This press conference took place on Monday 25th July 2018 at Thorp Arch and was Marcelo Bielsa’s first public appearance as manager of Leeds United.
Andrea Radrizzani: Hello good afternoon I hope you had a good summer… you are having a good summer. The weather is great in the (coast?) of the Yorkshire. Great to have you here. We have a very good excitement today. We’re here to announce our manager. As all you know, we appointed Marcelo Bielsa. It’s a very exciting day for the club. We’re starting a new chapter in our life and we’re very honoured that Marcelo has chosen this club to come back to Europe and coach the first time in the UK. So just shortly I will leave space for Marcelo to introduce himself and answer your questions. I would like to remark the reason of this appointment for the club has been mainly for Marcelo (indistinguishable word) in his career that speaks by itself and also by the desire to change mentality in the club and to do it in a strong way with a man that could bring innovation in a way that could teach football to the players but also in the way to run the entire football department and the academy and we believe that his philosophy and his vision reflect our desire to become a winning club and change the mentality of the club. And the third and last reason is very important also: is that Marcelo has chosen us. So he had other options maybe even in a higher level leagues and national teams but he has decided to chase the dream of bringing back Leeds United to the Premier League so we have the same goal, we have the same dream and we are starting today to work together on this project. Thank you very much and I let Marcelo to continue with you.
Question 1) Andrea mentioned there that you had other options so why have you decided to join Leeds United and how did they persuade you to manage in the Championship?
Okay. It was a case of me convincing myself, no one had to convince me it was me convincing myself. I was convinced by the strength of Leeds United as a club and as an institution and on the field as well – the possibility of Leeds United in the sporting sense. I looked at things from a sporting <audio cuts out for 20 seconds> to make my decision to come here.
Q2) Are you confident that you can implement your style of football in the Championship? And what can the players and the fans expect?
I think we almost have an obligation as managers to put into place what we believe and what we feel to be right because we can’t convince people to follow us and take on board what we are saying if we don’t believe it ourselves. I believe that the players – they’re the guys who are going to interpret what I say out on the field – I think they have enough ability about them to be able to take on board what I am saying and put my thoughts and my beliefs into action on the field. As regards what the fans can expect: I think they want the protagonists out there on the field rather than talking about what might happen. I want the players to take the game by the scruff of the neck, not be scared to play and spend more time in possession of the ball rather than spending time trying to fight to get it back and win back the ball. I think they’ll see a kind of football where the ball is kept on the floor – passing will be on the carpet if you like – and as we progress in the different transitions between defence through to further forward as we work the ball forward we’ll be keeping it on the ground. I think they’ll see loyalty/faithful from the players in how they try to implement what we’ve been telling them in training out on the field. This is what we’re aiming at – this is our intention at this stage. And I think it’s all about learning how to deal with situations in a game where the team aren’t on top and they’re not sort of running the game but they can actually start to take on board our ideas in order to get through those difficult times in games.
Q3) Have you already identified the targets that you would like to bring to Leeds and how many new signings do you think you’ll need to make the team successful?
For the moment we’re not intending to bring too many new faces in. From my point of view, the club have currently got on the books plenty of players that I feel should remain here – that we should keep. In terms of the way things are run in terms of the process of bringing players in: I get names from Victor Orta here at the club; I then give my opinion on these players he mentions to me. So if we basically can arrive at an agreement and we’re all on the same page as to which players moving forward we might want to think about bringing into the club – that’s when that process starts: when we’ve had that conversation.
Q4) Have you spoken to Pep Guardiola or Mauricio Pochettino? Have they offered any advice about managing in England?
It’s not that I’ve actually had a physical conversation with them but I’m aware – I kind of listen to them/what they say because I’m always looking at what they’ve said in the media almost all of the time so I’m aware of things they say about the game. As you’re aware, those two guys are in love – enamoured with totally – everything about the English game/everything that is suggested by the English game. So everything that I’ve gleaned from any of the comments I’ve read that they’ve made, I’ve always been absolutely positive.
