The most improved players under Marcelo Bielsa
12 Jun 2020 02:13 pm, by YorkshireSquare
Most people judge the success of managers on the number of trophies they win but if you judge success in terms of clubs transformed and players improved then Bielsa is one of the best in the world. Some star names sparkle in the list of players Bielsa has improved in the past; Gabriel Batistuta, Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone, Alexis Sanchez and Benjamin Mendy to name but a few. He has achieved remarkable things yet again at Elland Road over the past to seasons. Most new managers would have demanded a clear out of a squad that finished mid-table the season before but not Marcelo Bielsa. He saw the potential in his players and to a man he has improved every single one of them. We name four of the players who have improved the most under Bielsa’s mentoring.
Jack Harrison re-joined Leeds United from Manchester City on loan for a second successive season this summer. Yet to play a game for the Manchester side and after a relatively unsuccessful loan at Middlesbrough his first real chance to impress in English football came last season at Leeds. Initially used off the bench Harrison became a regular in Marcelo Bielsa’s side. He made his debut during the opening game of the season against his hometown club Stoke City as an 89th minute substitute and made his first start for Leeds in the EFL Cup against Bolton, his first league start coming at the end of August deputising for the injured Pablo Hernandez against Middlesbrough.
It’s fair to say a large number of Leeds fans were not convinced by Harrison last season. He didn’t demonstrate an ability to beat a man in the way shown by Jack Clarke in his cameo performances and his choice and quality of final ball were often questioned. But he is a player who improved over the season and with a full year of Marcelo Bielsa’s tutelage under his belt he has really kicked on this year. With six assists to his name he is behind only Pablo Hernandez and with five goals he is joint third in the scorer’s table for Leeds this season. On his day he is almost unplayable and with Costa on the opposite wing they are surely the most feared combination in the league.
It wasn’t long ago that Kalvin Phillips faced an uncertain future at Leeds United. Failing to hold down a regular position in the Leeds United line-up he was considered behind his cohorts from academy. The likes of Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Sam Byram were all rated more highly that Phillips but now it looks as though he could outshine them all. The arrival of Marcelo Bielsa at Elland Road and departure of Ronaldo Vieira were what Phillips needed to revitalise his career. Marcelo Bielsa moved Phillips into a new role and the 24-year-old has improved beyond all recognition under his tutelage into one of the best defensive midfielders in England.
Whilst Pablo Hernandez may take on the role of creative talisman for Leeds United, there is no doubting that Kalvin Phillips is the conductor of the orchestra. The maestro in defensive midfield, setting the tempo of the game, ensuring all the performers in Marcelo Bielsa’s concerto follow the same metrical rhythm. Be it his short passing game or the long balls, Phillips has been a master at guiding the ensemble around the pitch. Winning the ball back, dictating play, directing the symphony to the joy of an admiring crowd.
The nickname of ‘The Yorkshire Pirlo’ may be slightly tongue in cheek but it is not so far from the truth, his vision, creativity and passing ability are key to directing Leeds United’s promotion campaigns over the past two seasons. Phillips was missed greatly during his suspension and it’s no coincidence his return has coincided with a turn around in Leeds United’s results. Now with Gareth Southgate having kept tabs on Phillips, a first England call up could be on the cards. With this summers Euro 2020 tournament now delayed by a year, this could mean Kalvin has an even better chance of making the squad for that tournament.
Paul Madeley was Don Revie's Rolls Royce, the original ‘Super Sub’ and the most versatile player ever to wear the Leeds shirt...and arguably in the whole history of the Football League. Now Marcelo Bielsa has his own Rolls Royce in the form of Stuart Dallas. Not many players could hold their heads up high after the play-off debacle against Derby County but Dallas was certainly one who could with two goals to his name. That performance came from the left back position but his form has continued into the new season with ‘Mr Versatile’ playing all over the pitch. Right back, wing back, central midfield, you name it the Northern Irishman has played there for both club and country.
Never perhaps the most gifted player his work rate and dedication have always been recognised by his fellow players. This season, when perhaps chances seemed limited for Dallas following the signings of Harrison and Costa he has been Bielsa’s go to player. Injuries to Ayling, Foreshaw and Alioski have seen Dallas near ever present this campaign, in a multitude of positions, and one of Leeds most consistence performers wherever he has played. The likes of Hernandez, Costa, Phillips and White may grab the headlines but any promotion push this season will be reliant on Stuart Dallas, Marcelo Bielsa’s Rolls Royce!
Mateusz Klich signed for Leeds United from FC Twente in the summer of 2017 for a fee of around £1.5 million, one of an incredible 24 players brought in by Victor Orta that transfer window. Behind Kalvin Phillips, Eunan O'Kane and Ronaldo Vieira he was well down Thomas Christiansen’s pecking order. His first and only League start for the 2017-18 season came on 26th September 2017, in the defeat against Cardiff City. Klich slipped in that game and lost possession which lead to a goal from Kenneth Zohore. Christiansen blamed Klich for the loss and he was sent to FC Utrecht for a six-month loan spell. It looked as though Klich may go down as one of Victor Orta’s many failures that season.
But Klich had unfinished business at Leeds United and he told Victor Orta as much as he headed out on loan. He soon found his form again in the Eredivisie with man of the match performances following, he even scored the winner in his final appearance for Utrecht. On his return to Leeds United they had a new coach, Marcelo Bielsa, and Klich had a fresh start. York pre-season saw him in the unusual positions of centre back and defensive midfield but he lined-up in his more familiar central midfield role against Stoke at Elland Road for the start of the season. A game Leeds United won 3-1 with Klich scoring the opening goal after just quarter of an hour.
Klich hasn’t looked back since that game against Stoke. Three goals in the first five games of the 2018-2019 season saw him called up to the Poland national squad for the first time in four years. He would go on to make 50 appearances for Leeds that season and was the only player ever present in the league. That run of games would continue into the current season with Hull City his 84th consecutive league match for Leeds. From a player with no look in to the first name on the team sheet Klich’s transformation under Bielsa is remarkable. Klich’s only regret is that he wasn’t coached by Marcelo Bielsa ten years earlier, if he had he believes he would be an even better footballer.