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Jesse Marsch interview: Leeds United's new coach on his upbringing, his journey in football and his philosophy

In this interview with Jesse Marsch from 2020, the new Leeds United boss shared the story of his journey to Europe, what motivates him and his fundamental beliefs as a coach...

Red Bull Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch

Back in the winter of 2020, Jesse Marsch was coaching Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League. He sat down with Sky Sports’ Adam Bate to discuss his journey in football, his style of leadership and what he had learned from coaching Erling Haaland.

Following the news of Marsch's appointment as the new head coach of Leeds United, we revisit the full transcript of that interview…

On his desire for new experiences…

"I think maybe that stems from when I was young. I was 13 years old and I am from a place called Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Wisconsin is on the map now because we needed it to be a blue state in the last election. But not many people from where I am from leave.

"They are good people, they work for their parents' company or they have the same job for 35 years and they stay at home. They do the same things on Sunday as they do on Tuesday nights.

"When I was 13 I made a youth national team and we went on a trip to Europe. It was the first time that I saw the way that other people lived and I was exposed to other languages. Even just being on the pitch and playing against teams from other countries. It sparked my imagination.

"In that moment, I knew I wanted to get out. I knew I wanted to do something different. I did not know if it would be football at that point but I knew that I wanted to see the world and challenge myself to experience things."

Jesse Marsch in action for Chicago Fire
Image: Jesse Marsch in action for Chicago Fire during his playing days

On bringing a diverse group together…

"When I think about all the different people that I have met from different places, I always try to ask them about their families, where they grew up, their religion, to get to know them and understand how they became who they are. I love that.

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"That always helped me understand, even when I was on the pitch as a player, how to access the best versions of the people that I was playing with to get the most out of them - because as a player I was never the best player but I was always a strong presence on the team. And I knew that if everyone else on the team was better then I was better. That was a fundamental thing that I understood early on in my playing career."

On his idea of leadership by listening…

"One of my core philosophies of leadership is valuing opinion and growing ownership within the group. That means that we have to hear opinions.

"I need the players to give their opinions to know what they think. I need the staff to give their opinions to know what they think and then I need to incorporate them into what we do because if I say I value them as people and players with their own thoughts and opinions but I never use anything they suggest then they don't believe me.

"To create ownership I have to ask questions and then I have to value other opinions and incorporate it ultimately into what is my opinion of how to lead a team. The more that I think I can engage people in that way, the more that I think they can give everything.

"It is an incredible reaction. When people feel valued in an environment they will come to work every day and they will run through a wall because they know that it is also a piece of them. That is incredibly important to me."

Red Bull Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch
Image: Jesse Marsch won the double twice during his time in Austria

On being accepted as an American in Europe…

"You know this because you watched Bob Bradley [at Swansea], right. I saw him suffer. I also know what a good man he is and what a good coach he is. Watching that was so painful for me. I thought about it a lot. I spoke to him about it. I could see the suffering that he went through.

"If my idea was, at some point, to get over here, I knew that I was going to have to learn from what happened to him.

"When I speak German I make so many mistakes that they don't necessarily pick up on little things that I say but when you are talking about pedigree in general, having head coach success in America was step one.

"[Step two was] coming from the US and being an assistant under a successful coach [Ralf Rangnick] and having the team be successful in the year that I was in Leipzig.

"I learned more the rhythm of European football, learned more of the language and understood exactly what the culture meant to the people and the club. It prepared me really well and also gave people the sense that I was not a random American who spoke no German who had no European experience when I came to Salzburg.

"In the end, you are always going to be judged by results. But the more that you have in your back pocket to say that I have been here, I have these experiences and I know how to react, and I know where we are going and what we are doing, that gives you a little bit more flexibility in the difficult moments for people to believe in who you are and what you are doing."

On coaching top players like Erling Haaland…

"I have worked with a tonne of talented players. But the ones that right away you can see they have something, it is everything to do with their mentality, it is everything to do with what they consider to be success. It is the work they do on a daily basis, their love of improvement, their love of competitiveness. Their fearlessness.