Q5) Do you believe that you will take Leeds United back into the Premier League this season?
It’s imprudent to promise something which you can’t be totally certain of/when there aren’t certainties about particular things that you talk about. But at the same time, it would be impossible not to be dreaming about that happening. To give sense to any kind of project like this – any kind of plans for the future in a sporting sense/in a football sense – basically what drives you is that desire and that hope and belief that you carry out what everyone wants/manage to achieve everything that everyone wants.
Q6) Final one from me. Have you been watching the World Cup? And what have you made of Argentina’s struggles so far?
I think we’re going to see the best of Argentina appearing from tomorrow onwards. I firmly believe in the quality of the players and in particular Messi’s leadership which I think is going to come to the fore and will be evident and I’m convinced also about the knowledge of the backroom staff and the management team – I believe that is going to show itself as well/their wisdom and knowledge. I think that two matches that we’ve seen so far – the two performances – they’ll use them as kind of a grounding almost to respond and to put in place a style of place that the national team really wants to see and, as I say, they’ll learn from those two games in a positive way moving forward. I’ve got a huge amount of faith in both the coach and all the technical staff/the backroom staff as I’ve mentioned before, and the players – and I’m convinced as well that from tomorrow you going to see a different Argentina and a good performance moving forward into the World Cup.
Q7) Marcelo. What would be your measure of success this season?
There are many ways to ask questions that, at the end of the day, we find impossible to answer/we cannot answer. I’ve kind of already answered that question in a similar way – the question you’re asking me now. I think setting parameters, setting targets in advance – I don’t think it’s the ideal message of support for the end users of this message who are, of course, our fans. The club – with the history of this club, everyone knows how to measure success or what represents success or failure at the end of the season. I think that if you’re trying to predict the future you’re almost becoming a demagogue rather a football coach so I think it’s not convenient to suddenly start making great statements of intent at this stage – it’s much better to be reasonable and measured. I much prefer to do things by trying to demonstrate and giving actual examples rather than to predict.
Q8) What sort of players do you need to be successful in your style?
I think a team is made up out of all the different qualities that you might see in a myriad of footballers – all sorts of qualities you need to make up a team. Maybe I could give you a short summary of what “an ideal footballer would represent: mental strength, sufficient ability on the ball and skill, being bright enough and intelligent enough to interpret different styles of play, you’ve got to be strong physically too and brave, and to have a competitive spirit also.
Q9) Which players have you told will not be here next season – who cannot fit that mould?
In that description, we’re talking about the ideal player. There’s no player anywhere actually who fits that bill. What I will say is that we’re trying to keep on our staff players who we can guarantee plenty of playing time – they’ll feature and they’ll be a part of things – so we want keep the players who we’re going to be using/who are going to be getting plenty of game time. The question that you’ve just asked me I’m convinced is the prologue to another more complicated question that you’re about to ask me.
Q10) Do we know anyone who will not be here who is currently on contract?
