The irony of Lewis Baker bailing out of Leeds United in January was that Marcelo Bielsa had never been more convinced by him than he was at that stage.
An out-of-favour Baker activated an option to terminate his season-long loan from Chelsea and will start against Leeds for Reading tomorrow after making a rapid January move to the Madejski Stadium.
His time with Leeds was underwhelming - offering Baker few chances to play and proving unproductive when he did - but Bielsa’s faith in him was demonstrated by United’s head coach admitting that he had been interested in signing Baker permanently for next season.
Bielsa admitted that the 23-year-old was a victim of his attitude towards choosing a team and his reluctance to rotate players unnecessarily.
United will have the same starting line-up for the fifth game running at Reading and Baker was never able to break Bielsa’s loyalty to others in his midfield.
Bielsa said: “I wanted him to stay with our team. I didn’t agree with the fact that he left. He didn’t need my agreement to leave but in his contract he had the option.
“I always had a lot of confidence in his skills but I couldn’t express that confidence by giving him minutes of play.
“I work a lot so that when a player comes into the starting XI he doesn’t go out of it. Usually the player who plays as a starter stays as a starter. I only take decisions when I think they can be lasting.
“But I understand that in some situations you have players who can’t wait. Maybe Baker had emergencies which explain why he didn’t stay with us but when he left I was feeling that he was very close to becoming an important player in the team. I understand his decision and his needs.”
Baker made two starts for Leeds and played 11 times in the Championship. His appearance for Reading tomorrow will be his 10th for the club.
Speaking ahead of the game, Baker said: “There's definitely an incentive (to do well against Leeds) but I don't have any grudges or anything like that. I'm just focused on where I am now and where I need to get to.
“It's not a thing where I feel like I need to get revenge on the club because they were actually fantastic. It just didn't work out for me on the pitch, so no grudges.”