Marcelo Bielsa exclusive interview: Leeds manager on letting Raphinha loose and Patrick Bamford's evolution

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa reflects on the rise of Raphinha, international acclaim for Patrick Bamford and seeking marginal gains; Burnley vs Leeds is live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm

Marcelo Bielsa is preparing for his fourth season in charge of Leeds
Image: Marcelo Bielsa has entered his fourth season in charge of Leeds

Marcelo Bielsa is meticulous by nature. 

The clock has just struck 11am on Friday morning when the Leeds manager is promptly presented to the gathered media sat alongside Andres Clavijo, his highly-skilled translator.

He is ready to put across his considered opinions on the day's burning issues, ranging from Cristiano Ronaldo's next move to the evolution of his star striker.

The 66-year-old is embarking on his fourth season at the club having signed a one-year contract extension, but all his interviews are still conducted in Spanish, as are the 10 minutes this writer is allocated ahead of this weekend's Super Sunday clash with Burnley.

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On occasion, he corrects Clavijo - just a polite reminder that he is understanding of English. Bielsa is an obsessive and yet enigmatic, only engaging in his native tongue but his use of assistance is primarily for oral purposes. He knows more than he lets on, but this is now widely accepted, on both parts.

In April, the former Argentina coach even apologised for failing to speak English but there is great appeal in the clarity and conciseness of his points using this cherished double act. Having guided Leeds to ninth in the Premier League last season, Bielsa is certainly getting his message across.

"I've never got involved with designating the captain of my teams," he tells Sky Sports when asked about Kalvin Phillips being unanimously nominated by his team-mates for the armband against Crewe in Tuesday's Carabao Cup second-round win.

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Leeds United vice-chairman Paraag Marathe tells Sky Sports News Bielsa is creating a legacy at the club.

"This is something that I like the team to choose between themselves. The captain is someone who represents his team-mates, and it is they who should decide these things. Whoever is given the responsibility clearly has the support of his peers and this is not something I should be involved in."

The episode acts as a window into Bielsa's way of thinking, not needing to master English in order to master the art of communication.

The victory over the Railwaymen was only Leeds' third cup success in Bielsa's four-season reign, witnessed by 34,154 fans - Elland Road's biggest League Cup attendance since 2009.

For a manager who has an Olympic gold medal in his back pocket to go with final appearances at the Copa America, Copa Libertadores and the UEFA Cup, reaching the Carabao Cup third round is uncharted territory.

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Highlights of the Carabao Cup second round match between Leeds and Crewe

With the return to full stadia, it is certainly a time for supporters to cherish and the summer months have been a hive of activity at this famous club.

Leeds announced revised stadium plans to increase the capacity from 38,000 to 55,000, while fans have proposed a safe-standing area, intent on developing the Kop into the biggest single-tier stand in the country.

A new hybrid pitch was laid at a reported cost of £1.5m with an identical turf system installed at the training ground. As director of football Victor Orta held recruitment meetings, Bielsa was supervising at the club's Thorp Arch base, even if he is reluctant to talk up his influence.

"In Leeds, there's a department that controls such construction works that are very effective, serious and committed," he says. "There is no way that a coach can improve such an area of expertise involving something like the construction of a new training pitch.

Marcelo Bielsa
Image: Bielsa signed a one-year contract extension earlier this month

"Everything that is planned and designed are in relation to what clubs hope to achieve in future and such discussions happened many months ago. But clearly I offered my points of view."

A year into their long-awaited return to the Premier League, there remains a crackling excitement when Bielsa's side take to the field.

Small yellow flags emblazoned with the words 'We are Leeds' were swirled by supporters back inside the stadium at full capacity to watch their first top-flight game in 17 years for the draw with Everton last weekend.

There would surely not have been a more atmospheric ground in England as the players emerged to the sound of 'Marching On Together' bellowed from the Don Revie Stand ahead of kick-off.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds United's draw against Everton

It was a special day, an emotional occasion and Leeds must harness that passion this campaign. After all, they are the competition's great entertainers.

Since ending their 16-year absence from the top flight, games involving Leeds have seen more goals than any other team and the new refereeing directive not to penalise trivial things is unlikely to reverse this trend.

If the season's opening two rounds of fixtures are anything to go by, games will be allowed to flow - and for Leeds, that means the goals will continue to flow at both ends.


You attack, we attack. Leeds have faced 16 shots on target - only this weekend's opponents Burnley have faced more. It promises to be an open contest at Turf Moor as Bielsa goes in search of a first league win of the season.

Raphinha embodies that ripple of excitement that will travel 36 miles west this weekend, heightened by his stunning strike last weekend.

The £21.5m signing from Rennes has been one of the most influential creative players in the Premier League since his first start in November last year - registering seven goals and nine assists and averaging a goal involvement every other game.


Indeed, since facing Arsenal on his full debut, the Brazilian has made the joint-most Premier League assists along with Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes.

