The news the Argentinian had signed a one-year contract to stay at Elland Road was of no great surprise to anyone even before he blabbed it at dinner time yesterday, announcing the issue had been “resolved” before any early-evening press release to that effect was rushed out.
Actions more than words (or contracts) show Bielsa’s commitment to Leeds, the club the 66-year-old has managed for longer than any other. June’s impromptu appearance to coach some of the academy’s youngest players emphasised that, as did his micro-management to upgrades at the Thorp Arch training ground the session took place on.
But the words were pretty telling too, outlining how appreciative Bielsa is for the backing he has received at Elland Road. Normally in football that is code for the amount of money a manager is allowed to spend in the transfer market, but in Bielsa’s case the outlay has only stretched to one senior figure, new left-back Junior Firpo, some junior and back-up players and making Jack Harrison’s loan moves permanent. His squad is getting smaller and he is happy about it. It is the unseen support which has left him “astounded”.
“This is an extraordinary club,” said Bielsa, who joined in the summer of 2018. “It’s not often that you have a club that designates so much investment to improving the training.
“Leeds have made a significant financial contribution for the tools for the manager to prepare his players. Everything we need in this area, the club has resolved it with a very high investment, whether it be the pitches, the facilities, the technology, commodities for the work of the players, and in this sense I am astounded by the conduct of the club.
“Thorp Arch year on year has been improving. Free spaces which previously couldn’t be used have been made into spaces that can be used with grass.
“One pitch has undersoil heating and the facilities have been improved so that can happen with two other pitches in the future. There is a path being created for the machinery for the work around the pitches so that it doesn’t damage the pitches and there are a lot more minor details that help our work to be better. All of this is done with a lot of professionalism.
“The most important coaches in world football would value what this club means in terms of organisation, structure and the public.
“There is another step to be able to get these players that triple in value from what Leeds can obtain because I insist the powerful clubs are not there for no reason. But what I say is what Leeds produces.”
In fairness, Leeds have simply recognised what an extraordinary coaching talent they have in Bielsa and done everything in their power to make him happy in his job. He has repaid them by taking them into the top half of the Premier League after 15 years languishing outside the division.
The suspicion is that Bielsa would ideally like a box-to-box midfielder – Huddersfield Town’s Lewis O’Brien is mentioned – and perhaps another winger this summer but he is certainly not about to rock the boat, happy with the recruitment of left-back Firpo, recovered from injury to be available at Manchester United tomorrow, and 20-year-old goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson
“They are very well thought-out decisions, very well analysed,” he reflected. “We think all the conditions are there for them to have a good time at Leeds.
“For a long time I have been working in professional football and very few times have I ever seen a club so well looked after to decide when we sign a player.
“Every year the club has reduced the amount of professionals and incorporated very few. This year is yet another example that many more players have left than arrived. There is a very prolific and fertile contribution from the academy.
“In terms of its organisation, I consider Leeds an example. Victor Orta is the one who structures the arrival of players, the director of the academy (Adam Underwood) and Under-23s technical staff give nutrients to the first team and the owner makes investments he could easily ignore.”
Diego Llorente is expected to miss the next one or two weeks which could see Robin Koch play in the centre of defence tomorrow.
Kalvin Phillips is in contention despite a pre-season drastically shortened by being an ever-present in England’s European Championship campaign which took them to the final.
“He has done a different type of work, a more brief (pre-season), the preparation time he had was half of his team-mates but he has done this in a very serious manner with a lot of dedication and he is in condition to have options to participate but it is natural the time he needs to prepare is not completed yet,” explained Bielsa, who also has Jamie Shackleton fit after a head injury.