Marcelo Bielsa faced the media on Thursday afternoon for his pre-Manchester United press conference.
High on the agenda was his update on the fitness of key duo Diego Llorente and Junior Firpo. The Leeds United head coach was on good form as he welcomed journalists’ questions ahead of the 2021/22 Premier League campaign.
Here is every question and answer in full from the Whites boss.
Because we’re still awaiting an official announcement I just want to check, have you signed your new contract, if not when is it all likely to be done and when is any announcement going to happen?
Good afternoon everybody, the contract situation is one which has already been resolved.
Can you say whether it’s been signed, or when it’s likely to be announced?
It’s a subject that’s resolved.
With regards to team selection for the weekend – how are Diego Llorente and Junior Firpo?
Firpo is available and Llorente isn’t.
Do you know how long Llorente will be out for?
It’s subject to his evolution, but it’ll be one or two weeks more.
You’ve added Junior, Jack Harrison and Kristoffer Klaesson – are you happy with the squad you’ve got? You continue to be linked with Lewis O’Brien at Huddersfield, what is happening there?
I’m satisfied with the group that I’m working with.
Does that mean you’re not expecting any more incomings before the deadline?
I couldn’t tell you because it’s a hypothetical situation. But what I can tell you is the group of players I have I am happy with.
Ninth last season, what would you look at as success this time around?
Normally I answer these questions in the same way. My position is not to refer myself to things that haven’t happened because I don’t want to run the risk that the reality doesn’t coincide with what I’ve [predicted] especially in a sport like football which is very unexpected.
How tough a start do you face in Manchester United away?
Every game in the Premier League is complicated.
Do you expect Manchester United to be challenging for the title this season?
I can’t refer myself to the reality of teams that aren’t mine.
I wonder what you thought of Kalvin Phillips’ performance at the Euros and what is his next step in terms of his development?
He had a great performance in the Euros. He was an important part of a team that performed to a high level, and this is very difficult to achieve.
What do you feel is the next step for him?
I wouldn’t know how to give you a precise response.
What is your take on Lionel Messi going to PSG?
It was totally unexpected news that surprised me like everybody else.
Are you able to give us any details about the contract. Is it just another year or is there anything different this time?
One year is habitual.
What are your thoughts ahead of this season given the preparation of the players and the changes at Thorp Arch and at Elland Road with the pitch?
From my point of view this is an extraordinary club. It’s not often you have a club which designates so much volume of investment to the improvement of the training.
In this sense, Leeds have made a significant contribution economically for the tools to prepare his players, they are the ideal ones.
Everything we need in this area, the club has resolved it with a very high investment whether it be the pitches, the facilities, the technology, commodities for the work of the players and in this sense I am very astounded by the conduct of the club.
What can you tell us about Junior and Kristoffer – how impressed have you been by them?
Very happy. They’re very well thought-out decisions, very revised, very analysed, and we think all the conditions are there for them to have a good time at Leeds. It’s another segment of this club that functions with a very high professionalism.
For a long time I’ve been working in professional football now, and very few times have I not seen ever, a very well looked-after work like it is here to decide when we decide to sign a player. There’s a marked evolution in this fourth year of work, because in every year the club has reduced the amount of professionals and incorporated very few.
This year is another example that many more players than those who have arrived. That means the players the club counts on, the club considers them sufficient and adequate and that there is a very prolific and fertile contribution from the academy that constantly through the work of the U18 and U23s that those are the ones I see, but surely there’s other work done in the lower levels. They always have responses to the needs that present themselves to us throughout our season.
In terms of the organisation, I consider that Leeds is an example and I focus the responsibility in Victor Orta who is the one who structures the arrival of players and the director of the academy and staff of the u23s who give nutrients to the first-team – and the President, the owner of the club who makes investments that he could easily ignore.
Is Jamie Shackleton available?
He’s recovered, he’s well and he’s available.
How big a part in your decision to stay was the evolution and investment in the club?
Of course. I think that the most important coaches that world football has would value what this club means in terms of organisation, structure and the public. Obviously I don’t ignore that there’s another step to be able to get these players who triple in value, that Leeds can obtain. And I understand that this type of power, we have to consider it and take into account because I insist that the powerful clubs are not there for no reason.
But what I say is, is what Leeds produce.
What is the next step for Leeds United? Stuart Dallas thinks the players are more ready for this season – why is that?
