It is almost taboo for leading coaches to suggest that they are being overpaid, but Marcelo Bielsa, who uses a sledgehammer at one of the game’s unwritten conventions, claimed he is currently offering Leeds United poor value for money.
“I am in charge of a group of footballers who justify and deserve a higher position,” said Bielsa, whose injury woes are one place and two points away from the Premier League relegation zone. “The club has trusted in me and one of the aspects that shows their confidence is what they pay me, so of course these results that I am offering are not what was expected.
“The injuries are not one of the reasons why we are there and of course the position we occupy in the table worries me. The club has given me enough resources to make the results different.”
The 66-year-old Argentine is said to have around £8million a year and when he led Leeds out of the championship in 2020 and finished to a creditable ninth-place finish last season, the money seemed extremely well spent.
But while Bielsa remains revered in West Yorkshire, a combination of just two wins this season and nagging concerns over his abiding belief in working with an unusually small core of senior professionals is dictating that he’s starting to face some, albeit restrained, criticism from fans.
It leaves Saturday’s trip to Brighton with unexpected significance, especially as the meeting with Graham Potter’s team follows improved performances in the recent home draw to Leicester and a narrow defeat to Tottenham.
After the Spurs game, the famously intense Bielsa allowed his side a rare day off in London, followed by a Monday night visit to a nightclub that would likely have gone under the radar had it not been for Kalvin Phillips in England’s midfield sustaining a minor scrape during the game. walk. his stuff on the dance floor.
As welcome as that break from the ultra-disciplined routine has no doubt proved, the team spirit has thankfully never needed too much reinforcement at a club severely weakened by the loss of last season’s top scorer, Patrick Bamford, to the serious ankle injury that left him. sidelined. for most of the campaign.
Due to further complications, several first-teamers, most notably Diego Llorente, Raphinha, Robin Koch, Luke Ayling, Junior Firpo, Phillips, Stuart Dallas and Rodrigo, have been banned to the treatment room at various times, but the situation is gradually easing with only Bamford and Koch still not quite fit.
Despite Leeds only keeping a clean sheet since August, the absentees have at least enabled young players to enter the first XI, with forward Joe Gelhardt in particular shining, and offered the recently impressive Adam Forshaw a route back to the midfield after two injury-prone years.
Likewise, other players have seized the opportunity to show unexpected flexibility; the central defender Pascal Struijk played convincingly as a left back and the winger Dan James stood out after a temporary reinvention as a lone striker.
“I do not own the truth, nor am I immobile in my position,” Bielsa said. “I don’t have views that are fundamentalist. But I appreciate the decisions I’ve made. When you add players to have a bigger group, it narrows the possibilities of getting into the first team. By keeping the same players and being patient, Forshaw is again constantly present in the team and Gelhardt has been able to express himself.”
Still, Leeds would certainly be in big trouble were it not for the consistently excellent form of their right winger Raphinha. With a trademark amalgam of honesty and insight, Bielsa explained that the Brazilian’s enduring “amateurism” proves to be crucial.
“To be a professional player, an important contribution is having a high amateur spirit,” said a manager who some observers believe is in his final season at Elland Road. “I refer to what a player develops when he plays for nothing without expecting any reward other than victory.
“Raphinha is a clear example, he has added a lot of things that the professional game requires, but he has not lost what you gain when you play for nothing. That is not a virtue that comes with professionalism. You have to keep it and keep it, despite the professionalism.”
Leeds may face an unplanned relegation battle, but the Premier League would certainly be infinitely poorer without Bielsa.