Leeds United will not be so bold as to classify this summer as quite a simple sailing. It took until this morning for their new home kit to hit stores and eyes were rolling on Elland Road a few weeks ago when the club learned that a cargo ship carrying goods from Vietnam had spilled several containers at sea, threatening another delay.
Only at Leeds, or so they like to say, but the delay in shirt production for this season has affected other teams besides them and, overall, the work of reasserting themselves in the Premier League has come together almost as planned. . Chelsea’s demolition on Sunday left Leeds in their element, a happy club in their own skin once again. Jesse Marsh is theirs, and by the end of that match, the fans at Elland Road were happy about it.
Marsh has a phrase he loves to repeat, one he first used when he became head coach of the New York Red Bulls in 2015 for one’s particular pleasure: “Some people will love me, some people will hate me and as every coach learns, this is football.”
But by saying so on Sunday, he misread the wave of support around him. The question now is not whether Marsh has him, but whether Chelsea are a fair and achievable standard and whether their team is really as good as they looked in that match. The quality of football does not cause conflict of feelings. The murals of Marcelo Bielsa are proof of this.
When Leeds offered Marsh the job as manager in February, they presented it as a two-part role, at least until he showed longevity to take the club beyond those stages. The last 12 games of last season were all about survival – nothing more or less – and all Leeds asked him was to drive to keep the dressing room together and prevent relegation. He took off safe from that, as he did, and this season will start his tenure in earnest: a fresh start with a new team and the open span of a full 38-game campaign.
Andrea Radrizzani, the club’s president, appreciated the way Marsh motivated the players and prevented the team from splitting as walls were threatening to close. Now the expectation was that Marsh would really shine. Victor Orta, as he did with Bielsa, slashed his neck by backing the 48-year-old massively for the job.
It was pre-agreed to survive that if Leeds failed and fell, Marsh would stay. Leeds were perfect in style, tactics and suitability, even when their position in the Premier League seemed hopeless.
The journey from extreme crisis to the sensation of winning against Chelsea was multifaceted – a mixture of transfer work matching Marsh’s requirements and the manager’s communication with his team both tactically and mentally.
Bielsa liked to keep players at arm’s length and this arrangement worked for him. Marsh prefers to get close to them, and is a softer one on the team without being mushy. His empathetic style is appreciated, not least because of the pressure the club was under last season.
Leeds was one of several clubs to spend part of the pre-season in Australia. Manchester United was another. Manchester United’s players and staff were required to adhere to a strict evening curfew, but Marsh’s position was to tell his team that the line between fun and reputation was very clear and that he preferred to trust them to stay on the right side of it.
He warned one player who missed a public appearance at a fan event in a way that would quickly clear the air. Leeds felt his tactics take hold.
Over the past six months, Thorp Arch has become a world of conversations, one-on-one conversations, small group discussions, and broader meetings that span the entire dressing room. People who know Marsh well have always described him as a natural interlocutor, and his expansion into the Leeds leadership group – the group of big players who speak for the team – created an even stronger bond between him and them.
Rodrygo was targeted for special attention. The striker, Leeds’ record signing, had had a mixed two years in England and Marsh felt Rodrygo was at a crossroads, in need of some support.
Marsh publicly mocked when it emerged he was using quotes from historical figures, including Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, as inspirational tools but his interaction with the team went further. He would encourage them to read books or newspaper articles written about world class athletes, to find out what made them tick or how they made marginal gains, especially when it came to endurance and fitness.
Try to engage with those players who were not seen as innate leaders, to make sure that they feel valued.
Several one-on-one meetings were handled by his assistant, Cameron Toshack, and the topics of conversation varied. Some focused on tactics and technical improvement. Some of them had an ambitious tone, asking players to think about where they want to be in five years. Some may challenge them to think about how much life they lead outside of football; To give importance to finding pleasure and fulfillment after daily work. The idea was to create stronger personal relationships and an environment that was not entirely focused on business.
Marsch and Leeds agreed in advance what would happen in the transfer market if they avoided relegation, and prepared themselves to press the button once survival is assured. Marsh recently said he viewed the club’s purchases as ‘our contracts’ and not alone – the deals made collectively – but the goals Leeds have been chasing were set with Marsh’s tactical model in mind, a strategy built around it.
Brendan Aaronson managed to press in short, sharp bursts, as he did to force the opening goal against Chelsea at the weekend. Tyler would give Adams a midfield make-over – a necessity following the sale of Calvin Phillips – and Marc Rocca’s comfort would match Adams’s, completing American aggression.
Whatever the stereotypes of the players from the USA, the rest of the team at Leeds felt a sense of self-confidence from Aaronson and Adams when they arrived.
Marsh began adapting the exercises to make these trades work. Bielsa’s grueling sessions have created a side with incredible stamina – on Sunday, Leeds managed to overtake Chelsea by more than 10km, having already scored the highest distance covered by any team in the Premier League on the first weekend of the season – but Marsh turned attention from distance to other. severity.
Much pre-season running is designed to adapt players to his tactics, and hunting in groups requires quick acceleration on repetitions. The workouts are designed to provoke fast, high-intensity sprints, to aid in push-ups and counter-pressures.
Although Bielsa’s shadow loomed large, Marsh wasn’t afraid to talk about it. He was telling his side to take the character and personality they had developed under Bielsa’s leadership and apply it to his own model. The set pieces were practiced daily and some sessions were completely devoted to them. Above all, Marsh was urging his team to make sure football matches the passion and enthusiasm of Elland Road. It was that acrimony that shaped the relationship between Marsh and the fans on Sunday, and the mutual desire to intimidate Chelsea and stop them. Football like this was an easy sale.
Marsch’s problem with last season getting out of hand was that Elland Road no longer caused fear – at least not for opponents. There was passion and enthusiasm, but much of it was directed negatively due to the frightening deterioration of the field. Chelsea’s league defeat said the fans had his back and back. Its fateful beginning was buried heavily, leaving the sinister tension of the spring behind.
When the athlete He gave an interview to Marsh in March, not long after his appointment, communication and interaction being his key words, the weapons he planned to use to his advantage. “Through these channels, I felt like I could freshen the air and let everyone move on,” he said.
Five months later, he has.
(Images: Getty Images/Design: Eamonn Dalton)