The Daily Telegraph - Business

Pulis re­fuses to go wild about Bielsa’s chances of suc­cess in the top flight

TV pun­dit bides his time on hail­ing Leeds – and de­feat at An­field shows their man­ager’s ide­al­ism may not be enough

- By Chris Bas­combe at An­field Soc­cer Satur­day’s

Af­ter a mul­ti­tude of plau­dits for Marcelo Bielsa, the first hint of a back­lash did not come from Mo­hamed Salah’s hat-trick.

It ar­rived a cou­ple of hours be­fore Liver­pool’s 4-3 win and em­anated from Sky TV’s

new­est pun­dit, Tony Pulis, who while ad­mir­ing the Leeds United man­ager’s CV, said he would be re­serv­ing judg­ment on his Premier League per­for­mance based on a ref­er­ence closer to home.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how Bielsa does in com­par­i­son to Chris Wilder,” Pulis said, with enough mis­chief and edge to make it seem like he will be ex­plor­ing the sub­ject with foren­sic vigour at a later date.

The un­der­tone was ob­vi­ous, with Pulis’s em­pha­sis on Wilder’s Bri­tish­ness, im­ply­ing our ob­ses­sion with an ex­otic, ec­cen­tric South Amer­i­can man­ager is to the detri­ment of a home-grown one a cou­ple of miles away at Sh­effield United. Lest we for­get, Wilder has al­ready shown how pro­moted sides can defy the odds with funky for­ma­tions. Pulis has a point when sug­gest­ing we are more eas­ily se­duced by the idio­syn­cra­sies of an over­seas man­ager. That is a nat­u­ral con­se­quence of the al­lure of quirky char­ac­ters with fresh ideas.

In­tu­itive, open minds are drawn to dif­fer­ent cul­tures and styles.

Be­sides, any hint of a sneer at the laud­ing of a for­eign coach deny­ing sim­i­lar lev­els of ac­claim for a Bri­tish one is likely to see you al­lied with all man­ner of flag-wav­ing un­de­sir­ables. That is un­for­tu­nate be­cause aside from the un­nec­es­sary and ir­rel­e­vant na­tion­al­ity ref­er­ence, Pulis’s broader point is right. When cast­ing judg­ment, rather than as­sess Bielsa and Leeds’s first sea­son in the Premier League against Jur­gen Klopp, Pep Guardi­ola and Jose Mour­inho, a head-to-head with Sh­effield United and Wilder makes more sense; two man­agers work­ing in the same part of the coun­try, with sim­i­lar re­sources, who have nav­i­gated their way from the cham­pi­onship with their own, per­cep­ti­ble phi­los­o­phy in a sta­dium where (when they can re­turn) fans will in­flu­ence out­comes. Leeds’ first 90-minute dash in the Premier League, and that’s what the thrilling opener against Liver­pool amounted to, of­fered grist to the mill for those on both sides of Pulis’s ar­gu­ment.

Those who have ob­served and chron­i­cled Bielsa’s ca­reer can ob­serve the hype and praise, and

Hat-trick hero Mo­hamed Salah (top) copies the cel­e­bra­tion of fel­low Egyp­tian Moa­men Za­karia, whose ca­reer was ended by mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease

ask the new mem­bers of his fan club: ‘What took you so long?’ There may be a few who feel a tad re­sent­ful they have lost a sense of own­er­ship now one of their favourite per­form­ers has bro­ken into the English main­stream.

But on the flip­side, they trav­elled to An­field in the most favourable cir­cum­stances pos­si­ble – namely with no fans and with a home back four seem­ingly play­ing in three time zones – and were still beaten.

To steal an old quote from Klopp, they “failed in a beau­ti­ful way”, but their strat­egy proved no more re­ward­ing than ev­ery other league vis­i­tors to An­field since 2016, the ma­jor­ity of whom have will­ingly con­ceded pos­ses­sion rather than try­ing to dom­i­nate it.

As Bielsa ac­knowl­edged, “I can never be happy in de­feat”, hav­ing ul­ti­mately shown vis­i­tors a new way to lose. At­tack­ing Liver­pool’s de­fence high­lighted early sea­son rusti­ness, but Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sa­dio Mane have rarely had such space to thrive. Had the waste­ful Firmino been as sharp as Salah, Liver­pool could have dou­bled their tally. The pos­ses­sion stats dis­guised the true num­ber of goalscor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

It all amounted to Bielsa leav­ing Mersey­side with pa­tro­n­is­ing pats on the head but no points. Against lesser sides, Leeds’s ide­al­ism will be re­warded, but many said the same about Nor­wich when they lost their open­ing game in an end-to-end en­counter at An­field a year ago. No pro­moted club has pro­voked this level of ro­man­tic fas­ci­na­tion since Kevin Kee­gan’s New­cas­tle in 1993.

Those who see their pres­ence as mak­ing rel­e­ga­tion for their club more likely will not be so en­chanted. As Pulis’s re­marks show, nei­ther will those man­agers who have a track record of keep­ing teams up with less fash­ion­able meth­ods. There will be as many ready to pounce upon the first signs of naivety. For the mo­ment, lips will be bit­ten and judg­ment re­served.

Bielsa’s ap­proach amounts to a riv­et­ing ex­per­i­ment. That may yet be more reck­less than in­ge­nious, but the fact Klopp is re­lieved he will not have to face Leeds again un­til April is tes­ti­mony to what the Ar­gen­tine has al­ready brought to the top divi­sion.

Leeds played with an en­dear­ing courage and in­ten­sity at An­field, but the real mea­sure of Bielsa might achieve this sea­son was never go­ing to come on Satur­day.

Pen­cil in that first York­shire derby on Sept 27 as one of the jew­els of the sea­son.

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