Danny Cowley will be hoping to learn from one of the “pioneers” of world football today at the end of a week which has been an education for many at Huddersfield Town.
Marcelo Bielsa’s fan-club within the game is a large one, and the chance to pit his wits against Leeds United and their head coach was why former teacher Cowley moved to the Championship Terriers from League One Lincoln City.
First, though, he has had to deal with the fall-out from last week’s 5-2 defeat at Bristol City, an experience which taught him plenty about his players. Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Demeaco Duhaney, Scott High and Ben Jackson have also had a fast-track education this week, pulled away from loan spells in non-league football on Thursday and asked to prepare for a West Yorkshire derby.
“It’s a game we’re definitely looking forward to,” says Cowley. “When we took over the job we were made aware pretty quickly of its importance to everyone associated with the club.
“I’ve definitely had easier derbies but we see it as a one-off game and a little bit like a cup match.
“We’re very respectful of Marcelo Bielsa and his Leeds United team. There’s not many people you would class as a pioneer in football but I remember watching his Chile team play on television and it was the first time I’d ever seen a team play as open and expansively as that, they split the centre-halves to the corner flags and dominated possession, they played in a way I’ve never seen before.
“From that moment onwards as someone who loves the game and wants to learn I’ve kept a keen eye on what he’s done and how he’s done it.
“He’s got his Leeds team playing a really aggressive brand of football, they play with huge intensity, they run really, really hard for each other, they play with purpose and they will be a really, really tough opponent. We look forward to that challenge.
“When you break Leeds United down it’s about passing and running. They pass and run forward, lots of third-man runs and lots of penetration. They work really hard on double movements and counter-movements and understand each other’s space. When they haven’t got the ball they want to press really aggressively. It’s been enjoyable to do the analysis and to formulate a gameplan to allow us to be competitive against them.”
Cowley is hoping he can learn from Bielsa after the match too.
“We’ve noticed there are not so many managers come to the office after the match at Championship level, but he’d be more than welcome,” says Cowley.
“In League One, League Two and the National League, everyone would always come in. Maybe it’s a different culture or maybe they don’t like us but they’re always welcome because it’s nice to speak to people living similar lives to you and share what you’re doing and what they’re doing and you always learn from them from good conversation.
“Unless you’ve actually lived the job you don’t completely understand what it entails so it’s always nice to share some moments with people who are living the same lives with you and compare how you do it and try to pick up some better ways of doing things.”
Huddersfield are two points above the relegation zone and beset by injuries, Leeds two points off the top and on the back of a 4-0 win at home to Middlesbrough. Those injuries could mean more opportunities for youngsters, and Cowley can see an advantage in that.
“We’ve got some injury issues, there’s no hiding place from that,” he admits.
“We’re going to be a young team and maybe a little bit short of experience but not enthusiasm. The positive that comes out of this difficult moment is opportunity and young people are often good at taking opportunities.
“The great thing about being young is sometimes you’re fear-free. We expect to play with a youthful enthusiasm and energy.
“We called four young players back from loan spells. I apologise to their loan clubs. We wouldn’t do that if we didn’t think it was necessary and that they would play pivotal roles in the coming weeks.
“I’ve lived all the divisions so I know the difference between them. It’s a massive gap and they’re young players. Are they ready here and now? Time will tell.
“Young people are sometimes pretty good at surprising you and I believe in good people and young people. There’s going to be no pressure from us because I wouldn’t ask any human being to do something they’re not capable of.
“We’re trying to fast-track the young players to cope in a different moment.
“You’d go to war with Scott High because he’s a really special human being for a young boy of 18. We’ll look forward to Scotty coming back. Good people with a desire to do well can sometimes do the impossible.”
The response to Ashton Gate has taught Cowley about his players.
“I think you always learn a lot in defeat,” says Cowley. “You learn from your mistakes but personally I like to learn from other people’s mistakes because it’s less painful.
“I’ll be happy when we create the perfect performance and I’m not sure I’m ever going to do that. There’s always things I will think we could do better.
“I think I would actually be scared if I created a perfect performance because I won’t be sure where to go next.
“Whenever good people come up short they’re always disappointed because there’s a deep care to do well for themselves and this wonderful football club. It’s an opportunity to put some of the disappointment behind us.”
One player who has impressed him is Karlan Grant.
“Karlan’s becoming a leader within the group,” says Cowley. “He’s a young man, he’s only 22, but he has everyone’s respect and he’s the most experienced of our young players. He is definitely carrying the message and the fight for us.
“In difficult moments you often see a different side to people. For such a young boy, he’s really stepped up not just on the pitch but in terms of his leadership quality off it.”