During Leeds United’s recent slump there were some dissenting voices suggesting Marcelo Bielsa was no longer the man for the job. Those were audacious comments when considering what the Argentine has done at Elland Road.
It is important to remember that, largely, this same Leeds team limped to a mid-table finish under Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom in 2017-18.
Bielsa helped turn that squad of players into some of the Championship’s most consistent performers. The likes of Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas, and Kalvin Phillips have all improved immensely under Bielsa’s regime.
But it is perhaps not a current Leeds player who best highlights just what an impact ‘El Loco’ can have on a player.
Case in point, Spanish defender Jon Aurtenetxe. He came through the youth ranks at Athletic Club and during Bielsa’s time in Bilbao was a regular in the side. Playing predominantly, but not exclusively, at left-back, the versatile defender was a key member of Bielsa’s sensational Bilbao side that famously knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League in 2012.
In Bielsa’s excellent 2011-12 season in charge at San Mames, Aurtenetxe played 54 times and scored four goals. There was even talk of a Spain call-up for the Basque defender.
He was again a regular, despite some injury problems, in Bielsa’s second season but after the Argentine left in 2013, he began to struggle.
“I have a special appreciation for Bielsa…
“Bielsa has since given me a tremendous opportunity. I don’t think I have wasted it and I will see next year if we can continue like this.
“We do not know if Bielsa will stay [for the long term]. It is a decision only he and the club can take. For the good of everyone connected to the club, I hope he stays.”
– Aurtenetxe in conversation with Goal in 2012
Loan spells at Celta and Tenerife followed before heading into the lower leagues with Mirandes and hometown club Amorebieta.
An unmemorable time at Dundee followed before a spell in Australia with the Adelaide Comets before his latest move. Aurtenetxe joined third-tier side Atletico Baleares in the summer where he is starring in their own quest for promotion.
But Bielsa squeezed every inch of talent and effort out of the full-back during his time at Bilbao to the point where it seemed he might be a surprise call-up for Vicente del Bosque’s eventually triumphant Euro 2012 squad.
Now he is doing the same with these Leeds United players and there are not many coaches in world football who can do that.