Leeds United v Liverpool: Play less, pay less, is Marcelo Bielsa’s plan for football

It is not just when it comes to football tactics that Marcelo Bielsa is a radical thinker.

Yesterday’s pre-match press conference ought to have been about a debut for Dan James and the “panorama of options” the winger’s deadline-day arrival brings. It should have been filled with excitement about an Elland Road crowd watching a full-strength Liverpool side for the first time since 2004.

They got mentioned but it was more about Bielsa putting world football to rights. At 1pm on Friday we still did not know if Leeds United’s Raphinha or Liverpool’s Alisson and Fabinho would be allowed to play tomorrow. Perhaps with James in mind, Bielsa brushed off the uncertainty as “not a difficulty” – instant vindication, perhaps, of Hull-born James’s signing – but bigger issues were vexing this deep thinker.

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He launched into something approaching a manifesto about playing less top-level football, charging less for tickets, cutting the pay of everyone involved and the “magnificent” 3pm blackout which will keep Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to English football off television screens until this evening’s Match of the Day. Nobody in their right mind wants to rush Bielsa into coaching retirement, but it was a great advert for a career in football administration.

Raphinha of Leeds United. Picture: George Wood/Getty Images

What brought it all up was that Brazilians Raphinha, Alisson and Fabinho, plus Roberto Firmino (injured anyway), Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, Thiago Silva, Fred and Francisco Sierralta were banned for five days because their clubs refused to allow them to play international football in countries on the Government’s red list. Paraguay had earlier relented to allow Miguel Almiron to play for Newcastle United, and as Bielsa spoke, it was revealed Mexico would let Wolverhampton Wanderers use Raul Jimenez.

Unless the rumoured scrapping of the “traffic light” system happens first, the issue will arise again in October and November as South American countries try to cram in World Cup qualifiers postponed last season to duck these issues. Meanwhile, FIFA is suggesting doubling the number of international tournaments.

Bielsa was light on short-term solutions but had plenty to say about the big picture, ideas some of those on the BBC documentary which this week began to look at the Premier League’s money-grab would hate.

“The principal problem is there are more games. What we have to do, clearly, is play less,” he explained, leaving a nail with a very sore head. “Those who are paid to participate should earn less so we can play less.

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

“Apart from that the grave problem in football is that every time (disputes like this happen) there are fewer players (available) for the league so we have to invest in the foundations.

“My position is to pause football inflation, the cost of (transfer) fees and how much players cost (in wages), to play less so the game can be better, reducing the cost to go to stadia and to invest a lot in the foundations (academy and grassroots football) so there can be a lot of good players.

“If a club has 40 players, 20 don’t enrich the competition by participating, so to improve the competition (by having them play for other clubs) improves the players.”

If it sounds pie-in-the-sky, he pointed out: “a lot of these things German football is putting into practice.” Bielsa then referenced the “blackout” rule that live football cannot be shown between 2.45pm and 5.15pm to protect lower-league attendances.

“That measure is against the business,” he said, no doubt bringing a smile to some Premier League chairmen, only to rub it off by adding: “I think that is a magnificent measure.”

Had Raphinha gone to South America for September, October and November’s internationals then quarantined for 10 days on each return, his employers would barely see him but the former Argentina and Chile coach is not one-eyed about it.

“When I worked for the national teams we would play one game in every international break, then we started playing two and now three,” he pointed out. “The least the owners of the players (clubs) and the managers of every nation can hope for is that regulations are met. Imagine a coach receives a player after he has flown 20 hours and he has to play Thursday, Sunday and then Thursday again – it’s impossible to do anything other than decide who plays. It makes the games worse.

“To ignore the preparation and rest needed is absurd. The accumulation of the games and long hours of flying will end up injuring any player. They are protecting the commercial part of football but the game goes unprotected and football is going to become less attractive.”

First, though, comes the here and now, and working out how a coach who does not go in for much rotation can get the most out of three wingers whenever Raphinha, Jack Harrison and James are all available.

“To begin with they play the same function,” he explained. “They are wide players who can play on the right or the left. They develop the game well out wide which is not easy. Throughout the season it is always necessary to have three or four players for one or two positions. To have added James and kept (Crysencio) Summerville gives us a good panorama of options.”

Inevitably, though, some fall by the wayside, Helder Costa leaving for Valencia on deadline day, initially on loan.

“He should have had more impact on the team,” reflected Bielsa. “He had the resources to make better performances. I feel somewhat responsible.”

Even Wetherby’s answer to Che Guevara believes in survival of the fittest at times, but Bielsa is adamant greed is not good. Football would be wise to listen.