NEW head coach Marcelo Bielsa gave himself a crash course in the good, the bad and the ugly of what ultimately became yet another wasted year at Elland Road by watching DVDs of all 51 Leeds United games from last season.
The ‘good’ came via a stirring start that saw the Yorkshire club top the Championship in September, while the ‘bad’ was how all that promising early work was thrown away during a second half of the campaign that brought form more akin to relegation than a push for the Premier League.
As for the ‘ugly’, look no further than Samuel Saiz spitting at Newport County’s Robbie Wilmott as Leeds crashed out of the FA Cup in embarrassing fashion.
What must, at times, have felt like a video horror show for the watching Bielsa must also have provided him with an insight into the type of players who can prosper in the Championship.
Looking at United’s recruitment this summer it is tempting to believe those lessons have been put to good use with several of those who excelled against Bielsa’s new club in 2017-18 having since been brought in.
Patrick Bamford, signed this week for £7m, certainly caught the eye with a hat-trick for Middlesbrough against Leeds in February.
The 24-year-old admitted yesterday to not remembering the finer details of his part in that far too comfortable 3-0 victory for the hosts at the Riverside, other than being able to say where the matchball now resides at home.
But Bielsa, whose analysis of games is famously forensic, will know exactly what Bamford did that night in front of the Sky cameras. He is also likely to appreciate the level-headed attitude of United’s most expensive import since Robbie Fowler arrived for £11m in 2001.
After saying ‘no pressure then’ with a smile after being informed of his link to the former Liverpool striker, Bamford added: “Nowadays I don’t think you can read too much into a transfer fee.
“The game has gone a bit crazy in terms of money so a fee doesn’t relate to the player. If you compare it to others like (Zinedine) Zidane and what he went for once (£46m in 2001), now you have other players who are not on the same pedestal as him going for twice as much.
So far I can see he (Bielsa) leaves no stone unturned. He is so meticulous with everything he does, so different to what I have experienced before. To be fair, the whole regime – from what I can see – is exciting. The ideas behind it are all very good.Patrick Bamford
“Money nowadays is hard to judge.”
Like Bamford, Barry Douglas also impressed against Leeds last term with his exquisite free-kick beyond Andy Lonergan setting Wolverhampton Wanderers on their way to a resounding 4-1 triumph at Molineux.
Completing the trio of summer signings who made a telling impact against the Elland Road outfit in 2017-18 is Jamal Blackman, who helped Sheffield United to a league double over their neighbours from up the M1.
Bamford and Douglas are expected to start tomorrow on Bielsa’s home bow and the Grantham-born striker is already relishing the chance to work under one of world football’s most highly-regarded coaches.
“I first heard rumours of Leeds’s interest a week beforehand, but didn’t think much of it,” said Bamford. “To me it was paper talk, that sort of thing.
“But then, when the bid was accepted, it became reality. I knew Leeds was a big club and spoke to the technical director (Victor Orta), and heard about the aims for this year and what they wanted to achieve.
“Those ambitions had already been highlighted by bringing in such a prestigious manager. That made it a no-brainer.
“I have only been here a couple of days, but so far I can see he (Bielsa) leaves no stone unturned. He is so meticulous with everything he does, so different to what I have experienced before.
“To be fair, the whole regime – from what I can see – is exciting. The ideas behind it are all very good.”
Bamford and Douglas are expected to be joined in the starting XI today by fellow newcomer Lewis Baker, who is likely to fill the role initially earmarked for Adam Forshaw before the January signing from Boro suffered a foot injury that will keep him out for six to eight weeks.
Otherwise, though, the other eight players who tackle Stoke City are set to come from the squad that fell away so horribly last season.
Turning water into wine would, therefore, be an apt way of describing Bielsa’s impact this summer should he start tomorrow with a victory over the bookmakers’ favourites to go up.
Either way, the former Chile national team coach has pledged to bring an attacking brand of football to Elland Road that will get supporters off their seats with excitement.
“We want to impose our style,” said Bielsa. “The idea is to play in the opponents’ side (half of the pitch). Our idea is to attack more than defend. And if we do have to defend the goal is to go back on the attack as soon as possible.
“That means we dominate our opponent if we can impose this idea.”
For Bamford such an adventurous mindset is music to his ears. “The last time I played up front for a whole season was at MK Dons. Since then I have been out on the wings, but always felt to be a ‘No 9’. If I play regularly I am confident of scoring.
“The system the manager wants is almost ‘total football’, with high pressure and winning it back high up the field. That will suit my style of play.”
As for the potential of Leeds, Bamford added: “If you look at the club it is ready to go back to the Premier League. The size, the fanbase, everything is there including having a top-class manager. If you pick out the top managers in the Premier League, (Pep) Guardiola and (Mauricio) Pochettino are two of the top three. See how highly they speak of our gaffer.
“That says it all about the ambition of Leeds United.”