THE appointment of Marcelo Bielsa as Leeds United head coach was quickly heralded by some as Leeds United’s highest profile managerial appointment yet.
The facts are that Bielsa has become the highest paid head coach in the club’s 99-year history with the football world seriously sitting up to take notice of Friday morning’s news.
Whilst bearing the likes of Howard Wilkinson, George Graham and Terry Venables in mind, it has been suggested by some that only the appointments of Brian Clough and Jock Stein made similar waves – two managers who both benefited from the dazzling services of Whites winger legend Eddie Gray.
Whilst reluctant to categorically say Bielsa is the club’s highest-profile boss ever, Gray admits he has been highly impressed by the appointment of the Argentinian, commending his former club for their efforts and saying of Bielsa: “his CV is as good as anyone’s.”
Having gone through ten different head coaches in the last five years, Leeds have quickly shifted their attentions to something rather different with Bielsa now the club’s first ever head coach or manager to be born outside of Europe.
After growing up in Rosario, Argentina, Bielsa went on to manage the Argentina and Chile national sides as well as Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao, Marseille, Lazio and Lille.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and Tottenham Hotspur chief Mauricio Pochettino are among those to have been influenced by Bielsa’s work with Guardiola describing Bielsa as “the best coach in the world”.
Of all the managerial appointments in the club’s 99-year history, it has been suggested that only the appointments of Clough and Stein come close in terms of comparable CVs.
Gray would know having been a Leeds player when both were appointed with Clough having steered Derby County to their first ever English title and the semi finals of the European Cup before being brought to Leeds for the arduous task of succeeding what turned out to be the club’s most successful manager ever in Don Revie after Clough’s shortlived spell at Brighton.
Clough’s well documented views on Leeds made his appointment extremely unpopular and he lasted just 44 days before ultimately heading to Nottingham Forest whom he steered to a league title and two consecutive European Cups.
Stein, meanwhile, joined Leeds in 1978 after 13 years with Celtic whom he guided to a plethora of titles including ten league championships and a European Cup.
Stein also lasted for just 44 days but Gray was there for both, putting him in the ideal place to compare those two appointments with the acquisition of Bielsa.
Whether Bielsa is actually the club’s highest profile manager ever remains open to debate but Gray says there is no denying the significance of the Argentinian’s appointment and therein the statement made by Leeds United and chairman Andrea Radrizzani as a whole.
Comparing the appointment of Bielsa to Clough and Stein, Gray told the YEP: “Bielsa is high profile but two other managers you mention there won the European Cup or the Champions League so it doesn’t come much higher profile than them – and Don Revie himself.
“But for actually hiring somebody, it’s a big statement that the club have made so fair play to the club.
“They went and got somebody who they think is at the top edge of the management tree and his record shows that.
“Obviously, everybody will be looking forward to it. It feels like it’s terrific. You look at his CV and it’s as good as anyone’s. He’s got a great reputation, he’s a powerful manager and I think he’ll run things as he sees fit and I don’t think there will be any doubt about that.
“You don’t manage at the level he has managed at without knowing the game and having confidence in your ability to make things happen.”
Bielsa is set to arrive in England next weekend with the 62-year-old heading for his first training session with United’s squad upon their return from their summer break at Thorp Arch next Monday.
The fact that the Argentinian speaks very little English if any, has been well documented but Gray does not see the language barrier being a problem.
“Football is a universal language,” reasoned Gray.
“As long as he can get stuff across to the players, it doesn’t make any difference.
“I’m sure that as time goes by he will learn words and what he needs to learn to be able to communicate with people and with the press and the players especially and he will probably have somebody interpret him so he can get his messages across.”
The overriding message and aim is that Bielsa will now be the latest in a long line of managers charged with finally getting the Whites back into the Premier League after what is now a 15-year absence. Gray, longing for his former side to finally get back in the top flight, is optimistic.
Gray said: “It’s exciting when any new manager comes in but it will be interesting to see how he approaches it and how he goes about it in his quest to get the team back into the Premier League.
“Because at the end of the day that’s the ultimate aim – for the team to get back into the Premier League.
“Like any other manager, he will know that himself because he is a experienced manager and that’s what he will be judged on.
“I just hope, though, that maybe we can settle down, that the club can settle down and he can use his experience to get the type of players we need or what he thinks we need to get us back into back into the big league.
“Everybody will be looking forward to it.
“I think it’s the best for the club, to get a manager with his reputation from the start to come to a Championship club.
“He said himself that it was a big opportunity for him and too good to turn down.
“Time will tell – but it seems a step in the right direction.”