I’ve seen all 51 games that Leeds United played last season and also the two friendlies in Asia. So I’ve got opinions in my head – I’ve already made up my mind about all the players. But I’ve not had that day to day contact with them that the club have, of course, already enjoyed. So in the same way that I might get recommendations about new faces and bringing people in, I’m also informed about the club’s position on how you evaluate the existing playing staff. There aren’t any footballers – if the club has certain ideas about who they don’t want to keep on the staff: they wouldn’t be players that I would be intending to keep. In terms of any players who might be leaving the club, I wouldn’t want to confuse the issue by giving a negative evaluation or a bad description of a player even though it might seem like that. So I just go back to what I was saying before: the players I want to keep are the players who I can guarantee plenty of game time to. We think the club generally has 15 players who you might consider to be in excess – 15 more than they need – and we still need probably four or five positions on the field that we need to strengthen. I think that moving forward in a football sense, I’d say the squad to my mind shouldn’t be too top heavy in terms of too numerous – we shouldn’t have too many players in the squad who aren’t getting game time. So there might be some departures so that the amount of players in the squad isn’t too excessive – so the squad isn’t too high in numbers in other words. Basically anybody leaving – it would be more to do with the fact that I like to have a trimmed down-squad – a lean squad which isn’t going to be too top heavy in terms of numbers. And the sort of number in your squad so that everyone is getting regular game time. Obviously I can’t ignore the fact that there are 46 games in this league and that includes a potential for being up to 18 to 20 weeks of that season where you might be playing two times a week – that’s in an ideal world if we’ve made progress in all cup competitions as well. But I think we’ve got one or two youngsters coming through who will be useful in that respect too. So that we can add those to the squad as a whole to make it more solid but rather than saying solid – we might need to add one or two experienced faces as well into the squad. These long replies we go around the houses in our answers to avoid naming name.
Q11) Pep Guardiola has described you as the best manager in the world and Pochettino has described himself as a disciple of yours. I just wonder how you receive these compliments and whether or not you feel as though your ideas have already come through into English football through them and maybe actually helping the English National Team the way they are currently?
MB: I don’t want to be accused of false modesty. False modesty is when you say something to make the listener draw another conclusion from the situation. I don’t like false modesty. Guardiola is the best coach in the world and his ideas have been created by he himself and in any of his teams, I’ve never seen any traits of my style – all I’ve ever seen are his own ideas being implements when his teams play football. As for Pochettino, he’s build his own career and he’s adapted his own style which really is quite unique to him when you see his teams play. I think these two guys – you could consider them references. The fact that they are references for other people is more believable than the fact that I’ve been some kind of reference for them because I know myself very well. I’ve studied their styles quite a lot in depth and I’m not saying this out of a position of humility or modesty – I’m convinced of what I say when I talk about them.
Q12) Marcelo – can you ask him about whether he spoke to the board about the sort of budget he’ll need to bring players in?
I’ve spoken long with the sporting director and the club president about what we need and what our aims are and the three of us agree that these needs and objectives are not to highly exaggerated and we could find solutions. In terms of putting these decisions into practice – which is beyond my job spec if you like – I’m extremely confident that these issues will be sorted out in a very positive way.
Q13) Negotiations between yourself and the club took quite a while. Was that because you were sorting out a budget or was it something else?
I’m very meticulous and careful in these situations. Having spoken to Victor Orta and the president, I found two people there very keen to take another look at the whole direction the club is moving in a football sense. I’m very conscious that they weren’t going to promise something that they couldn’t fulfil so I just wanted to describe everything carefully from the word go in detail about me so that there wouldn’t be any surprises further down the line. I’ve already tired the translator out.
Q14) Question in Spanish. The gentleman from the press in Bilbao: “I’m not aware of any coach in the game in the world who expresses himself in such perfect and detailed Spanish. Do you think that fact – getting over your sporting and cultural message to the players in training sessions and team talks – is that something that is a major worry for you? Or is it a smaller worry? (and he referred to Lille)
The people who is going to be more interesting this answer are me and the person who asked it so I’m sorry if I can’t be brief. I’m very conscious of the importance of the spoken or written word in getting your message across. [Phil Dickinson] Basically he’s talking about a artist of the written word – sounds like a Basque journalist not just a Spanish journalist, Agiriano [Jon Agiriano who writes for El Correo]. I recommend you having a read of him – he’s very, very good. I think getting players to and appealing to players emotions and inspiring them to play, getting your message across – that’s what being a coach is all about. I think the biggest factor that gets players playing is emotion. And if you’re speaking sincerely, word and how you express yourself goes hand in hand with activating those football emotions. So if you do struggle in a particular language – if you’re not an expert in this language – it’s unmistakable that you have a difficulty. But there are other ways of getting your point of view across and something that you believe in sincerely can be conveyed in other ways than just words or the written word by showing how you feel. And although I was working in Bilbao that shares the same language as Spain, it’s a different culture. France of course is another language and another culture as well but I think that I managed to get my point across in both of those countries and I found the essence of what it was that motivated those players. I think the tradition present in English football – it’s a value which is guaranteed – and here values in football and tradition in football are very consistent with each other. And I am confident enough to believe that messages will be conveyed and reach the players themselves.
