birmingham.
Other absentees were on the brink of moving elsewhere. Lewie Coyle joined Fleetwood Town on a half-season loan yesterday and Pawel Cibicki is close to quitting Leeds on a temporary basis.
Serie B club Brescia want Marcus Antonsson and the Swede has no future at Elland Road despite an effective spell with Blackburn Rovers in League One last term.
The Argentinian, who was appointed as head coach almost a fortnight ago and began the job in earnest on Monday, has divided United’s first-team and development-squad players into three specific groups
More notable by their omission were Republic of Ireland international Eunan O’Kane, strikers Caleb Ekuban and Jay-Roy Grot and winger Hadi Sacko. Andy Lonergan, United’s most experienced keeper, was also missing along with Luke Murphy, the largely forgotten midfielder who still has 12 months left on the long contract he signed in 2015.
Three others – Laurens De Bock, Yosuke Ideguchi and Mateusz Klich – had been photographed on Monday training with Leeds’ Under-23s and appear to fall into the clutch of ‘maybes’ who Bielsa is assessing.
United have not confirmed publicly which players are available for transfer but Bielsa asked the club to make the surplus crowd aware of their fate before he flew to England last weekend. Some, like Cibicki, are well on the way to finding other clubs. The forward, who United signed from Malmo 10 months ago, enjoyed a brief purple patch around Christmas but finished last season training with the club’s youngsters.
Bielsa is well on the way to establishing what he called a “trimmed-down squad” but United’s senior training group as yet shows no new faces.
Negotiations which, in some cases, have run from the earliest days of the transfer window are still to bring about the club’s first signing and tomorrow marks six weeks before the EFL’s deadline for permanent moves passes. Loan deals, however, are permitted until the traditional August 31 cut-off under new rules agreed by EFL clubs.