Monthly Archives: June 2018

Leeds United’s Paudie O’Connor Could do a Great Loan Job for Barnsley – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United’s Irish defender Paudie O’Connor is set to sign a new contract at Elland Road – but, according to reports, manager Marcelo Bielsa feels that O’Connor would benefit from a season out on loan to gain competitive experience.

O’Connor broke into the Leeds first team towards the end of the last campaign, when defensive injuries reduced United’s senior options. For the coming season, though, it’s likely that at least one major defensive signing will be made, so a loan out for O’Connor makes sense.

It would also make sense for a club like Barnsley, trying to put together a competitive League One squad after relegation, and themselves under a new coach, to look at what a young and promising defender could bring to the Oakwell table. Bringing in quality on loan is a well-trodden path to third tier success, and O’Connor – if he is to go out on loan – is an option the Tykes should be considering.

The best loan deals benefit all parties, and O’Connor to Barnsley, a good club in a hard and open league, would certainly fall into that category.

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Crazy Boss for a Crazy Club. Leeds and Bielsa, a Match Made in Heaven… or Hell – by Rob Atkinson

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Welcome to Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa

The Marcelo Bielsa era at Leeds United has officially begun, with the man they call “el Loco” – the Madman – holding his inaugural press conference at Elland Road on Monday. Despite a reputation for lengthy press sessions, this was a brisk hour and twenty two minutes, with much of it taken up by the translation process. During that time, we all learned a fair bit about the new United boss. There were questions, answers, a few laughs and no grenades.

One thing that stood out was that, despite his evident dislike of false modesty, Bielsa is not short of humility. He batted back questions about Pep Guardiola regarding him as the best coach in the world, by hanging that accolade firmly around the Manchester City boss’s own neck. The overall picture was of a man who would not be settling for sound bites or stereotypes – a man indeed with his own philosophy and the determination to see that imprinted on his new situation.

When it came to brass tacks, the Argentinean revealed that he thought the Leeds United squad was top-heavy by maybe 15 players, whilst acknowledging that it needed strengthening in four or five areas. Although he stated that there wouldn’t be too many players coming in, and that he saw the youth element at the club as being a potentially useful resource, it still seems likely that there will be some significant player turnover in the near future – with outgoing players making up the bulk of that.

Overall, Bielsa’s debut day went well, and seemed to be well-received, certainly on social media. For this, we must thank the affable and efficient translator, who managed to convey not just the text of Marcelo’s utterances, but also nuance, light and shade. There was even some eye contact from Bielsa, a man notoriously not given to that – and, more remarkably still, the odd smile.

The only potential gaffe came when Bielsa was asked whether he preferred Don Revie or Brian Clough, and delivered a brief homily on his football philosophy, stating “In terms of winning the right way, I prefer to lose rather than cheat or play tricks. I prefer beautiful football rather than over-pragmatic football. Playing well brings you closer to winning things. I don’t think we can claim that playing badly is a way that achieves victory.”

That’s all well and good, but anyone working for the United cause needs to be wary of straying into heresy; sections of the press are all too ready to pounce gleefully on any apparent endorsement of the old myth that Cloughy was all good and the Don all bad. Perhaps a little while spent around LS11 will lead to a reassessment in this particular area. It was a distinctly left-field question, though and, so far, at least, nobody seems to be holding Bielsa’s slightly equivocal response against him.

If anything, this one uncertain moment summed up the abiding sense that here is an appointment that could as easily go extraordinarily wrong as it could sublimely right. In the here and now, nobody can predict which of those two extremes is the more likely – people are just settling for the near certainty that it won’t be anything in between. This union of crazy club with crazy man could indeed be a match made in heaven – or hell.

For the moment, then, it’s full ahead for the good ship Leeds with Captain Bielsa at the helm. May fair winds and calm waters see him safe to the destination we all wish so fervently to reach, there to prosper and maybe find some silver. The mission is clear, the rewards are great. And, while the voyage may be long or short, what we can most definitely predict is that it’s highly unlikely to be boring.