"He's a very potent player," says Bielsa. "It's very difficult to be a success in England without his strengths. He has an explosiveness and speed which makes him stand out and that only comes through practice. He can handle the physical demands and he can sustain his high standards.

"The truth is that there are many players in the Premier League who are faced with the same tough conditions, but there are very few players with his talent to resolve such situations with his feet.

As a coach with someone like Raphinha, if I tried to intervene I would only be a nuisance.
Marcelo Bielsa on coaching Raphinha

"He offers a solution for us in deciding games and he is someone who doesn't require much help in receiving instructions.

"He finds ways of unlocking teams all by himself - in a much better way than any coach could ever impose. The relationship between how a coach functions and the execution of the players increases only when the players aren't naturally good.

"As a coach with someone like Raphinha, if I tried to intervene I would only be a nuisance. If I were simply watching football with my friends, they would say many words about how well he plays."

The 24-year-old was called up to the Brazil squad for the first time for their September World Cup Qualifiers against Chile, Argentina and Peru - his first call-up to the national team at any level - but he has been prevented from travelling due to Premier League rules as Brazil is currently a red-list country.

Raphinha leads the division for sprints since November 2020 – made 85 more than any other player
Image: Raphinha leads the division for sprints since November 2020 – made 85 more than any other player

"Clearly, my opinion on this matter isn't important. This type of question is subject to rules that are in place. It's only natural that Raphinha would be disappointed as this call-up would have marked his debut for his national team. From my point of view, he fully deserves this accolade but ultimately this is the decision of another coach."

A further sign of Bielsa's continued influence came earlier this week when Patrick Bamford was called up for the first time to Gareth Southgate's England squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers against Hungary, Andorra and Poland.

Under his manager's guidance since 2018, the former Chelsea striker has undergone a massive improvement that reached new heights last season with his 17-goal haul in the Premier League.


Unsuccessful loan spells at Norwich, Burnley and Crystal Palace preceded his move to Elland Road, and the striker failed to score a top-flight goal in a combined 19 appearances before he was sold to Middlesbrough in 2017.

Bamford's stock has since risen exponentially, but Bielsa plays down his role in the player's change in fortunes.

"If I could take any credit for it, I'd tell you," he says. "He's given a lot of effort in order to be called up and from my point of view he deserves it. It's all down to his own hard work and this is only the start of his evolution as an international player.

"His characteristics as a player have always been the same, even before my time, and he's now reaping the benefits of an increase in his effectivity.

Patrick Bamford

"He's a complete player physically and both his technical ability and mental qualities are extremely strong. I wouldn't like to say how much he is worth in today's market.

"There are centre-forwards who have few chances at goal and there are others who have plenty - Bamford usually has chances during games and becoming more efficient is an important step."

Bamford signed a new five-year deal this summer - a decision Bielsa says was entirely down to the player and required no persuasion - and it is clear to see why the club made tying down the striker a key part of their summer business.

England's new recruit was involved in 24 of Leeds' 62 Premier League goals last season - 39 per cent - having also provided seven assists.

Patrick Bamford

He ranked top among his team-mates for shots (107), shots on target (48) and opposition box touches (174) and had an instant impact off the bench in midweek as Leeds left it late to ultimately overpower Crewe in the Carabao Cup.

While Bielsa hopes for an increased output from across his team this term, he acknowledges Bamford's importance in Leeds re-establishing themselves among England's elite.

"All teams depend on their players and especially those who shine," he continues. "Throughout the season, those that shine are not always the same players but Patrick's strength in the last 20 minutes [against Crewe] was clear.

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England manager Gareth Southgate explains why Leeds striker Patrick Bamford has been given a first England call-up

"We tired the opposition and we scored three goals in the last 10 minutes but in the other 80 minutes, we created 15 chances. Bamford didn't score, but he was decisive."

Their next encounter provides a tale of contrasting footballing philosophies.

Burnley failed to muster a single shot on target during their penalty-shootout victory over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. There is a charming tactical variety to Bielsa's renewal with Sean Dyche - two managers doing completely different things in trying to achieve the same goal.

While many clubs are striving to produce a style that is progressive and innovative, Dyche's way is distinct, to the extent that his choice of 4-4-2 system at Liverpool last weekend even featured a starting XI numbered one to eleven - and in the traditional positions.

Bielsa can expect a Clarets team well marshalled by their manager despite two losses to date this term to add to two defeats against Leeds last season, including a 4-0 reverse at Turf Moor in May.

Such a handsome win, inspired by substitute Rodrigo barely three months ago, will certainly be a source of motivation for a set of players desperate to diminish any anxieties over succumbing to the dreaded second-season syndrome.

Bielsa admits: "They're a very difficult team to face and they have a very, stabilised manner in which they play. Overcoming them will be difficult."

A week that has thrown up volatile transfer activity will continue at a frenzied, unsettling pace through to Tuesday's deadline. But Bielsa's consistent brand of football will provide the perfect interlude admirers of the game both young and old can universally appreciate.

How to follow Burnley vs Leeds

Burnley vs Leeds

Burnley vs Leeds is live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.

Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.

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