Leeds United’s disciplined pre-season puts the egos and chaos at Man Utd to shame – Beren Cross

When Marcelo Bielsa speaks, everyone listens. If the Leeds United head coach tells a player to jump, they ask how high. Can the same be said for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

One look at the confusion unfolding across the Pennines around when Manchester United’s players are returning for training underlines the gulf between each club’s organisation, structure and respect for authority.

Surely, even Solskjaer would admit Jadon Sancho making next Monday, five days before the big kick-off, his first day of pre-season is a little late in the day when there is a title challenge to be mounted.

At £73m, Sancho is an investment by the Red Devils in a player they expect to be at the heart of a leap towards their dominant city rivals.

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What kind of message does it send when said player takes a full four weeks off after a tournament, during which he played 111 minutes across three matches?

In all fairness, in isolation, it’s quite a considerate message of care for a young man’s physical and mental health after a taxing campaign with Borussia Dortmund.

Many of us would need a fair degree more than four weeks to rest and recuperate after a season of professional football, but Sancho’s return date cannot be taken in isolation.

As an England team-mate of Kalvin Phillips, Sancho’s break is the best comparison for the Leeds midfielder, but Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw will also go into the new season with less preparation than the Whites talisman.

Phillips was the beating heart of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 masterplan, starting all seven matches and playing 713 minutes (600 more than Sancho). The 25-year-old’s been back two weeks.

Phillips would have enjoyed four weeks off from football, but this is the Bielsa way and a process the midfielder is entirely committed to. No half measures.

Maybe if Phillips had the ego of an Edinson Cavani, also yet to emerge at Carrington, Bielsa’s regime would be more of a problem. “Eleven days, Marcelo? No, no, I need five weeks.”

There is no proof of disobedience or self-rule in Solskjaer’s camp, but these prolonged summer breaks are playing havoc with the Old Trafford outfit’s preparations.

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While the Norwegian has to navigate the personalities of his expensively assembled squad, no doubt meeting a few players halfway on return dates, Bielsa sets a date and he knows there is nothing more said.

The upshot of the two clubs’ pre-season programmes is the visitors’ strongest XI looks, by the calendar at least, far more prepared than their hosts’ for next weekend’s opener.

By 2.30pm next Saturday we will all know who got it more right this summer, but right now we know Bielsa and his squad have confidence in the hours his entire squad has already put in together this summer, free of the half-measures and compromise Solskjaer has had to tolerate.

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