Former Argentina and Barcelona striker Javier Saviola has told the Coaches’ Voice that Marcelo Bielsa is a manager that can turn a 6/10 player into an eight or a nine – something which has been evident at Leeds United.
Saviola, 37, has entered the world of coaching after retiring in 2016 at River Plate, ending a career that included spells at both Real Madrid and Barcelona, starting and ending at River Plate, as well as Malaga, Benfica and Olympiakos.
Asked about his main worry when going into coaching, Saviola states that it is keeping a full squad of 30 players happy when only 11 can starts. He immediately reflects on his time spent with Bielsa at the 2004 Olympics, when Argentina won Gold.
Saviola explains that he can take a player performing at an average level and get the best out of them – Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich are examples at Elland Road. He also recalls a story about scoring a hat-trick.
“To be alongside him as a player makes you realise how crazy he is about this sport. He lives for football and that’s all he thinks about – making his players better,” Saviola said. “I always say that if Bielsa (below) gets a six-point player, he’ll make him into an eight or a nine. It’s amazing.
“Another thing is how sincere he is when he talks to you. That’s why players love him so much – he is so upfront when he approaches you, whether it’s good or bad. I remember I scored three goals in one match. I was really happy.
“Yet when I got to the dressing room he offered a different opinion. ‘You were a disaster today.’ Why? I didn’t understand at all. But in his footballing vision it was about what I did in the defensive phase. Or, rather, what I didn’t do.
TBR’s view – Saviola’s explanation could be why Bamford is still starting
Patrick Bamford continues to remain Bielsa’s first-choice striker at Elland Road, despite the rise of Eddie Nketiah. The Arsenal loanee has scored two crucial Championship goals from the bench, and two in the Carabao Cup.
Bamford has netted four Championship goals in seven, a decent return. But it is clear that Bielsa prefers Bamford, and is remaining loyal with the ex-Chelsea star – and Saviola’s anecdote about scoring a hat-trick explains why.
Bielsa is not interested in a striker’s goal tally, but it is his work off the ball and how he contributes to play that is more important. Saviola has explained why Bamford continues to start over Nketiah.