New Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa said he had been drawn to the job by the “strength of the club and the institution” and promised to keep faith with his philosophy in the Championship after being formally unveiled at Elland Road.
Speaking for the first time since agreeing a two-year contract with Leeds, Bielsa vowed to build a team who would take games “by the scuff of the neck” and said he had taken his first managerial post in England with the dream of ending United’s 14-year Premier League exile.
Bielsa, the former Argentina and Chile boss, was appointed by United more than a week ago but flew in from South America on Saturday and met the club’s players at Thorp Arch for the first time this morning.
The legendary 62-year-old was United’s ambitious choice to replace Paul Heckingbottom and accepted the position after more than two weeks of intense negotiations over his contract.
“It was a case of me convincing myself,” said Bielsa, speaking through a translator at a press conference this afternoon. “No-one had to convince me. I was convinced by the strength of Leeds United as a club and an institution, and on the field in a sporting sense. I looked at things from a football point of view.
“I’m very meticulous and careful in these processes. Having spoken with Victor Orta and the president (Andrea Radrizzani) I found two people very keen to look at the direction of the club in a sporting sense. I was very conscious they weren’t going to promise something that they couldn’t fulfil so I wanted to describe every detail about me from the word go so that they would not be surprised by anything.”
Bielsa’s is renowned as one of the world’s most innovative coaches and Leeds made him the highest-paid coach in their history by offering him a salary in excess of £2m.
The appointment was a response to the club’s 13th-placed finish in the Championship last season, Radrizzani’s first as club owner, and Bielsa vowed to tackle the division with his traditional brand of expansive, attacking football.
“We almost have an obligation as managers to put into place what we believe in,” he said. “We cannot have obligations in other people to believe it if we don’t believe in it ourselves.
“I believe that the players have enough ability to take on board what I’m saying and to take on board my beliefs and actions on the field
It’s imprudent to promise something when there are so many uncertainties, but at the same time not to be impossible dreaming about that happening.Marcelo Bielsa
“As regards what the fans can expect, I think they want protagonists on the field rather than just talking about what might happen I want people to take the game by the scruff of the neck - time with possession on the ball rather than fighting to win it back.”
Asked about his expectation of promotion next season, Bielsa said: “I think if you are trying to predict the future you are almost becoming a demagogue rather than a football coach. It’s better to be reasonable and measured and not give sweeping predictions.
“It’s imprudent to promise something you cannot be totally certain of. But at the same time, it would be impossible not to be dreaming about that. What drives you is having the desire, hope and belief that you can carry out what everyone wants.”
Bielsa indicated that as many as 15 players could leave Leeds this season and said he wanted to see the squad strengthened in “four or five positions”.
The Argentinian, however, gave the current squad a vote of confidence, saying: “For the moment we’re not intending to bring too many new faces in. From my point of view the club have got plenty of players I feel should remain here, who we should keep.”