Marcelo Bielsa reveals regret over Barry Douglas' Leeds United exit and gives insight into depth of feeling for his players

Marcelo Bielsa's regret over Barry Douglas' time at Leeds United has given a rare insight into the depth of the Argentine's feelings for his players.

Friday, 16th October 2020, 2:16 pm
Updated Friday, 16th October 2020, 2:20 pm
GLOWING TRIBUTE - Marcelo Bielsa waxed lyrical about Barry Douglas' selfless attitude and professionalism after the left-back departed Leeds United for Blackburn Rovers. Pic: Getty

Just an hour or so after the left-back's season-long loan move to Blackburn, a move that effectively ends his time at Elland Road, Bielsa admitted his reaction to the Scot's exit was one of sadness.

Douglas struggled with injury in his first campaign as a Leeds player and his second brought more frustration, chiefly due to the form of Stuart Dallas who swapped from right to left after Luke Ayling's return to fitness and the team sheet.

Bielsa's desire for Douglas to stick around and be part of the group seems somewhat at odds with the head coach's traditional stance when it comes to players who simply aren't part of his first team plans. Others have ended up training away from Thorp Arch, but this wasn't the case for Douglas, who remained a hugely influential character at the training ground and in the dressing room, despite not making a single Premier League squad so far this season.

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The suggestion that Douglas was still at Leeds to ensure Bielsa had a sufficient number of bodies for muderball sessions and training were dismissed by the man who masterminded the club's escape from the second tier and Douglas' second Championship title. He was content for young players to go out on loan, but Douglas was a different story.

"I have never kept a player solely to make up the numbers for training," said Bielsa.

"In the case of the young players who have left on loan, because their progression with the U23s has been sufficient and I didn't see them having clear options to participate with the first team. In the case of Douglas it's different. It makes me very sad that he has left our team because in the two years he has been with us he has made a significant contribution.

"He is an impeccable professional and he is a very respected member within the team."

At 31, Douglas needs to be playing football regularly and that fact was at the heart of the decision taken this week, a decision that brings the club's first farewell with a permanent member of the title-winning side.

Bielsa holds himself responsible for Douglas' lack of game time, but as he acknowledged, those are the difficult decisions that come with his job and few would criticise the call to switch Dallas to left-back, given the Northern Irishman's form last season, form that brought a Players' Player of the Year award. That Douglas' exclusion from the first team could be justified doesn't make it any easier for Bielsa.

"In the position of left-back, I opted for Dallas, Alioski and Davis ahead of Douglas. They are decisions I have to make, for me they have been very difficult.

"Douglas deserved to triumph at Leeds and he gave his all to achieve this. In this case I think I wasn't able to help him enough for him to consolidate himself in our team. He is a player who has given many, many efforts to give the correct responses and I regret a little bit that he wasn't able to triumph with us. Finally, him, the club and I decided that he should leave for Blackburn.

"I wish him all the best because he really deserves it. He is a player full of virtues."

What Bielsa appeared to cherish most about Douglas was a willingness to put side before self, in the Leeds tradition.

"He has done some very important things for us," said the head coach.

"I can't forget that he played a game for us when he had a knee injury for half an hour, that is not very common because he thought about the team before he did himself and he put at risk his knee, which is a very complicated place for a player to get injured. To summarise, I regret I wasn't able to make him triumph with us."

Douglas, who was the subject of an open letter from director of football Victor Orta, has penned his own emotional goodbye to the club and its 'different breed' of fans.

His social media post, about the ups and downs, injury and play-off heartache and the promotion joy, expressed gratitude at having the chance to wear the shirt. Not being able to wear it on a regular basis is the very nub of this parting of ways. "Sometimes in football things don't go to plan and this is life," wrote Douglas on social media.

Bielsa's words, Orta's letter and an outpouring of support from the club's fans may come as some comfort for Douglas as he moves back to the Championship. He goes with Leeds United's every blessing. He played a part in promotion and a full part in the historic, memorable celebrations that followed. But this is football, players come and go. And he is a footballer, not a cheerleader. A manager's admiration is a fine thing. A tribute from a coach of world reknown is even finer. But for Douglas only football will do and it is Blackburn, not Bielsa, who can give him that.