Q15) Marcelo – how do you look back at your time in Ligue Un managing Lille? And going back to the Argentina question – are you sympathetic with the current manager struggling to get the best our of a team of individual players?
So Marseille was an unforgettable memory for me, experiencing the Stade Velodrome on a matchday full of supporters is one of the most enjoyable experiences that football can bring you. On a sporting front, Lille has been the saddest moments of my career as a manager not because of the place – the city itself is really lovely – really welcoming – and certainly not because of the footballers who I had the chance to manage there who I had a huge amount of time for and valued their performances – the fans would get behind the side come what may – they were great and also the staff and all the employees of that club – you can’t split them out of the that institution – they form part of the texture of what is Lille. But apart from all those questions I’ve just mentioned, through that experience in Lille my self-esteem as a manager more than any time in my career, really suffered. And not in the main because of the results on the field which, if you looked at those results separately, they would be enough to damage my self-esteem because I was removed from my position with team in 19th place but I only played 20% of the games for the period for which I was under contract.
Q16) Leeds United have a fairly difficult start to the season: Stoke City a former PL team and then Derby County, a play-off contender. How important is it for you to get off to a good start?
There are no easy games in football – you never think of easy games as a manager and we are naturally optimistic most of the time. For me, having my first game here at home and to have the believe/excitement that it’s going to be a sell-out crowd and make it almost like a PL game inverted commas, that for me is something to be really excited about not considered a problem. It’s something that really stimulates me – it’s an incentive.
Q17) You mention Elland Road – how much do you know about the Elland Road atmosphere – it’s pretty well known in English football.
I know everything I possibly could know that a foreign person could know or have absorbed about what Leeds United means to supporters in this country. I was given a sheet – a list of instructions on stuff which is in my pocket here – for the press conference – [Phil Dickinson: I said was it how to get here or to speak – he said to speak] and I think I’ve lost it. And it mentioned that Leeds United had the biggest attendances in the Championship last season but I know Villa had bigger crowds but I think that they were just tipped over into the bigger figure there because they were in the play-offs so they played more games I know this because I was told by people at the club of course but I know for myself of course that Leeds take huge amounts of support away with them and I know that the team means an awful lot for the city. In Bilbao, which is a place which is has really left a huge mark on my life, not the biggest mark on my life because the team that leaves the biggest mark on your life I think is always your first club – my club in this case is Newells Old Boys where I started my career – but the phrase that you hear most when you’re walking around the streets of Bilbao is ‘I’m an Athletic season ticket holder’ It’s almost like a huge statement – it’s like an ID document – it’s a statement about who you are. It’s almost like a way of identifying yourself the fact that you are a support of football. There are lots of people of British descent living in the Bilbao area and I’m really excited to see that it’s going to be the same here. I’m really hopeful that the fans identify with and they have the desire to support their own town in the same way that I just described in Bilbao. I think working in football, one of the great things you’re provided with is the chance to see just how a city and a group of fans can identify with each other and almost have the fans – and I’m sure it’s the case here – become part of the club. That’s what I’ve been told happens here and I’m excited to see that it does.
Q18) Having watched every game last season, what was lacking last season and what needs to change?
I don’t really like to evaluate or give opinions on situations when they refer to games and season that I didn’t personally take part in. I don’t think it’s fair to judge fellow managers, footballers, clubs from a distance when you haven’t been involved in those situations yourself. I’d rather excuse myself from that reply rather than give you an empty answer.
