Nobody, least of all Jesse Marsch, is hiding from the fact that Marcelo Bielsa’s shadow will be looming large over him and his team when he starts his new job as coach in earnest this afternoon.
Having been the Celtic manager who followed Martin O’Neill, Leeds’s last title-winning captain Gordon Strachan could tell Marsch exactly what to expect but the American knows already, so the Scot told The Yorkshire Post instead.
Fortunately for Marsch, following in the footsteps of club legends could be his mastermind topic.
Mike Petke, Marco Rose and Julian Nagelsmann might not be names that resonate with all Leeds fans, but when Marsch took over at New York Red Bulls, Salzburg and Leipzig respectively, the men he followed were huge parts of those club’s histories. Only at Leipzig, a stint cut short after half a season, was he unable to fill their shoes.
On Wednesday evening Marsch was at Elland Road when he heard about a function about to start in the Gary Speed Suite to raise money for the family of former Leeds captain Brendan Ormsby, now stricken with dementia. So Marsch went up to the room full of Leeds supporters gathering for the start of a night of stories from former Whites players, took the mic, and spoke to them for a few minutes before posing for photographs with everyone who wanted one, then heading back to his hotel to continue his preparations for today.
His words and actions were greatly appreciated.
Marsch told the congregation he knew those in the away end at the King Power Stadium today will be singing the name of the Argentinian coach sacked on Sunday after transforming the club mentally and physically, and he encouraged it. Well, he could try to fight it all he liked, it would make no difference.
Ask Strachan what it is like as a manager to follow in the footsteps of a club legend like Bielsa, and he is typically blunt.
“It’s not easy,” he says.
“I came in at Celtic and we won the championship (in his first season, 2005-06), we reached the last 16 of the European Cup (in 2007-08) and all the rest of it (three straight titles in all, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups in four seasons) but the love for Martin never subsided. It was huge, it was above me. They had an affinity with me and it’s the same with Marcelo.
“The affinity and the love for Marcelo will never change.
“And when they talk about Marcelo in 20 years’ time nobody’s going to mention the last four games (all lost, heavily).”
Strachan was one of many guests supporting Ormsby, along with another club legend, Eddie Gray. To be granted a private audience in an Elland Road executive box as they chew the fat about all things Leeds is a privilege.
Gray also knows what it is like to follow legends. The winger played a huge part in setting the standards at the club as part of Don Revie’s teams of the 60s and 70s, but for three years in the mid-1980s he was one of many managers who tried and failed to hit those heights again. As a player, Strachan went from a Manchester United team who had not won the league since 1967 to a Leeds one striving for its first post-Revie silverware – and delivered it.
Their advice to Marsch is simple to give, much harder to execute.
“It’s tough to play for the top teams because the expectation’s always there,” says Gray.
Strachan is dismissive of talk about fearlessness.
“I don’t think we’re ever fearless,” he says of professional footballers and managers. “You have to be a special person to be fearless, you always worry about the consequences of your actions, I don’t think that’s ever going to change.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been fearless about anything.
“There’s consequences for the people who come to the game. Your responsibility is sending 40,000 people happy.”
Bielsa showed more clearly than most he was a coach who understood those responsibilities in his time at Elland Road. Now they are Marsch’s.
“I said when Marcelo left, whoever comes in, if they win a couple of games, everything’s fine,” says Gray.
Strachan is in complete agreement.
“The only collateral in football is winning,” he says. “If you win, you’re fine. That’s the way it’s always been in football.
“I was with Alex Ferguson last week and when he joined Aberdeen most of us thought we were competitors and winners but when I look back now we were petulant, we never really put our heart and soul into every game we played, it was more like a job to us. So when Alex Ferguson came along he taught us the game’s all about winning.
“Nothing else matters and you give up every minute of your day to be a competitor and win.”
But what Strachan says about when Leeds signed him as a player 33 years ago applies equally to when they came knocking for Marsch as their coach last week.
“In a way it’s a lot of pressure but in another way you feel good that people trust you that much,” he says.
Marsch has taken on a heavy burden, but must only see it as a honour.
He will never wipe Bielsa from Leeds’s collective memory, any more than the Argentinian did with Revie, but that is not what he has been brought in to do.
He is here to win games. Do that, and the rest will look after itself.
You can donate to the fundraising for the Ormsby family at https://tinyurl.com/yza8juvs