Multiple Incoming Transfers for Leeds as Bielsa Style Means Large Squad – by Rob Atkinson

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Bielsa – deep squad vital

If every transfer deal Leeds United are supposed to be working on actually came to fruition, then United would need to expand Thorp Arch to twice its current size at least. Most of the speculation, of course, is just that. It’s the sort of thing that takes off during the silly season, when there’s no actual football being played, apart from some prima donnas’ kickabout in Mother Russia. And right now, every sort of speculation has reached fever pitch around LS11 – due to the arrival of a certain allegedly deranged Argentinean, name of Marcelo Bielsa.

The difference Bielsa makes to our recent idea of normality is really twofold. Firstly, the pursuit and capture of a coach with a global reputation must be seen as a sign of serious intent on the part of Leeds United FC, of an ambition not manifest in recent seasons. Bielsa is not daft, and he’ll have made his position and his requirements abundantly clear during the tough negotiations that evidently preceded his appointment. His track record includes a sudden, early walk-out at Lazio, when el Loco felt that he had been lied to. United must have made promises about player recruitment and the manager’s involvement in decisions; they will have to honour them, or they’ll get the Lazio treatment from the maverick Argentine.

The other thing is Bielsa’s famed style of play. The high-pressing, fluidly attacking game makes heavy demands of the players attempting it; the outcome is that, particularly towards the end of a typically hard and gruelling Championship campaign, fatigue will lead to the full use of a necessarily large squad that has strength in depth going for it.

The inevitable conclusion is that, although as usual Twitter is all aflutter because little has happened so far, things will soon start to happen, because Leeds will need a major influx of the right type of talent into what is a patchy squad. I’d fully expect significant arrivals within the next couple of weeks, to allow sufficient time pre-season for the Bielsa method to be inculcated into his players. This coaching appointment simply won’t work unless proper investment and recruitment happens, and you can bet your bottom dollar that, behind the scenes, the activity is already frenetic.

It’s going to be an exciting time between now and the start of the season in August. Enjoy the ride.

Marcelo Bielsa “To Sign Leeds United Contract Tonight” – by Rob Atkinson

It’s happening – Marcelo Bielsa will be the next Leeds United boss. I’m purposely avoiding the terms “manager” and “coach” as being, at this stage, too precise. But the implications of this appointment are that Bielsa’s stringent conditions and requirements have largely been met. In those circumstances, the continuing presence of Victor Orta notwithstanding, “Boss” seems like the best word to use.

The information is reliable, having been tweeted by the famously ITK journalist Phil Hay. So, United have got their man, a stellar appointment to put every other occupant of the Elland Road hotseat, possibly since Terry Venables, firmly into the shade. We must hope that the club intends to be fully honest and open in their dealings with Bielsa; they certainly weren’t with Venables.

Much more on this to come, obviously. In the meantime, we must wish our new Boss all the best, getting right behind him from Day One. This could and should be a pivotal moment in the illustrious history of a club approaching its centenary. From here, the only way should be up.

Welcome to Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa. May you meet early with the success we all wish you.

Any News, Phil? Leeds United Reporter Phil Hay Suffers Torture by a Million Tweets – by Rob Atkinson

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Phil Hay, perennial Leeds United Twitter target info source

One man who will be particularly relieved, and who may indeed shed tears of joy, when the white smoke eventually goes up over Elland Road and Marcelo Bielsa becomes our anointed king, is the Yorkshire Evening Post‘s chief football writer Phil Hay.

Phil is the man with his finger on the pulse of Leeds United and his ear to the ground at Thorp Arch. It’s become an article of faith that any item of Whites football news can only really be believed when it’s been presented as fact by Mr. Hay, whose articles and revelations always carry that stamp of authenticity.

