The former Argentina and Chile coach has an impressive reputation and the potential to transform the Championship side’s fortunes – but can he bring them back to the Premier League?
In June, Leeds United secured the services of one of football’s most fascinating managers, Marcelo Bielsa. A revered figure in modern football, the 62-year-old has managed across the world, from leading his native Argentina in the 2002 World Cup to sparking a Basque footballing revolution with Athletic Bilbao. His ideas and tactics – most crucially, a high pressing, relentlessly attacking style of play – have influenced some of football’s most successful coaches, including Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino. No wonder Leeds fans have been pinching themselves recently.
But with the Championship season imminent, reality may soon grip Elland Road again. Bielsa is a master tactician, but an enigmatic and testing individual – there is a reason he has gained the nickname ‘El Loco’. He walked out of Lazio two days into the job in 2016, and has had relatively short stints at Marseille and Lille since then. For Leeds, Bielsa will be the club’s 21st manager since they dropped out of the English top flight back in 2004. The chaos that has gripped the club is well known, and Bielsa is the latest man tasked with changing the famous Yorkshire side’s fortunes. This would not be the first time fans have entered the new season with optimism, only for it to be dashed by December.
In the highly competitive Championship, a style such as Bielsa’s could go one of two ways. If all goes to plan, the club and players will adopt Bielsa’s style with open arms. His typical 3-3-1-3 system, which places the conventional full back high up the pitch, seeking overloads in attack, could take the Championship by storm. Bielsa’s high press, when executed correctly, is devastating, and has the potential to make Leeds the best team in the division. Promising recent signings have also increased optimism that his brand of football can be achieved, as the signings of younger players like striker Patrick Bamford from Middlesbrough and Manchester City’s Jack Harrison on loan, point towards a physically fit and exciting young Leeds team.
It could also, quite easily, go up in flames. The Championship will be unlike anything Bielsa has experienced before – during an arduous campaign of 46 games, it is likely the players will struggle to maintain his high pressing style. His lack of English could also prove increasingly problematic, something he admitted in his opening press conference, arguing “If you struggle with a particular language you are bound to find it more difficult to get your ideas across to the players”. His ideas are already complicated enough, and combined with the language barrier, it could be too much for a Championship team to master.
Whatever happens, Leeds players and fans will enjoy a journey like no other team in the Championship this season. Boom or bust, Bielsa will bring an exciting brand of football to Elland Road, and fans are understandably confident going into this season.
Leeds open their campaign against Stoke City on Sunday afternoon at Elland Road.
Image: [Official Forcagoa Blog]