The different paths, similarities and mutual respect between Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa and Huddersfield's Cowley brothers

When Leeds United defeated Huddersfield Town in December, Marcelo Bielsa approached Terriers management team Danny and Nicky Cowley and gesticulated that they would soon be a side on the up.
Danny Cowley, left and Marcelo Bielsa have taken very different paths to the Championship (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)Danny Cowley, left and Marcelo Bielsa have taken very different paths to the Championship (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)
Danny Cowley, left and Marcelo Bielsa have taken very different paths to the Championship (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)

The 2-0 defeat the Whites had just inflicted on their neighbours had sent Huddersfield down into 21st position, two points clear of the drop zone.

Bielsa welcomes the Cowley brothers to Elland Road on Saturday and the visitors now have a four-point cushion between themselves and the relegation places, but they’re also now sitting 17th.

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And while the Terriers would like to be further clear of trouble, they were 11 points off 12th after the last encounter with Leeds and that gap has now narrowed to just six points.

Bielsa was right and Leeds will be hoping that what Danny Cowley said on that day will also come true when he declared ‘they won’t fall short this season’.

The journeys that have taken Cowley and Bielsa to Saturday’s Elland Road fixture could not be more different.

Along with his brother and assistant Nicky, Cowley has worked his way up from non-league football, a level at which both of them played.

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He cut his managerial teeth as joint-boss at Essex Senior Football League side Concord Rangers, with Nicky signing on as a player.

They won a scarcely believable three promotions in five years to reach the National League South, all the while working as PE teachers.

By 2015, Nicky was Danny’s assistant at Braintree as they led the Iron to a club-best third-place finish in the National League and a play-off semi-final, which they lost to Grimsby.

Lincoln City liked what they saw, appointed the Cowleys in May 2016 and, by April 2017, were celebrating promotion to the Football League, having also become the first non-league side to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals since it changed to its current format in 1925.

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By the time Huddersfield snapped up the pair, Lincoln City were in League One, having won the EFL Trophy at Wembley.

Bielsa arrived in the Championship via the Argentine and Chilean national teams, Athletic Bilbao, Marseille, Lazio and Lille.

The Cowleys went to the 2013 World Schools Athletics Championships in Prague with their PE department and finished fourth in the world. Bielsa won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina.

The footballing mountain has many paths.

But while their back stories contrast so starkly, there are similarities to be seen between Danny Cowley and Bielsa.

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The Cowleys revolutionised Lincoln City and lit a fire under the club.

“Football is a phenomenon,” said Danny in December 2017, sounding somewhat Bielsa-esque.

“It has the power to change lives and it feels it has done that in Lincoln.”

Sincil Bank was packed to the rafters for games that will never be forgotten by Imps fans.

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The fervour of a full-to-capacity Elland Road has a lot to do with Bielsa and his football, which has allowed United’s vast fanbase to dream again.

Both he and the Cowleys are meticulous in their preparation for games and pore over video footage to obsessive degrees.

It would be a surprise if either side managed to surprise their opponent in any way come Saturday.

They are outsiders of sorts, newcomers, who have arrived at this level of English football with no prior experience – the Cowleys by clawing their way rapidly up the pyramid and beating more established names to the Huddersfield job, Bielsa by swapping the continent for his first UK job and taking the Championship by the scruff of the neck almost from the off, doing things, if not entirely uniquely, then very differently to most.

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“They do some really unusal things,” said Cowley of Leeds in December.

And there is, as evidenced by the warm greetings they gave each other before and after the previous encounter, mutual admiration and respect between the leaders of the two management teams.

In the press conference Danny Cowley spoke of Bielsa being a pioneer in the game.

And while he’s both a beneficiary and a proponent of opportunities for home-grown domestic coaches, Cowley welcomes the presence of Bielsa and other foreign managers in the English game.

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“Of course I’m for English coaches and particularly for coaches that have had to come from the bottom and work their way up,” he said.

“But when you see the top foreign coaches you can learn from them.

“There has to be a balance.

“That’s why I think they should be in the English game.”

There are, currently, seven foreign managers in the Championship, four of whom are occupying top-five places in the table.

The Cowleys have celebrated wins over three of the seven and will be desperate to claim a fourth scalp at Elland Road, but even if they don’t manage it, Bielsa will once again have played a part in their footballing journey, before both parties continue on different paths.

“It’s been a learning curve to try and analyse,” Cowley said before the last encounter.

“For Nicky and I, it’s always for us to learn.”