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How Marcelo Bielsa has cleansed Leeds to turn them into title contenders


Leeds United Manager Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United Manager Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United Manager Marcelo Bielsa

The experience, ideas, work ethic and coaching that Marcelo Bielsa brought with him to Leeds have already transformed results and propelled a previously struggling side to the top of the Championship.

But the former Argentina national coach does not limit his thinking to on-field issues. Post-match rituals are not limited to warm-down exercises; Leeds players are also required to clean up after themselves.

Norwich painted their away dressing room pink in the eccentric hope of lowering opposition testosterone levels. It failed on Saturday as goals from Mateusz Klich, Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernandez in a dominant performance moved Leeds ahead of Middlesbrough, their opponents on Friday, on goal difference.

They did though show their humbled opponents plenty of respect by tidying it up afterwards. The away dressing room was left spotless and Bielsa himself could be seen helping to clear away detritus from their dugout.

Bielsa clearly has no time for pampered superstars but the squad he inherited from Paul Heckingbottom certainly seems to be buying into the new regime.

"He wants this but players are not the same – they leave things here and there," said Alioski, the Macedonia midfielder, of the clean-up instructions.

“He wants to change this mentality – that we are clean. After the game you can see how clean it is inside the dressing room. And the coach helps also. He cleans there.

"It’s really a respect he wants. It’s not only football; it’s also how the person is outside. He wants us to learn it’s not only the football that is important. None of the players have ever worked like this before. It's really different.” 

One other innovation was also a culture shock to a Leeds squad that started promisingly last season but soon faded - a gruelling pre-season designed to force fitness levels to the max. Not double sessions, but triple ones.

"We went in at eight in the morning and we went home at seven or eight in the evening or maybe we sleep in the hotel so we were never at home and we didn't see the family," Alioski added.

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"It was really, really hard work but it was the right shout from the coach."

Bielsa speaks to the media via an interpreter and Alioski revealed that he barely speaks at all to his players, preferring instead to relaying his precise instructions through coaching staff.

"The boss is the boss and he doesn't speak to the players, he doesn't say something to you on the pitch and it's only the staff," he said.

"It's something different but it's very interesting also for us players because it's always the staff that come to say something. But it's really nice when he comes to you and says something positive. He says 'bravo, it's good' or 'not good'. When he says something to you you see he really understands something and when he says to do this you know you must adapt.

"Maybe it's good, maybe it's not, but you see in the first two or three seconds you must listen and it's really important."

Norwich had hoped for a similar reaction when they hired Daniel Farke last summer. The German had followed David Wagner to England having followed him as Borussia Dortmund's reserve team coach. Wagner took Huddersfield to the Premier League but if Norwich change divisions next summer it is more likely to be a drop into League One.

Farke, who insists the pink paint was nothing to do with him, could do with a better performance from goalkeeper Tim Krul, who palmed Alioski's header into Klich's path for the opener and was beaten at his near post by the Macedonian five minutes later.

Defender Grant Hanley backed the former Newcastle man, who watched almost all of last season on the bench at Brighton, to bounce back. "He is my team-mate and he’s a top goalie," the Scot said. "He has not played a lot of football recently, so maybe it’s just taking him a bit of time to get back into the swing of things."

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