Bielsa before Newcastle says it’s important to be loved and have a nice lie down - The Square Ball 20/1/22


Written by: Moscowhite • Daniel Chapman

At his press conference today, before the Newcastle game, was Marcelo Bielsa going to sing the Star Spangled Banner while swinging a bald eagle around his head and producing new signing Brenden Aaronson from behind a fustle of pom-pom shaking cheerleaders? No he was not. Was he going to say:

“I prefer to talk about a footballer when he stops being a hypothetical possibility and when he does become a real option.”

Of course he was. And it’s exactly what he did say. So if you’re looking transfer goss, look elsewhere!

If it’s injury news you’re after, then step right over here, because there is always plenty of that. Today’s update is that Pat Bamford is becoming less a footballer, more a game of Operation made of weak flesh, brittle bone and fragile muscle.

Pazza’s hamstring is cured, hurrah! But wait:

Bamford has a new injury at the bottom of his foot. He’s overcome his muscular problems but now he has a problem at the bottom of his foot.

I suppose that’s better than the foot of his bottom, but maybe that’s next. Adam Forshaw and Junior Firpo were both confirmed as having ‘muscular injuries’ and it didn’t sound like they’ll be risked against Newcastle, but there was some better news: Tyler Roberts and Joffy Gelhardt should be back in contention this weekend, and Rodrigo hasn’t collapsed after his run-out against West Ham. That’s some forwards back, anyway, which is good, because when asked if this was the worst injury crisis he’s known in his career, Bielsa said it wasn’t so much the amount, but that they’ve all been hitting the same position. “In some way we’ve always found solutions,” he said, “But it’s also true that all the clubs have problems with counting on their players.” Not problems like these, Marcelo!

Is there a solution to all this that doesn’t involve Stuart Dallas playing everywhere? A possibility came obliquely. Bielsa has spoken a few times this season about the overcapitalised football schedule, and although he didn’t go into as much depth as before about the impending destruction of the game as its best players are ground upon the wheel of broadcasting revenue, when he was asked about using the upcoming international break to work with the players, given only Raphinha will be away, he gave an answer to anyone who thinks he’s hellbent on murderballing his players to dust:

Players [getting] rest in the middle of the season makes the injury rate much lower. So it’s very important that rest is part of training in a footballer’s life. And I have the feeling that a significant dose of rest is the most advisable thing to do at this point in the season.

Assuming we don’t have to play the postponed games, Leeds have seventeen free days between playing Newcastle this weekend and Aston Villa next month. Everybody’s hitting the duvets, and that sounds fine by me.

It’s a better idea than calling games off all the time, although Bielsa wasn’t going to be drawn into calling Mikel Arteta and Jurgen Klopp a pair of whiny cowards, that’s absolutely not his opinion. Instead he replied to a question about recent postponements with absolute logic. Obviously there were reasons to postpone the games, or else the authorities who set the rules on postponements would not have postponed the games. He’d been asked if clubs were taking advantage of the rules, but insisted that’s the wrong question. The right question is, are the authorities applying the rules incorrectly? Because that’s the only way a club could take advantage. So check with them.

Bielsa was also asked if he was trying to get the postponed game with Aston Villa rescheduled to play during the international break, when only Raphinha will be away, and his answer might be news to a few other Premier League managers who haven’t checked their job descriptions lately:

I’m not in discussion [about that], I don’t have the ability to choose when the games are played.

Otherwise there was some stuff about Newcastle, and how new signings aren’t going to change the way they play; I liked it when he said Eddie Howe has “found a system … an eleven which repeats itself regularly,” because it enabled a dick like me to shout, yeah, regularly repeating a massive L every week! Trying to get him to say whether Leeds were out of a relegation battle went exactly how you’d expect:

We have to see how many points are in play, see what games the other teams have, see the succession of results…

And to say last Sunday was Raphinha’s best game for Leeds is too difficult, because he’s had loads of good games and great moments so picking one is hard.

To say that this was his best game in a Leeds shirt, I don’t have it so clear. He is a player that is easy to remember, his goals, his assists, his dribbles and his good performances.

The most emphatic parts were various answers about Archie Gray, young players in general, and Victor Orta. Reversing that order, Bielsa says he doesn’t have to say too much about Orta’s work at Leeds, because you only have to look at the increased value of young players he has brought to the club:

Beyond my opinion, there is evidence of Victor Orta’s influence on the growth of the team that comes from individual [players]. And in that sense, Victor has been very accurate. I think he found the right players who he thought could adapt, who adapted to the way Leeds play. Most of them are young and … they probably have a higher price tag than they had when they were signed. That speaks to him picking players with potential to grow, and a man who knows the market for both young players and different countries.

Another attempt to draw Bielsa out into chinning Arteta floundered, because he refused to contrast approaches, and pointed out that Leeds requested two postponements over Christmas. Instead he took the opportunity to say that, for Leeds, being so involved this season has been good for the development of young players:

If the club had decided not to count on them, the club should have signed four, five, six players who are older and have a bigger background. But it corresponds to say that this also values the work that we’ve done, [because] the real important thing is to manage to create Premier League players [like Pascal Struijk] … what is going to be registered as a contribution to the club is how many of the [young] players who are with the team [this season] convert themselves into habitual players within the team [in the future].

In other words, it’s been better to use young players than to fill the bench up with six old lags, but the real test of whether it has been a good idea is the future, for example “if Gelhardt and Hjelde are options for many years”, or not.

Archie Gray falls into this category too, and Bielsa went a few ways on the subject of our fifteen-year-old Gray family prodigy. On one hand, he’s too young. As a general rule you shouldn’t be involving schoolboys in the Premier League.

I don’t think it’s a good thing for a player of his age to be in the position he was in. If I could have avoided it, I would have.

But that said, Archie wouldn’t have been in the squads if he didn’t deserve it; his chance was premature, but merited once he was around the first team:

Reality got him there deservedly, because every time I put the squad together for a game, I pick the best of those who are available.

And Bielsa has no doubt that Archie is going to be a quality player, with help from his legendary family:

[This season] his process [i.e. development] has been altered to get to be a player of the elite. He has the resources to get there and he will get there. He is very, very tough mentally. Very, very tough. He has the conditions to play in any sector of the pitch and to play very, very intelligently. Other than that, I don’t know what his personal life is like, but from the way he conducts himself on a day-to-day basis with us, I get the feeling that his upbringing is very much under control.

Something very much not under control is the way I feel about Bielsa’s final answer of the day, about how important the backing of the fans has been this season, even though results and performances haven’t lived up to our hopes. Marcelo Bielsa says:

It was very important. There is a phrase that says that, ‘a team needs to be loved in order to win, not, they are loved because they won’. All of the teams that are loved [are loved] because they won, but it’s very important to be loved to be able to win. That demands a loyalty and unconditionality throughout the games, to come back from a negative tendency and to develop the play of the team, and from that sense the fans of Leeds showed a massive generosity.

It’s easy to love winners, but they don’t need it as much. “It’s very important to be loved to be able to win.” Again? “It’s very important to be loved to be able to win.” One more time? “It’s very important to be loved to be able to win.”

You know, we’ve seen it in the players and their respect for Bielsa, how the things they’ve had to do to make the last three and a half seasons possible were rewarded on the night of promotion, how you can feel his appreciation when he talks about Mateusz Klich or Stuart Dallas. And it’s sort of astounding to think that, when Marcelo Bielsa says, “It’s very important to be loved to be able to win … from that sense the fans of Leeds showed a massive generosity”, that he’s talking about how us, we, fans, thee and me, have made him feel that way. We have? I’m going for a lie down and a dose of rest.

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