"Honestly, the first player that I ever coached who I saw that in was Tyler Adams. I met him when he was 15 years old. I watched him play a game. I had a 10-minute conversation with him after the game and I said to myself, 'This kid is going to be massive.' At 15, it was so easy to see that he had all the tools, mostly from a mental and an intelligence perspective, to do whatever it takes.

"Erling has that too. I always say with Erling that if you just talk about his talent, his physical abilities as a footballer, he is right away in the top one per cent of professionals, one of the best players in the world.

"But when you add his mentality, his joy, his commitment to improve, his work ethic, his fearlessness, after two weeks I realised there is no ceiling for this young man. Obviously, they need to be steeped in talent but it ends up being much more about their mindset than it does about their actual talent.

Red Bull Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch with Erling Haaland
Image: Jesse Marsch worked with Erling Haaland at Red Bull Salzburg

"When I worked with him he was giving penalties to the other players. When there was a great assist he would celebrate and point to that player as if he had scored the goal. I kept saying to him that the more you give to the group, the more you will get back.

"He already had a lot of these positive traits but I kept on encouraging him and feeding him this idea that his character was the most important thing because that was going to define what the group was and who he is.

"A lot of the younger players saw how he behaved in the group and tried to emulate it. Instead of being sour or upset or disappointed when things did not go their way, they showed up the next day even more determined.

"One of the young players who benefited most from that was Dominic Szoboszlai. It set the tone for a lot of young players at Salzburg in terms of what their mentality should be. My job then is to maximise what they can be within the group."

On his philosophy and trusting in youth…

"The one thing that is interesting about being a Red Bull coach within the Red Bull system is that Ralf Rangnick never sits anyone down and says you have to play like this, you have to do this or that.

"He has created a philosophy and they invest in coaches the same way that they do with players. They show the things that they believe are important to be effective but it is ultimately up to the coach to take that philosophy and make it their own and apply it to the group, the league, to everything.

"You have various different beliefs even within the system. There are those who believe wholeheartedly in young players and some coaches who believe more in experienced players. I believe in young players 100 per cent.

"The balance is important but you have to have some patience, you have to be willing to take a beating sometimes. But I believe those experiences will make those young players better. And then you also have to love the fact that they will go on and have opportunities and big opportunities. You have to really believe in that and want the best for your players.

"Of course, our team was going to be better if Erling Haaland had stayed for another two years. But I love that young man and I want him to show the world how good he is. A part of that was taking the next step and going to Dortmund, Taki Minamino going to Liverpool. You have to have a desire to want to see people succeed. That is very important.

"The next part is that you have to build an infrastructure on a daily basis so that when those people move on there are others ready to step up and take on their role. That is why it is important to take care of everyone in the group. Each individual has to be strong and they have to understand their role and how to commit to that role to the fullest.

"If people show commitment and development then I will always have time for them. But when they stop showing commitment or development then we have a problem because we are starting to hit a ceiling and we are not going to be able to fill those holes when players leave. You have to create the environment that encourages those things to happen."

Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp shares a joke with Red Bull Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch
Image: Sharing a joke with Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp during his time at Salzburg

On why exciting football helps players…

"Jurgen Klopp is a very intelligent, strategic recruiter. He is influenced by Ralf's football. At Dortmund and Liverpool, he has played a version of what we do but his own version which I really respect.

"Even when I talk to our recruitment department, I ask that we understand which leagues play the most intensive football and then which teams in those countries play similarly to us so that when we are looking at these young players we can start here.

"Well, Jurgen starts and often stops with what is happening at Salzburg and Leipzig and Dortmund because he knows that those players have already been instructed and been given the foundation in the things that he values in his teams.

"However, I believe that if players learn to play at our speed and our intensity and they have quality, one of the beauties of playing this way with young players is that they grow quickly because they have to. Their reactions have to be so fast because of the speed of the game.

"It forces them to grow and get better and so the learning curve is steeper. I believe this football helps players no matter what kind of football they want to play next."

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