A £9 MILLION pound Premier League footballer is failing to even make Leeds United’s bench at present.
It’s the same for a striker who bagged 18 goals for the club’s title-winning under-23s last term.
But Marcelo Bielsa is constantly watching the likes of Jack Clarke and Ryan Edmondson with the Whites head coach encouraged by the strong competition for places within his squad.
Clarke has been the big-name omission from United’s match-day 18 for the club’s last three league games with the Tottenham Hotspur loanee so far limited to two outings in the Carbao Cup against Salford City and Stoke City.
Despite the obvious priority of chasing promotion to the Premier League, it was a competition Bielsa was keen to have a sustained run in.
After two rounds, that run is already over following Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss on penalties to the Potters at Elland Road after a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Bielsa could not hide his disappointment in his post-match press conference.
“For us, it was very important to stay in this competition,” said the Whites head coach.
The 64-year-old Argentinian had hoped for further Carabao Cup ties to offer more game time to those not currently in United’s league XI or even on the bench.
Clarke is a case a point.
Edmondson too, though last season’s under-23s top scorer, has yet to make any bench so far this season.
Bielsa, though, says the door is very much open with the South American putting in as much work and analysis as possible before making his selections, which, he says, are always open to being wrong.
Clarke’s involvement – or lack of – was again a hot topic at Bielsa’s pre-Swansea City press conference with the head coach saying of the winger: “He showed in previous times he’s a balanced player.
“He has to show it again these skills he has. Harrison, Costa, Stevens, Clarke and Pablo can all play as wingers.
“He’s fighting with these players for a chance. He competed in previous times with Alioski as a winger too. Now he needs to do the same.
“He is fighting for his position like everyone. He is doing this. I am always watching.
“I analyse the training, cup, Championship or under-23 games and his behaviour, and after this I make my conclusions. I am thinking he will be in the team, but sometimes I am right and sometimes I am wrong.”
Clarke is not helped by the EFL’s loans rule which stipulates that clubs can name only five loanees in their matchday squad.
Leeds have six – Clarke plus Lorient goalkeeper Illan Meslier, Brighton centre-back Ben White, Manchester City winger Jack Harrison, Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah and Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Helder Costa, whose move to the Whites will be made permanent in the summer.
But Tottenham loanee Clarke is not the only big talent failing to make the bench at present with highly rated Edmondson yet to feature in any of United’s matchday squads so far this term, including the two Carabao Cup ties.
“It’s the same answer as for Clarke,” said Bielsa, asked about Edmondson.
“We are working with a small group. We analyse everything the players do.
“We selected these players because we trust their skills.
“We think they have the skills to fight for one position in the team. As I said, after analysis I am selecting who is the best to play knowing I can be wrong. Making everything possible.”
For the sixth time this season, Bielsa will now assess his options for United’s next Championship assignment which involves an early top-of-the-table clash against Swansea.
But despite the summer transfer activity, the Whites XI will likely be very similar to the one that set out against the Swans back in February, aside from the departed Pontus Jansson and Kemar Roofe and the absence of the injured Luke Ayling.
Even Nketiah and Costa are having to settle for places on the bench at present with Bielsa again working the oracle with a similar team to last year.
Clarke is back for more as a loanee but not getting in.
Harrison is also back again and thriving in his second season on loan at Elland Road.
The Manchester City winger was again called for as Bielsa made three half-time substitutes during Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup tie against Stoke with United 2-0 down at the break.
Harrison immediately excelled but ultimately then became the only player unsuccessful with his spot kick as his penalty hit the post, sending United out.
Harrison, though, then had his name sung loud and clear from the terraces.
Asked if he was always confident he could improve last season’s squad, such as the likes of Harrison, Bielsa said: “Sometimes the good players are the same players.
"The same players are different too. When you repeat the first XI and you are working with the same players you can be more focused to control some details because the gross idea of the team has these ideas. This is relative.
“When you give an answer you try to say things you can defend. Working again with the same players means you can control more details but, at the same time, you get new players to improve the squad from last year.
“One of the most important is to have two or three options in each position. Then the level of competition increases the possibilities and skills.”