Q19) You said you watched all 51 games last season and the 2 friendlies in Myanmar. How important is it for you to do video analysis and what kind of research have you done into the club and the city as well?
I think watching games with your analysing head on – the more matches you watch, it reduces the opportunity that you might be wrong about a particular idea you might have. It doesn’t mean you’re less likely to make a mistake but it makes you think you haven’t made a mistake. I think it’s a job that is absolutely invaluable and indispensable in the game. It can tell you that the number 2 [Ayling] might play in various positions across the defence – right, left or in the middle – or Berardi has also played on either side of the defence and has filled in at centre-half as well. I think the way in which the team sets up structure-wise – to give you an example, the length of the runs made by Alioski – I could give you loads and loads more conclusions that I have drawn from watching this footage but it would be vain of me to do so. What I can tell you though that what happens when you watch these 51 games – I would tell you that I enjoyed you for a start. Certainly, I see it as a professional obligation to look into things in that detail. I just don’t want you to think I looked at them just for the sake of it. Whether or right or not, they generated in my mind hundreds of what I would consider certainties – I drew lots of conclusions from having watched this footage.
Q19) You obviously done a few coaching sessions at the aspire academy [in Qatar]. I’m just wondering what influence Ivan Bravo had on you talking to Leeds initially?
We all know – anyone involved in football knows the prestige that Bravo has in the game but no I didn’t get in touch with him to talk about any decision that arrived at my coming here. I don’t want to create any problem for him in the future but the president and Orta the sports director believed in me and if it goes well it’ll be down to me and if it goes badly it’ll be down to them.
Q20) What does Marcelo know about the club’s time in the Champions League, the subsequent financial meltdown and then attempt to get back to the Premier League. How much did this influence his decision to come to Leeds?
I think you can imagine yourself taking part in a big success and that motivates you and it makes you emotional.
Q21) Marcelo – you acquired the blueprints for Thorp Arch and you’re known for making changes to training bases. Have you got plans for Thorp Arch here?
My daughter told me not to talk about building work – ask the journalist over there! It’s a top-class training centre that doesn’t need any tinkering with or alterations. There might be a slight alteration here and there but nothing excessive is required.
Q22) The players won’t be sleeping there any time soon then?
Not been thinking of doing that. But I’ll take it as a suggestion.
Q23) Earlier you were talking about Argentina and they’ve obviously struggled with their first games – Messi hasn’t come good yet – why do you think they’ve struggled so far?
We can answer your question with this reply: the vultures are circling around the Argentinian press. Doing the rounds in the Argentinian media is this idea that Tata Martino – former manager of Barcelona, Newells and the national team – just basically described how difficult it is simply being part of that set-up if you’re a player or a member of staff – it’s really tough. The main reason being is the incredibly high expectation placed upon the team by the nation of Argentina. I’ve got 100% confidence in them – and that’s not me wishing for something – it’s based on fact. I think the players will find a way out of this situation they find themselves in. The management team – they’ve got more than enough experience and knowledge to take them through this situation – the backroom staff and the technical team. So the players themselves and the coach – they need to feel the support of us and the support of our fans. I think they need to feel the love and the support of all of everyone back home in Argentina and that we’re behind them and we appreciate them and we’re right behind them in this journey – hopefully – toward success. I’m on board with what Martino said but I’m probably not the best qualified person to be asking about this at the present time because of course back in Korea/Japan 2002, I was at the helm and we were knocked out in the group stages which kind of gives me doubts and makes me suspicious whatever is said. So basically to turn things around and get out of this difficult spot in which they find themselves, I think the words of Martino basically sum up perfectly what Argentina need: I think they just need a bit of love and support.
Phil Dickinson: Sorry. Basically he was just inquiring if I’m worn out.
This has been the first time I’ve been in charge of a team for a few months so I’m going on a bit. Six months.
