Bielsa: Too good to be true?
Bielsa? Bi-el-sa… Bee-al-saaah. Hmm. Sounds a bit foreign. I'm just not sure he'll hack it in the English game, Jeff.
Seriously though, I want to be really excited about Bielsa. By all accounts he’s a great manager, with beliefs and stuff. His more recent escapades in France and Italy aside, he’s had wonderful spells in his native Argentina and especially in Spain with Athletic Bilbao.
But. And there are buts.
But. Do we have the players? But. Do we have the wages? But. Do we have the patience? But. Is it all too good to be true? But. But. But. It’s the word I keep coming back to.
Do we have the players?
Well, I guess that depends which version of the players we saw last season is the ‘real’ one. The players we saw for a few games at the start of the season, and in fits and starts thereafter? Or the players we saw for the majority of the season?
Sáiz has obvious quality. Forshaw will be in the midfield next season. I’d be tempted to stick with Cibicki because of the work rate he brings - Bielsa’s style might yet bring the best out of him. Ekuban could be similar; if Bielsa’s style is the forerunner of Klopp’s gegenpressing, can Ekuban become a Championship Firmino – a player whose attacking threat and finishing prowess has grown as he’s become more confident through pressing and working hard?
Roofe clearly has talent; he’s one that I could definitely see improved by having a system he understands and a vision he can get behind – a confidence player who will test Bielsa’s man-management abilities.
I think Lassoga’s 50k per week will be tough to swallow for a second season on the bounce. He’s a finisher, but I’m not convinced he’s a Bielsa player because of his workrate. And that money really needs to be spent elsewhere, especially in light of Leeds’ very restrictive wage structure and the lack of depth to the squad, especially in midfield and across the defence. That’s the real key here. Can Leeds, a) avoid injuries and tiredness or b) bring in greater squad depth in the Summer? That first one is in the lap of the Gods, as for the second…
Do we have the money?
I think to fans on the outside looking in at Elland Road, it can often seem like Leeds are financial powerhouses in the Championship. But we haven’t been for years now. It does now finally appear as if some of the financial constraints might finally be lifting thanks to increased revenue from the purchase of Elland Road and the financially sensible, if morally dubious, running of the club under Raddrizzani.
Do we have the patience?
I was surprised when Heckingbottom was sacked. Not because the fans didn’t want him gone (they very much did), but because so far in everything he has done, Radrizzani has made a decision and stuck with it. From wage caps to the ethically questionable tour of Myanmar, Andrea Raddrizzani has pressed ahead. So when Heckingbottom was hired as a young manager with a reputation for bringing through youth and building teams, I expected him to be given longer, even if those ideas hadn’t yet translated onto the pitch and at the expense of fan contentment. Maybe it made sense to Radrizzani as a business decision; the fans were unhappy and he needed to sell some season tickets to fund the Summer’s activity.
Either way, I’m not especially sad about the result. But it does raise questions about Bielsa and whether he’ll be given time if things start badly. Bielsa, too, has a philosophy. He has ideas and a track record in building teams and blooding youth. The fruition of these strategies takes time (think of Pep’s first year at City or even Ferguson’s early United days). Will Bielsa be given it? I’m probably going to go with yes on this one. This is such a high-profile coup that I think even if things don’t go brilliantly, he’ll be supported through it in the hope and expectation that there’s more to come, à la Benitez at Newcastle – although, Bielsa won’t have quite the same level of boardroom antipathy working in his favour, recent scandals aside.
But is it all good to be true?
Well he’s signed now so… maybe not? Trouble in paradise could yet brew though, with a heady mix of tight finances, restless locals and inconsistent, temperamental players.
It does feel too good to be true.