Lost in translation: Leeds look like they cannot live with Marcelo Bielsa’s unyielding intensity… serious questions are now being asked of the Argentine’s methods after another post-Christmas horror run
- Leeds suffered a 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest on Saturday afternoon
- They have seen an 11-point gap to third evaporate in recent weeks amid bad run
- Team have the sixth worst record in the Championship since Christmas
You know the pressure is telling when Marcelo Bielsa, arguably the most influential football manager to emerge from South America, spends half of a press conference in Leeds expressing offence at being described as garrulous.
Bielsa’s need to devote 20 minutes last Thursday to a fitness update on Jean-Kevin Augustin — the young French forward who has not started a game since arriving on loan from Leipzig — was generally a source of affectionate amusement.
Everyone knows the 64-year-old’s obsession with detail. But that obsession extends to having every word that is published about him translated into Spanish so he can read it all. Hence his wounded pride at being described as excessively talkative.
Marcelo Bielsa is under more pressure following defeat to Nottingham Forest on Saturday
‘Everybody makes jokes about the (length of the answer),’ Bielsa said through his translator ahead of his side’s match at Brentford on Tuesday. ‘Maybe people think I am looking down on everybody and it’s not like that. I am just trying to transmit with humility things that I am sure about.’
Of course, offence is rarely taken when a manager’s team are winning. Had Leeds maintained the seven-match winning streak they took into December, no-one would be asking Bielsa — whose side have failed to score in four of the past five Championship matches, all defeats — why he didn’t try out the £12million- rated Augustin just a little.
‘The team are not playing worse than before,’ insisted Bielsa. ‘The team are not running less than before. They’re running even more. And they’re as confident as they were before.’
The Whites have seen an 11-point gap to third evaporate in recent weeks after a bad run
His words might carry more conviction if he managed eye contact, but it is a measure of his professional intensity that he stares at the table in front of him, rattling out the words in Spanish. Coach-turned-translator Diego Flores — the third translator Bielsa has employed since arriving at Leeds — tries valiantly to relate.
The notion of Bielsa delivering Leeds to the Premier League is an appealing one. A 64-year-old of such vast experience and a club with such rich history would be some addition. When he started out in Yorkshire, his range of topics in the media room encompassed his contemporary Arrigo Sacchi and the romantic and pragmatic tactical schools of Argentinian football.
But everything is in the balance now. On Tuesday, his team face an awkward trip to fifth-placed Brentford, who are looking for a win to climb above them. Bielsa’s 11-point gap to third place has been wiped out following Saturday’s loss at Nottingham Forest.
The obvious explanation as to why Leeds are faltering — just as they did when losing 12 matches after Christmas and finishing third last season — is that the players cannot live with Bielsa’s unyielding intensity.
It looks as though the players cannot live with Argentine manager’s unyielding intensity
Defender Luke Ayling simply seemed psychologically worn down when interviewed in the aftermath of defeat at Forest. ‘I don’t think we’ve scored the first goal in a game for a long time now,’ he said.
Greater tactical flexibility would surely help, although Bielsa is sticking steadfastly to the use of wide areas to attack. Leeds generate a monumental number of crosses — 41 in one game — yet sometimes lack anyone in the box to receive them.
Bielsa — nicknamed ‘Loco’ (‘Madman’) back in Argentina — was surprised when Eddie Nketiah returned from a Leeds loan spell to parent club Arsenal, where he has impressed Mikel Arteta in training. Yet he had barely played him. Augustin is experiencing the same plight, with Bielsa bluntly insisting through his translator on Monday that the 22-year-old is experiencing increased ‘difficulties’.
Leeds sit second but have the sixth worst record in the Championship since Christmas
Leeds need to nurture every resource, since spending does not seem an option. Club sources have indicated that their outlay in the past few years — including Bielsa’s rumoured £3m annual salary — already takes them to the fringes of the EFL’s financial fair play limit.
Leeds supporters see the results being achieved at Sheffield United by Chris Wilder — whose uncomplicated man-management strategies in the bad times have been as basic as beers on the bus — and feel frustration. It did not go down well with some fans when Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani questioned their commitment after Saturday’s defeat.
It is hard to see Bielsa hanging around if Leeds can’t get to the promised land this time, although he insists all is rosy. ‘We don’t feel highs and lows,’ he said. ‘Your negative evaluation of the team when things go wrong does not describe how it is for us.’
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