Two Spanish Managers in the Spotlight as Potential Bielsa Replacements
17 Mar 2021 12:58 pm, by YorkshireSquare
Amidst growing speculation that Marcelo Bielsa might bid farewell to Leeds United once his contract expires at the end of the season, there has inevitably been a host of rumours lately about who might replace the iconic Argentine coach. It's not something many of us wish to think about, yet it's a reality that must be faced at some point.
While the 65-year-old traditionally and historically only tends to sign one-year contracts, the Yorkshire club may ultimately decide to take a new direction from next season. Spanish football could provide two leading candidates, both of whom would be ideally suited for the Elland Road job.
If there is one team that has constantly upset the UEFA Europa League odds this season, it’s Granada - they're favourites to progress against Molde after a first-leg triumph. They are a club that has enjoyed a remarkable change in fortunes over the last three seasons, all thanks to Diego Martínez. Following his appointment ahead of the 2018-19 season, the modest Andalusian club won promotion from the second tier of Spanish football, although that was just the start of an amazing journey.
In their first campaign back in La Liga, Martínez guided his team to 7th in the final standings, earning the club a place in European competition for the first time in its 90-year history. Despite still having one of the smallest budgets amongst the Spanish elite, Granada continue to punch above their weight, principally thanks to the managerial methods and philosophy of Martínez, who is also the youngest manager in La Liga.
Continuing to punch above their weight, teamwork and unity are the secrets to the success of Granada, as they once again seek a top ten finish in La Liga, alongside their impressive Europa League campaign which has led to a place in the quarter-finals. However, 40-year-old Martínez is out of contract at the end of the season, putting numerous clubs on alert if he decides not to agree new terms with Granada.
After all the fuss ahead of Euro 2018, when Julen Lopetegui was fired by Spain for accepting the Real Madrid job days prior to the tournament, he failed spectacularly under the intense pressure managers often experience at the Santiago Bernabeu. In fact, his ill-fated tenure lasted just 14 games, during which time the Spanish giants managed just 6 wins, 2 draws, and 6 defeats.
Nevertheless, Lopetegui remains a highly valued and respected coach. During his time with the Spain U19, U20, and U21 sides, he achieved an impressive 84.44% win ratio. Although a two-year spell with FC Porto didn’t produce any silverware, he also registered a 67.95% win ratio with the Portuguese outfit. Once in charge of the Spanish national team, they enjoyed a superb unbeaten run lasting 20 games, registering 16 wins and 4 draws.
These were all the credentials that attracted Sevilla to hiring Lopetegui in June 2019. Since then, Sevilla have become genuine top four contenders in La Liga, along with winning the Europa League last season. The Andalusian club have since extended the contract of Lopetegui until 2024. For that reason, moving for the 54-year-old could prove costly for any potential suitors, with Leeds apparently keeping tabs.
While most fans will be hoping Bielsa can stay on for a few more years, Leeds United also need to consider their long-term future. That would make Granada boss Martínez the best potential candidate, especially given his ability to succeed with limited resources.
Interestingly, if Lopetegui does end up moving to Elland Road, that would prompt Sevilla to immediately move for Martínez. His past experience also includes coaching their B team, and working as assistant to Unai Emery, when he won the Europa League three times in a row.
Only once we reach the end of the season will intentions be revealed. Any speculation will end if Bielsa pens a new deal. But, until then, speculation will inevitably continue surrounding suitable candidates. Following such an iconic and much-loved manager won’t be easy, so let’s hope the club makes the right decisions, whichever way things ultimately pan out.