The downside to this elite and privileged position is that Hay, an endearingly prolific tweeter of the snippets all Leeds fans thirst for, has to put up with a phenomenal amount of Twitter queries, amounting to an ongoing Inquisition, with demands for more news, more verbatim accounts of what’s being said and, above all, urgent confirmation of that which has not yet been confirmed. Sometimes, the strain ever so slightly shows, when representatives from the dimmer end of the Leeds Twitteratti attempt to second guess our intrepid reporter. Then, such responses as he makes can be quite terse and dry. But, ever the pro, Phil does not engage in unseemly to-ing and fro-ing. That’s a lesson I could do with learning.

It’s not just Phil Hay, of course. The equally respected Adam Pope cops for his share of incessant nagging, the likes of “Popey, can you confirm… etc”. Lee Sobot is another target for this insatiable hunger for news NOW. Of course, people do know that you can’t report developments until those developments have developed – but you sometimes have to doubt that awareness. Our professional reporters are harangued 24/7, and it’d be no wonder if they got just a teensy bit sick of it.

The last couple of weeks have been a case in point, with “Any news, Phil?” becoming a catchphrase to rank alongside any in the world of alternative comedy. It’s being used ironically now, as Tweeters take the mick out of their less patient fellow online fans. If Messrs Hay, Pope and Sobot tried to answer every desperate plea for knowledge aimed directly at them, they’d have neither the time nor the energy to get on with their actual jobs.

With this in mind, it’d be nice to think that the manic tweeters would lay off a bit, accept that things happen when they happen or not at all, and generally give our faithful correspondents a bit of time and room to breathe. Not that any such restraint is likely to happen, of course. That imperious need to know is out there, and it’s voracious.

What I will wish is for the Bielsa story to be resolved as soon as possible, so that our chaps in the press room can take a bit of a rest. Then again, once Bielsa is in – well, all the transfer business will catch fire and consume us all, won’t it? Hmmm.

Erm – any news, Phil?

With Bielsa Joining Leeds, Legendary Striker Fernando Torres Cannot be Ruled Out – by Rob Atkinson

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Fernando Torres – on his way back to Elland Road?

SkyBet have suspended betting now on the question of the next Leeds United manager – the last price available on Marcelo Bielsa was, reportedly, a not altogether generous 20-1 on. If the bookies expect you to invest £20 to gain a quid, then you can bet they’re fairly certain of the eventual outcome – and now, even that price is off the table. With other sources reporting that Bielsa has been granted a work permit, it seems nailed-on that “El Loco” will be installed in the Elland Road hotseat in the very near future.

To say that this represents a change in United’s recruitment policy is hopelessly inadequate. It’s like saying that Leicester City‘s 2015 title triumph was mildly surprising, or that Harry Kewell is perhaps lacking slightly in the nobler scruples. Bielsa to Leeds is a seismic event, something that shows the club are getting seriously serious in their approach to achieving promotion to the Promised Land. As the wise Yorkshireman observed when he sampled his neighbour’s parsnip wine, “Owt could ‘appen ‘ere”.

That being the case, other stories in circulation, yarns that would normally be dismissed as too outlandish and fanciful even for Coronation Street, must now be treated a little more respectfully. In layman’s terms: if Bielsa can agree to take over at Leeds, and especially if he’s managed to get the club to grant him a big say in all footballing matters including transfers, then pretty much anything can happen now. We’re entering an alternate reality here, one for which the last decade and a half has left us totally unprepared. It is indeed a whole new ball game.

So, when rumour has it that Leeds United, at Senor Bielsa’s behest, are showing an interest in former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, now 34 but eminently capable still of tearing the Championship division a new one, then my advice would have to be: Titter ye not. Put aside your initial impulse to scoff, carp and otherwise demonstrate your scorn. A new reality is upon us, and who can say with any certainty what’s possible or probable under these radically different circumstances? Not I, and, I’d respectfully suggest, not you either.

