Ever since he arrived at Elland Road in June 2018, Marcelo Bielsa has hardly ever been out of the headlines. First there was the great run of success he brought to the club. Next, there was his notorious bucket that he chose to sit on pitch-side during matches instead of in the more traditional manager’s dugout. Then came the scandal of Spygate and that contentious goal against Aston Villa – plus their accompanying fines which were paid by Bielsa himself.
But these were all essentially distractions. What fans of the club really wanted was a return to the Premiership after nine long seasons in the Championship. As everyone knows, it was a case of “close but no cigar” with United losing to Derby County in the semi-finals. Although Bielsa accepted responsibility he couldn’t help speculating if there would have been a different outcome had he succeeded in signing Dan James from Swansea City before the transfer window closed in January 2018.
But that’s all history now and Bielsa must now focus on striving for promotion, hopefully without the need to go through the ordeal of the play-offs once again.
One player that Bielsa hopes will make this prospect easier, and make United more of a sure bet in the Championship predictions, is the player who he has persuaded Arsenal to release on loan for the season – Eddie Nketiah. He was ready for the loan as, although he’d turned out 20 times for the London club, all but three of his appearances had been as substitute. So he’ll be hoping that he’ll be rewarded for his move up north with many more first team starts. Bielsa has already praised the player for his complex range of capabilities so it shouldn’t be long before he starts playing a major role in the team’s set up.
Other key signings include youngsters Liam McCarron from Carlisle United and Ben White from Brighton. But one departure who may prove hard to replace is Kemar Roofe who has departed for Anderlecht. As last season’s top scorer with 15 goals to his name Bielsa has admitted that his departure does pose something of a problem and that the club “will have to adapt” to overcome it.
This means that a great deal of the pressure will be transferred to Patrick Bamford. The 25 year old striker. Luckily, there were early signs that he is ready and willing to take on the role when he scored in the 2019-20 season’s opening match against Bristol City that United went on to win 3-1.
There’s also no doubt that the early part of the season may be tough for Bielsa to put out a well balanced team after a number of injuries were picked up in pre-season friendlies and training. These included Luke Ayling who has had to undergo ankle surgery and may be out for a couple of months at least.
So it’s a mixed outlook for Bielsa, but if anyone can motivate the team to exceed their abilities, he can. But we’ll just have to wait until next May to see if he succeeds.