INJURIES and a defeat to a promotion rival so heavy it invited inevitable comparisons with last season’s mid-winter collapse by Leeds United mean this has not been the easiest of fortnights for Marcelo Bielsa.
Nevertheless the Argentinian says he not only feels right at home in Leeds, but also confident his ambitions can be realised at Elland Road.
“I am very happy to be at this club,” said Bielsa ahead of today’s clash with Bristol City. “Leeds is a beautiful city, but I do not have a lot of time to enjoy it.
“For me, the most important thing about a city is the people who live in a city and the fans. The support I receive from the fans tells everything.”
This sense that Bielsa is enjoying himself in the West Riding may not be evident on the touchline. Rarely does his expression veer far from a scowl when sitting atop the bucket that has become his vantage point throughout every game, home and away.
But footage from United’s Thorp Arch training base that emerged earlier this week on Twitter offered a hint as to the United head coach’s true feelings.
After watching Patrick Bamford, now well on the way to recovery after injuring his knee ligaments in September, rifle a left-foot volley past Academy goalkeeper Will Huffer, Bielsa dashes from the halfway line, with arms aloft and a huge smile on his face, to embrace the £7m summer signing from Middlesbrough.
It was the reaction of someone truly happy in their work and someone who is never happier than when on the training ground.
“I am happy with the players I have,” he added when pressed on life in Leeds since arriving as the Championship’s most eye-raising managerial appointment in years. “I am very happy with the human quality and the football quality of my players.
“I am satisfied, too, with the project we are building. We share the same goals with the club.
I am satisfied, too, with the project we are building. We share the same goals with the club.Marcelo Bielsa
“To give you an example, taking care of the infrastructures of the club is something very important to me and very important to the club.
“I am a worker of the club and I receive a lot of collaboration from the other workers of the club and this is very important for the work I am doing
“Regarding the city, the contact I have with the assistants during the game, every time we play at Elland Road we receive massive support from the fans and it is very generous from them.”
Bielsa has earned that support from the city. Not only are Leeds riding high ahead of today’s resumption of the Championship season, but he has achieved such a lofty position with pretty much the same squad who so badly collapsed during the second half of last season.
Any challenges that have come his way have largely been swatted away, with even Bielsa losing both Bailey Peaock-Farrell and Jamal Blackman inside the space of a week unable to faze the Argentinian.
It is a similar story with regatd to United’s last outing, a chastening 4-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion. Leeds were woeful, every bit as poor as during the lowest moments of last season.
Bielsa, while admitting to the international break being ruined by the memory of what happened at The Hawthorns, insists Leeds remain very much on course to hit his targets and goals for the club.
“I think I will reach them because I am optimistic,” he said, “and you have to be optimistic if you are in professional sport – and because I make plans and I work hard.
“That is why if I don’t reach the goals I have no excuse for that. I never tell what I hope to happen when we are at each stage of the competition. Our goals are marked by what we do every game.”
The injury crisis that United seem set to solve by promoting either Huffer or Kamil Miazek from the Academy also extends to the defence.
Pontus Jansson joining Luke Ayling and Gaetano Beradi on the sidelines with a foot injury means Liam Cooper is the only recognised centre-half available.
Some would take this as a sign that January should be spent bolstering the United backline, but not Bielsa.
“No, as we will have Jansson, Berardi and Ayling back and that will be enough,” he said.
“People around the team give their opinions with the best intentions. Because everyone gives his point of view. I listen to everyone’s point of view, but it’s one thing to tell what you think and another thing is to take a decision. My role is to take decisions.”