Even now, though, with an improbability field so vast drifting around Elland Road, that you’d be forgiven for demanding a refund on your Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, some possibilities must be counted as less likely than others. Bielsa? Almost certainly. Abel Hernandez? Where else is the lad going to go? Kyle Bartley? Agent Ayling is on the case. But Torres – a legend in the truest football sense of the world – that has to be a bit more of a stretch. SkyBet, supremely confident about Bielsa, regard Torres to Leeds rather more circumspectly at 33-1. They appear to see Japan as his likely destination, with Premier League minnows Newcastle also much more highly fancied than Yorkshire’s Number One, at 12-1.

Then again, it’s at Leeds United where the nigh-on impossible stuff appears to be happening right now. It should be remembered that Torres would be the third ex-Liverpool striker to join Leeds in the last couple of decades, following on from Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler. Could we really see Fernando Torres leading the line for the Whites at Millwall and Rotherham next season? The way things are around LS11 at the moment, you’d better think twice about betting against it.

Leeds Bielsa Talks Now on Home Straight but Suffering Cramp – by Rob Atkinson

Having been in the last mile of negotiations for the past 24 hours or so, Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa are now staggering up the home straight and expecting to reach the finishing line, which is in sight, at any time in the next hours, days, weeks or months.

The problem at this late stage is cramp. The home straight is slightly uphill and it’s been hot and muggy, so, you know. These things are never simple, and when you start tying up with the goal in sight, it gets really tricky. Fortunately, both parties have been able to take on essential isotonic supplements from a number of distinctly salty sources along the way.

More as we get it, but don’t hold your breath.

Massive, Defining Week Ahead for Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the next few days for Yorkshire‘s number one football club. The decisions due to be made by various parties could well dictate the shape, not only of the season ahead for Leeds United, but even of the next few years. A major change in management style and recruitment policy seems to be under consideration, with the abiding question being: and what happens if prime target Marcelo Bielsa doesn’t take the United helm?

That could of course turn out to be a question strictly for the pessimists and the more mischievous outposts of the press. While the glass-half-empty brigade on Twitter and the 95% of the media hostile to Leeds have done their best to stoke up doubt and despondency, the club itself, as well as respected journalists closer to the people in charge, exudes an air of businesslike calm. The expectation clearly exists that what initially appeared to be wishful thinking could actually happen. If it does – and we should know quite shortly now – then it could easily change the course of Leeds United history. And in a good way, too.

Interestingly, the betting markets still appear to assume that these great events will take place. And bookies have a vested interest in getting these things right. So this next week, so nearly upon us, could well be an epochal time for anyone with LUFC carved on their heart.

And if Bielsa doesn’t happen – well it’s still significant that Leeds are looking at that end of the talent market. There’s no reason to suppose that, should the volatile Argentinean decide that Elland Road is not for him, United will inevitably resort to the bargain basement outlets they’ve frequented before. The apparent change of attitude at the top of the club is at least as important as the names in circulation as possibilities as coach or new players. The intent of the club is the crucial thing, and we must presume that the nature of this intent will survive any short term disappointments.

So it’s still a case of “watch this space”, though not, you’d suspect, for too much longer. Sit back, and wait for great happenings to unfold down LS11 way. This could well be the first week of a whole new era for Leeds, maybe even one of a distinctly golden hue.

Despite the Furore, Marcelo Bielsa Remains Odds-On to be Leeds’ new Boss – by Rob Atkinson

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Bielsa, or Bruce, or A.N.Other? Nobody knows, but the bookies have an idea

There’s a feeding frenzy of speculation surrounding Leeds United right now, with various internet sources pouncing on the fans’ anxiety to fuel debate as to whether the Whites will end up with a former Argentinian coach, or a former Man U centre half. Those two possibilities represent just about as polarised a choice of footballing philosophies as you could imagine, with Marcelo Bielsa favouring a high pressing game with a fluid attacking formation, whilst Steve Bruce would probably just let the players get on with it as, keenly aware of his popularity level at Elland Road, he sits in the dugout with a tin hat on.