What I think about the evolution of a team, that as time goes on and the work continues, there exists a possibility that polished the things that couldn’t previously be done at the time. If it were that way, we managed to achieve this, we would manage to overcome the previous states that Leeds have been in. But the development of a style of play is not the only aspect that allows the growth of a team. After you have to maintain the enthusiasm, the ambition and desire to grow. Take on board the expectations that have been generated from the public, there’s a very special moment in the development of a team where their recognition of what happened before, it disappears and the demand for what’s next increases. And that all the teams have the fortitude to achieve this.
How good is it going to be capacity attendances back inside stadiums?
Very happy. Without the public, who’s the main destination, it’s not the same. It’s the public, those who assist the game, they are a special category because they generate a link between what’s happened. It’s not the same, the spectators who like what they see on the pitch and those fans who suffer for the result.
That segment of the public, in football is irreplaceable – you can find people anywhere in the world who want to see a Premier League game. But there isn’t five million people who suffer when Leeds lose or get excited beyond belief. The heart of football is the genuine fans of Leeds United and the spectators of the world is what sustains the business. But those who suffer or get excited beyond belief for the results, is what football is.
How significant is it Leeds are playing Manchester United on the opening weekend?
I don’t consider it significant. A game like the one on the weekend is independent, it doesn’t matter when it’s played. It has a life of its own at any time.
Marcelo when you consider your midfield options, where does Jamie Shackleton lie – and can you start to count on Adam Forshaw as an option?
Shackleton can play as a full-back or as an interior midfielder and a year on increases his hierarchy within the group.
Forshaw hasn’t played for two years and up to now he has played 60 minutes without any problems. Considering the process for his recovery is a longer one, even if he is useful or available in the immediate.
Can you give us any details of the changes made at Thorp Arch this summer?
Thorp Arch a year on has been improved and the focus is on some details that weren’t resolved. And free spaces that previously couldn’t be used, have been made into spaces that can be used with grass. One pitch has undersoil heating so that in the winter there aren’t any problems with regards to training due to snow and the weather. The facilities have been improved so that that can happen for two further pitches in future and there’s a path been created for the machinery that does the work around the pitches, so that it doesn’t damage the pitches and then after there was a lot more minor details that make the options for work to be better. All of this is done with a lot of professionalism. The director of the club and those in charge of the construction have been impeccable in their work.
Where is Kalvin’s condition at, is he available for a match as soon as Saturday?
He’s done a different type of work, a more brief one. The preparation time he had was half that of his teammates, but he’s done this in a very serious manner with a lot of dedication and he’s in conditions to have options to participate, but it’s natural that the time he needed to be prepared has not been completed yet.
Do you think the 23s will be Ian Poveda’s future for the next few weeks or will he come back into your main group?
We work with a group of players where the relationship between the first-team and U23s is virtually identical. The players are put in one group or the other indistinctly.
How disappointed were you to lose Alioski this summer?
Very sad. Due to the football part of course, but in the humane part specifically, I have a lot of affection for Alioski. I know that he wanted to continue and the club wanted him to continue but after there is negotiations and interests.
These are mixed with economical things, mixed with things of this nature. To summarise, I think the club wanted him to continue and he wanted to stay and it was a negotiation that didn’t crystalise. But it doesn’t [end] the link between Alioski and Leeds and Leeds and Alioski.
Newell’s will always be your No. 1 club but are Leeds the club second in your heart?
There are answers I would like to give when I no longer work here, but working inside the institution, you run the risk that the answers are demagogue and they are interpreted by capturing the sympathy of the fans. I think that when you stop belonging to an insitution, it’s the moment to refer yourself to the feelings that have led you to this place.
In what way is pre-season work different this season, with the maximum amount of time compared to last season with the pandemic and have the players found it harder?
Given that this is the fourth year, the method that we use to work generates a tiredness. If you do similar things for a long time, it’s natural that you get bored of it. In this pre-season we tried to substitute all the exercises, the way in which we transmit them, the way in which we demonstrate how we do them so that there was some sort of novelty or evolution in the resources that we used, but the objective is always the same: to try to make better what we think should be done.
Did the 6-2 defeat to Manchester United last season benefit Leeds’ long-term defensive evolution given the improved defensive performance after that game?
The answer is no. We recognise before and after the defensive problems we had to solve. The stats or data that you’ve given, in the second half of the season, the team evolved defensively. But I don’t have that game set out as where we improved defensively, as we were already making corrections beforehand and corrected them all the way.
What specific lessons from the last Old Trafford game do you hope to have learned for this upcoming match?
We try to put the experiences into conclusions. The natural thing is that in certain games or certain moments, and the player tries to incorporate decisions/experiences that are the adequate ones.