Q24) Following on from that: What expectations is Messi currently suffering from? There’s all this rubbish about how he needs to come and dominate a World Cup to ensure he proves himself.
There’s nobody better places than Messi to tell you what it feels like that you’re almost under examination all the time, he has to pass another exam, you know, for some reason or another, at every juncture. But what you’ve also got to remember: he is who he is, and he’s where he is, because he’s demonstrated his quality every single time he’s need to. And I hope with all my strength that he, once again, demonstrates just what he can do tomorrow. I think all of us who love him are really sending him our best wishes and giving him the strength that he needs to come through this and I’m convinced he’ll prevail tomorrow – come up trumps.
Q25) Marcelo – how are the English lessons going? Do you have a timeframe in which you’ll hope to speak fluent English?
I’ve got lots to thank my mother for – but one thing in particular: she sent me to English classes for 15 years when I was a kid hoping that today I’d be conducting this in English. I’m going to try. But I said the same at the start in France and didn’t manage it so…
Q26) What is your opinion of the Championship?
Maybe it’s exceeded what I was originally thinking about the league here. I’ve heard it’s considered to be like the sixth or seventh best league in the world. Talking about the stadia: I’ve seen stadia in this league which only hold around 10,000 but they’re still – wow – really nice, neat stadiums. Obviously everyone always says ‘It would be great to play in an 80,000 seater stadium’ but I think that the stadia here are all great and they add a little bit more condiment to the occasion and they’re all good. I guess, in my experience in football, a lot of the stadiums that I’ve worked in and around have been your classic football stadium – like Fulham – whereas now you kind of see these super-stadia that we see at the World Cup now that are massive and futuristic. What is key for me is that I’ve got a real flavour for it and I’ve got a real desire to get going and start participating in this league.
Q27) Marcelo talked about the Argentine media and their dealing with the national team. In the international press, Marcelo is often referred to as El Loco – I don’t know how he interprets that nickname?
I’ve got a pre-prepared answer that I’ve had prepared for a while on this one. I was first given this nickname because my style of giving my replies in press conferences is quite different to other managers. I don’t know if you believe that or…
Q28) Marcelo – what contact have you had with the players so far? Have you met them this morning?
Yeah we started work this morning. We said hello – greeted each other – this morning.
Q29) What can the players expect in preseason? How busy will it be and how long will it be?
First and foremost, I’m trying to communicate a style – a way of playing. I think that’s the key – that’s especially what it’s about conveying that style.
Q30) Which players are you looking forward to working with the most?
We can’t single out players even in a good sense because we just never get forgiven if we do this. I’ve got opinions about players who stand out but I’m obviously not going to speak about them. For a start, this press conference is all too much about me and this isn’t a good thing in terms of manager player relations. Speaking as much as I have been just now is not for the job I have ahead of me.
Q31) What impact did you have on the pre-season friendlies and are you happy with the quality of the opposition?
I know the level at which our future opponents compete at – I can’t comment exactly what standard they are at because I haven’t seen much of the leagues that they’re in but I trust those people who have chosen those friendlies and set up the programme.
Q32) You come to Leeds where the people are known for being hard working and talking no nonsense. Do you think you can implement those traits in to the squad within the Championship season?
I think yeah when you come to an environment like this you know that everything will be done in a professional manager so you know that work ethic will be shared. So you’re talking about Leeds – you mentioned them being hard-working – is Leeds more hardworking than other parts of England?
I thought the industrial North was even further North than here.
Q32) Who does he prefer: Don Revie or Brian Clough?
In terms of winning the right way: I prefer to lose rather than cheat or play tricks. I prefer beautiful football than over pragmatic football. Let’s face it – you’re not allowed to play outside of the rules of the games – it doesn’t bring you trophies. Playing well brings you closer to triumph and victory and winning things. I don’t think that we can claim playing badly is a way that achieves victory or is a means to an end to win.a