It’s all speculation, simply because there is very, very little hard information out there. The sensible fan will resign him or herself to sitting back and waiting for something solid to transpire – but they might also take a passing glance at those bookies’ odds, which still have Bielsa as a strong odds-on favourite, despite talk of “drastic changes” in those odds. Odds-on in a field of several is powerful medicine; it does not indicate to the thinking fan that anything at all drastic has taken place. What is doubtless going on will be a lot of hard and urgent talking and, for the moment at least, that talking is most likely between United and Bielsa. Rumours that he is analysing videos of Leeds games from last season might incline us to send the poor chap some Paracetamol, but they do not, of themselves, make any particular outcome more likely.

All that’s actually happened in the betting market is that Bruce’s odds are shortened from 20-1 to 5-1, whilst Bielsa has seen his heavy odds-on price of 1-5 go out slightly to 4-9. That’s significant movement, particularly on the Bruce side – but then again, markets react to speculation, and his name has been bruited about a lot this past 24 hours. Overall, though, Bielsa remains a hot favourite – which is the most definite thing anyone can currently say.

For the record, my preference would be for Bielsa, based simply on the brand of football we might see. I’d also be extremely open to the possibility (if it exists) of Claudio Ranieri, who still rides fairly high in the odds.

It’s been a frustrating few days, and that might carry on a while yet. But all the indications remain positive that we’re still in for a very exciting summer.

Elland Road’s England Extravaganza Proves Premier League Needs Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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Southgate’s England win at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road

England‘s last stopping-off point before their Russian quest for World Cup glory was at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road – and the occasion told us plenty, some of it even about our national team and its chances this summer.

Talking about England first, this was a competent and dominant performance against a slightly jet-lagged Costa Rica team who were still nobody’s mugs. England pretty much won as they liked though, with Marcus Rashford, looking much more effective with better players around him, making a persuasive case for inclusion in the opening game of England’s group, ahead, perhaps, of Raheem Sterling. Rashford’s spectacular 13th minute opener brought generous cheers from the Kop, despite the lad’s day job, with Danny Welbeck‘s close range header near the end greeted equally warmly by the South Stand. In between the two decisive strikes, England passed prettily, defended well enough to leave their keeper Jack Butland largely unemployed, and a lively attack gave the Costa Rican defence plenty to think about.

But the signature note of the evening was struck by the occasion’s real star – Elland Road itself. For once in a very long while, the muted, apathetic atmosphere of Wembley was replaced by a thrillingly raucous fervour to urge on the national team, courtesy of one of football’s genuine, old-style cauldrons of white-hot atmosphere. That’s done nowhere quite so well as it is in this part of Leeds; the crowd lifted the England players to a degree that was obvious to anybody who’s suffered through some of those dreary friendlies in North London. This was dutifully acknowledged by commentators and pundits alike; Clive Tyldesley for ITV noted that the attendance was around 36,000, “but sounds like twice as much”. Indeed. Old Trafford, it’s worth mentioning, can do a similar trick – only the other way around.

Lee Dixon in his punditry role was fired with enthusiasm afterwards. This is what you need, he exulted, thumbing over his shoulder at the arena behind him. Let’s take England on the road. It’s a good idea, one that’s been around for years now, but the commercial lure of Wembley has usually won the day. Perhaps there will now be a rethink. It’s no coincidence that this was one of the better England “friendly” performances; the team responded to the crowd, the occasion, the unique atmosphere. Above all, tonight showed beyond doubt that the Premier League – currently stuffed with pedestrian acts like Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Watford – positively needs the return of Leeds United. The stadium, the club and the fanatical support are all wasted on anything less than the elite group, and the so-called Premier League has been diluted too far and for too long by elements of mediocrity. The return of United cannot come too soon, for the sake of all parties concerned.

For Leeds United fans, it was a taste of what might be to come, the stadium packed out and cheering on some top class footballers who may even be destined for great things. How the fans of Yorkshire‘s top club would like to sample that atmosphere, and witness this style of performance, on a more regular basis. It’s a dream, something to hope for and aspire to. And, you never know – those dreams do occasionally come true.