Renowned Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa is on the verge of agreeing a contract to become the head coach of English club Leeds United, sources with inside knowledge of the deal have confirmed to the Times.
The deal for Bielsa is financially significant, with the Championship side ready to pay around four million euros a year to secure the respected Argentine coach. That would make him the most well-paid manager in Leeds United’s history and indicate the strength of owner Andrea Radrizzani's desire to secure a long-awaited return to the Premier League.
Contracts between the two parties have been exchanged, with the ball now in Leeds’ court as Bielsa’s representatives await a response. Bielsa has been seeking assurances, with talks are ongoing over the make-up of Bielsa’s coaching team. The former Argentina and Chile manager – whose last job was at Lille in France – seeking to bring in as many as six back-room staff.
Sources with knowledge of the deal confirmed that Leeds and Bielsa’s representatives are working on a two-year deal with a break clause after the first 12 months, which would be positively activated should Leeds win promotion to the Premier League and reviewed should promotion not be attained.
“If Marcelo succeeds in promoting Leeds United to the Premier League, the two-year clause is fulfilled,” a source told the Times. “If Leeds do not [win promotion] to the Premier League, then the club has the first refusal [over whether] to extend the contract for another year, completing a two-year term.”
The deal will come as something of a shock. Securing Bielsa would be quite a coup for the Yorkshire club, with Leeds currently playing in England’s second tier. However, the Yorkshire club is considered to be a sleeping giant with a famed history.
The team has won the English title three times and reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2001. However, they slipped into financial ruin and were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, slipping down the leagues into League One (third tier), before rising up again to the Championship. Last year, the team finished a lowly 13th in the second tier, failing to make the play-offs.
Owner Radrizzani will hope Bielsa will be the man to turn around the club’s fortunes and drag it back into the Premier League.
Bielsa’s CV has an Olympic title on it, secured in 2014 while managing Argentina, and good spells at Athletic Bilbao and Chile that count in his favour. In his homeland, he coached Newell's Old Boys and Vélez Sársfield.
El Loco has a great reputation inside the game for his skill on the training pitches and development of players, but his unusual methods and short fuse have sometimes drawn criticism.
Nonetheless, the Argentine coach is considered to be hugely influential in world and local football. Many managers – including big names such as Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pellegrino, Jorge Sampaoli, Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola – have credited Bielsa with revolutionising the game and say his style has impacted heavily on their own way of coaching.
One potential problem in England for the Argentine, however, could be the language barrier, with Bielsa’s command of English said to be extremely limited. However, the much-admired coach has experience of managing in Chile, Spain, Mexico, France and Italy and is unlikely to be fazed by a new environment.
Another flashpoint could be the debatable temperaments of the Leeds owner and the club’s potential new boss. Radrizzani – who took over ownership of the club from controversial Italian Massimo Cellino only last year – sacked coach Paul Heckingbotham after just 16 games in charge.
In line with these fears is the fact that Bielsa once lasted just two days in charge of Italian club Lazio, quitting and accusing the club of having broken promises. In his last post too, the Argentine lasted just 13 games at Ligue 1’s Lille last year before he was dismissed, after having been controversially suspended earlier in the season.
One key aspect of this interesting career move for the Argentine could be his with the Leeds United fans, and here there may be cause for optimism. Leeds' Elland Road ground has long been considered one of English football's classic stadiums and the fans are considered to be pretty raucous. Some would argue that's a perfect fit for a coach known as 'El Loco.'