Murderball, analysis and progress - Ian Poveda details five-month journey to Leeds United debut

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Marcelo Bielsa does not simply throw a young player into the deep water of his ultra-demanding football and expect him to swim.

So there is little doubt that Ian Poveda’s 13-minute Leeds United debut at Cardiff on Sunday, five months after he joined the Whites from Manchester City, was hard earned.

But just because Bielsa has taken his time in teaching the 20-year-old winger his ways and requirements before finally granting him competitive football, does not mean Poveda has been eased into his current proximity to the first team.

It has been hard work since day one.

Poveda cannot say he wasn’t warned.

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“Before coming here I was told it was going to be hard work, but I’m not fazed by working hard, I like it,” he said.

In January the winger signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with the Whites and the chance to work with and develop under Bielsa’s tutelage was part of the club’s attraction.

Five months and just 13 minutes of Championship football later, he doesn’t rue his decision.

DEBUT - Ian Poveda taking his first strides as a fully fledged Leeds United first team member at Cardiff City on Sunday. Pic: Leeds UnitedDEBUT - Ian Poveda taking his first strides as a fully fledged Leeds United first team member at Cardiff City on Sunday. Pic: Leeds United
DEBUT - Ian Poveda taking his first strides as a fully fledged Leeds United first team member at Cardiff City on Sunday. Pic: Leeds United

“The decisive factor – it wasn’t just one thing, it was multiple things,” he said.

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“My coach Marcelo Bielsa was an important factor, the fans, the homeliness, the team-mates. That made my decision to come here and I don’t regret it at all.

“I’m even happier in fact, I feel good because I know my coach has worked with top, top players and made them better, improved them.”

Bielsa is known as much for bettering players as he is for the meticulous nature of his preparation and what has become affectionately known at Leeds as ‘murderball.’

The non-stop football session is the most talked about moment of Leeds’ weekly training regime and something Poveda, whose youth career included time in the Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Brentford academies, had not experienced before.

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“You don’t want to get into it,” he laughed, when asked about Bielsa’s famous, continuous 11 v 11 drill.

“But it’s good.

“Every training session is designed to make us better and improve, so you can perform on the weekend. I really enjoy it.

“It was new, I am not going to lie. The intensity, as you can see on the pitch, is something we give for the whole 90 minutes.

“The performance intensity is really high and the way we train is massive.

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“That is all down to Marcelo and his coaching staff. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

It doesn’t take players long to work out just how influential Bielsa has been in transforming a group of Leeds players from midtable also-rans to promotion favourites.

He is not, however, overly hands-on when it comes to communication and relationships with his players. Yet while Bielsa maintains his distance, he expects a constant flow of information from his staff.

Performances in training are picked apart in fine detail and the findings relayed back to the players in what sounds like a never-ending cycle.

The result, at least in Poveda’s case, is improvement.

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He says he wants to learn, so it would appear Thorp Arch is the right place for him.

“The coaches are always communicating with us, they’re great at that, getting us the information,” he said. “They’re always telling us what we need to do, every single day, the little things or big things you need to do in the game, in training, in the Under-23s matches.

“Props to them. They work really hard to analyse all the games, every little thing that’s happening on the pitch, even off the pitch and they try to give us the feedback so it’s understandable and we can assimilate it and ultimately perform.

“I’ve had to change a lot of things. Little things, for example recovery.

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“It’s so important because the demands are so high, you have to recover properly, how you sleep. #

“Everything, the minimal things are what are going to make the impact. Me changing, every day I just give 100 per cent and when you keep pushing that limit you’re going to increase it and become better. That’s what’s happened. I’ve come to Leeds, I’m training, I feel like I’m fit and I’m ready and I’ll keep pushing on.

“I feel like I’ve embraced it.

“Everything that comes my way I take it as a lesson, I’m always trying to learn every day.

“Coming to Leeds, I feel like I’ve already improved so much. In training I’m improving, I’m grateful for that. It’s what I came here to do, to improve as a player, help the team get promotion, get Leeds back to the top where they should be.”

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And whatever it was that he needed to improve on – Poveda says Bielsa has forced him to think about his game in a more fulsome way – the former Manchester City prospect is certain he’s on the right trajectory.

“I have definitely made progress,” he said.

“Physically, technically I’ve made progress. Even if it’s little things the coach are telling me every day to make me better.

“He has made me look at other sides of my game. I am a dribbler and like to receive the ball to my feet and he has also shown me about creating other problems and that there’s more to my performance.”

Now that he’s more fully versed in Bielsaball and hitting the necessary physical levels to cope with all it demands, Poveda can finally say he has played competitive football for Leeds United.

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As much as he credits the hard work he put in during lockdown and the head coach who is developing him, Poveda also pays tribute to the input of his team-mates for helping him to tick off a major milestone at what is just the start of his Whites career.

“My team-mates have been a massive support, I can’t thank them enough. I’m really happy to be here,” he said.

“We connect with everyone on the pitch, you can see it in the way we play, we’re comfortable with everyone, we have good connections. I feel like I’ve made connections with everyone on the pitch. I can play comfortably.

“When I came on “I was happy because I felt comfortable, the players trusted me, I was getting on the ball.

“I feel like there’s a lot more to give.

“We’ve got to keep training hard, keep our heads down, this [Cardiff] game has gone and we can’t dwell on the past.”