Patrick Bamford hails Marcelo Bielsa impact as striker eyes legacy as Leeds United's number nine
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Leeds spent the majority of Bielsa's first season in charge inside the Championship's automatic promotion places only to fall away in the final month and finish third.
Defeat in the play-offs semi-finals to Derby County followed but Bamford says a measure of Bielsa's influence is highlighted by the fact that United only finished 13th in the previous campaign.
Speaking in United’s ‘Ask’ series in association with Deliveroo, Bamford was asked what it has been like playing under Bielsa and admitted: "Hard. You've got to be mentally tuned in, you've got to be physically tuned but it's rewarding.
"I think that if you ask anyone you never get better if something is easy so if you are constantly playing in your comfort zone you are never going to push yourself to get to that next step and he pushes us every day, every single day.
"Whilst sometimes there are probably days where we don't feel like it and our legs are hurting and we are probably moaning, we understand why and we are grateful because he is the one who has kind of transformed this club really.
"If you look at what we did last year with the players, pretty much the same group of players who had been there the year before and really if it wasn't for our own kind of naivety we'd have gone up last year and we;d have stormed the league.
"I think you can see the kind of impact he has on us and you can see the kind of football and I think it's entertaining football, you can see how hard every player works and after every game every player is dead on their feet.
"But that's the way it is and I think the fact that because he demands so much from us and we give it to him, I think that there is an awful lot of mutual respect between the group and between him as well."
Bielsa specifically targeted the signing of then Middlesbrough forward Bamford upon taking over the Elland Road hotseat in June 2018. Bamford then joined Leeds from for £7m on a four-year deal on the final day of July 2018, becoming the club’s most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler joined from Liverpool for £11m in 2001.
But Bamford had to endure two spells out injured during his first season at Leeds with two separate knee injuries. During his first spell out, a video of Bielsa hugging Bamford after the striker scored a scorching volley whilst on the comeback trail in training went viral in November 2018.
“As a manager, he’s not the kind where you’d go into his room, sit down and have a chat with,” said Bamford. “There’s a very professional relationship, there’s such a respect for him that you just wouldn’t do that.
“So when he came running over for a hug, I was a bit like ‘woah. Do I go to him? Do I just stay still?’ And it was when Coops (captain Liam Cooper) shouted ‘Pat run to him!’, I ran to him. It was mad. If I scored that goal again in a game, then I think I’d sprint straight up to him just for a laugh.
“I think that was the whole reason why the video went so mad, it went viral. If I’d scored that goal, it’d have probably been a bit popular with the Leeds fans, but the fact that Marcelo Bielsa ran across the pitch to hug someone after a training goal, it seemed to go everywhere around the world.”
A year and a half later, the suspension of the Championship season due to coronavirus came with a fully fit Bamford continually leading the Whites line in the lone striker role and Bamford hopes he can be the club’s main striker for many years to come.
“I’ve always wanted to be the main striker and wear the number 9,” said 26-year-old Bamford.
“I remember when I was at Middlesbrough, we were going into a new season, I wanted the number 9 but we just signed Britt (Assombalonga), and apparently in his contract he said he had to have the number 9 shirt. They gave it to him, though seeing as he was my mate I didn’t really mind.
“But as soon as I came to Leeds, (director of football) Victor (Orta) said ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got the number 9 shirt saved for you, it’s yours, so for me that means a lot.
“To be able to tell people when I’m older, ‘look I was the number 9 for Leeds United’, that’s a big thing, so I want to keep that for as long as possible.”
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