Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds United: Why the '˜beautiful game' matters for Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa.Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa.
HEAD COACH Marcelo Bielsa has vowed to never sacrifice his footballing principles in search of any short-term remedy for results while in charge at Leeds United.

The Championship leaders suffered the first league loss of the Argentine’s tenure in last Saturday’s surprise 2-1 home reverse to Birmingham City – which has tightened up the top half of the table considerably.

It has raised the stakes ahead of tomorrow evening’s televised Yorkshire derby at tenth-placed Sheffield Wednesday, where a home victory would move the Owls to within a point of Leeds.

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But Bielsa – whose Leeds side have won just one of their past four league outings – is remaining calm and defiant in the wake of United suffering a first Championship loss in nine matches and has pledged to name an unchanged line-up at Hillsborough.

And he has also maintained that he would never temporarily forsake his own footballing philosophy for a pragmatic approach to get a result and insists that Leeds will stay true to their own style and display the courage of their convictions.

Bielsa, whose Leeds side suffered a harsh lesson in the streetwise arts of the Championship from a Birmingham side whose results-orientated approach and breaking up of the game stymied them, said: “The (Leeds) fans who are the centre of our activity are obviously in love with the result.

“But we should ask ourselves if the fans are ready to put, as a priority, the game’s outcome.

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“We should ask the fans of Leeds what they would have preferred? Us to lose as we did in trying to overcome the opponent and trying to play, even if we could not play well given the difficulties we faced during the game.

“Or would the fans have preferred that we drew the game without playing (our style of football). If we had not played, we could have got one point.

“The rules allow you to do that (play like Birmingham), but it is not the spirit of the game. So I assume my position in regard to the problem. My position is to try and reach the beauty of the game.

“But it is a lot more difficult to reach the beauty of the game when only one team wants to play.

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“I am not saying that the rules do not allow you to reduce spaces and not play with the ball. I am not complaining about that, but I am just talking about the difficulties we face in trying to find the solutions.”

Meanwhile, Bielsa has also insisted that he will never shy away from assuming personal responsibility for any future defeats suffered by Leeds – following his public decision to take the blame for last weekend’s defeat due to a perceived tactical error.

The 63-year-old cited his decision to start with a four-man defence as opposed to a three-man backline as being the reason behind the setback – and says that outlining his reasons would maintain respect levels among his players and supporters.

“You cannot be a leader if you do not publicly assume the responsibility,” Bielsa said.

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“But I never say something if I cannot give arguments to it. Otherwise, people will suspect me. Whenever I say something, I try to give answers and say what I think – not what is a good thing to say.

“When the head coach says he is responsible for a defeat and does not give arguments, what they are saying is that those who are really responsible are the players.

“If you assume the responsibility and do not explain why, those who listen say: ‘no, it is the head coach’s fault, not the players’.

“I reject this kind of practice. I give arguments and say why I am responsible. I do not know if they are right or wrong, but they are solid and have substance in the argument.”

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Bielsa also went onto stress that his decision to substitute Kalvin Phillips on two occasions already in the first half of games this season due to tactical reasons is no affront to the 22-year-old whatsoever.

Like in the game against Swansea City last month, the unfortunate midfielder made a premature exit from the fray early last weekend and while Bielsa is conscious of the dual impact of the decisions upon his player’s mindset, he remains comfortable with the decision from a professional perspective.

He said: “For me, it is a very difficult situation. The last thing I want is to hurt a player as noble as Phillips because he is very generous but I cannot make a mistake again.

“This (decision) does not draw the portrait of Kalvin. It draws my own.

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“If you deeply analyse the decision I took, you will say I corrected a mistake I made.

“If I think the game is not well designed and I do not take a solution, I make a double mistake. The first mistake is I made a mistake and then I would not dare to correct that mistake.

“I take the decisions I think are the best ones.

“We could say ‘poor Phillips’ but the people who understand football say ‘what a bad decision Bielsa took because he has to change after 30 minutes.’”