Fri. May 27th, 2022

Jesse Marsch has no time to waste. It is less than three weeks since he took on the immense challenge of replacing Marcelo Bielsa as Leeds head coach and every second counts as he rushes to implement his ideas and stave off the threat of relegation.

Even the brief interlude between his press conference and this interview with Sky Sports is put to good use, the 49-year-old hurriedly asking a member of the club’s media team to remind his attacking players to meet him in his office immediately afterwards.

Message relayed, he claps his hands together and takes a seat, ready to face the cameras again before making the trip to Wolverhampton for Friday Night Football at Molineux.

The schedule is hectic but Marsch looks a man in his element.

“I’m very clear about what I would like every day to look like and how that impacts what we want our team to look like,” he tells Sky Sports.

“Obviously I have learned a lot about what Marcelo has done here and the mentality shift that I think he helped to create.

“I have to understand the balance of discipline and freedom within the environment, and to encourage, so the players can really blossom into the best versions of themselves, but also know that the commitment to working hard and performing every day is really important.

“I think the players have done a really good job of that.”

Marsch has already experienced the full spectrum of emotions at Elland Road, the dismal 3-0 loss to Aston Villa – during which disgruntled supporters sung for his predecessor – and the dramatic 2-1 victory over Norwich coming in the space of just three days.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds’ 2-1 win over Norwich

He has learned a lot about his players too; about the “stress” and “fear” that was holding them back, and about the “remarkable” team spirit and determination now driving them to shake it off.

“I think we’re still going to have to deal with stress,” he says. “But I believe the performance against Norwich showed that the players freed themselves a little bit from some of the fear of losing.

“That’s what I said to them. ‘If that’s our biggest fear, losing, then the best way to ensure it is to play afraid.’ So, it’s been about trying to get them to use their qualities as young men and their courage.”

Marsch saw that courage in their response to Kenny McLean’s late equaliser against Norwich.

“I showed in our video session after the game that, after it was 1-1, immediately from the kick-off we went after them again and within three passes we had a dangerous moment.

“Then, we went after the game in that way. It wasn’t just the last play, it was the mentality in a difficult moment to do whatever we could to still find a way to impact the match.”

It helps, of course, that Marsch’s playing style is not a complete departure from Bielsa’s. The man-marking is no more. The formation has changed and there is a willingness to go direct. But Leeds are still pressing ferociously. In fact, they are pressing more ferociously.

Marsch was brought in partly for that reason – he had been in contact with director of football Victor Orta about one day succeeding Bielsa for several years – and is grateful to have inherited a group of players he describes as “humble, hard-working and selfless”.

“To meet a group of young men that is playing in the Premier League and has such strong character, so much belief in each other and so little selfishness, I was just incredibly impressed,” he says.

“You don’t always see that. You don’t always see people who are at a very high level who are givers and not takers. That’s what I try to be as well, so right away I felt like I was in the right place.

“I felt I was with people who thought the same way, so I’m very thankful for that.”

Marsch felt differently in his last managerial role.

Leipzig's head coach Jesse Marsch, right, applauds after the German Bundesliga soccer match between VfL Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig in Wolfsburg, Germany, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Wolfsburg defeated Leipzig by 1-0. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Jesse Marsh left RB Leipzig after only four months in charge

The American took the RB Leipzig job last summer following successful spells at Red Bull Salzburg and New York Red Bulls, but he left just a few months later having only won eight of his 21 games in charge.

“The biggest thing I learned at Leipzig was that I didn’t belong there,” he says. “I didn’t feel right there. I didn’t feel like I fit. I wanted to find a group that I did feel like I fit with and that’s the feeling I have here.”

Marsch exited Leipzig having struggled to put his stamp on the side in the wake of Julian Nagelsmann’s departure but the prospect of following Bielsa at Leeds did not deter him.

“I’ve been through this a number of times now,” he says with a smile.

“I just try to come with energy every day, to be positive, to have conversations with people, to have them get to know me, to get to know everybody else, and then to try to have my finger on the pulse of how to help the project go in a direction that I think can be successful and rewarding.”

He looks back on his association with Red Bull’s network of clubs as an overwhelmingly positive one nonetheless – not least because it introduced him to Ralf Rangnick, who mentored him during his time in New York, then hired him as his assistant in Leipzig.

Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch - PA/AP
Jesse Marsch took over from Marcelo Bielsa last month

“He really helped me understand how to be very, very detail-orientated with how to think about football,” says Marsch. “That was like an explosion of ideas in my head and it really, I think, created a spark in me to be the trainer and the coach I am now.

“We have always had a good relationship and we have always had a lot of respect for each other. I’m kind of thankful that I’m not playing against him because I don’t know what that feeling would be like.”

Do his old mentor’s struggles as interim manager of Manchester United hold any lessons for him about the challenge of taking on a big job in the Premier League midway through a season?

“I think for every single manager in this league, things are very challenging,” Marsch says with a chuckle.

“The quality of the league is so good, the games are so good, that you have to be on top of yourself and make sure you are able communicate with your team and help them understand what you would like your team and your tactics to look like.

“You better be good at your job, because it’s a big challenge.”

Marsch, only the third American coach to take a job in the Premier League after Bob Bradley and David Wagner, hopes to prove his own credentials by remedying the defensive frailties that have given Leeds the worst defensive record in the division this season.


“It is partly down to confidence but it’s also clarity of roles,” Marsch explains. “The way that I like to play the game requires all 11 players to be involved in every phase of the match.

“So, I think, even though we gave up three against Villa and we weren’t happy with that performance, there has been a lot of progress made in the last two and a half weeks that has led to us being closer and closer to being a complete team.

“You’re never fully complete, but we’re taking steps in the right direction and that’s what I’ve tried to encourage the team to really have a hunger for. A hunger to get better, a hunger to be clearer, a hunger to understand each other more, to understand the roles and relationships on the pitch, away from the pitch, everything.

“They have done that amazingly well.”

Leeds supporters will hope to see further evidence of defensive improvement against Wolves on Friday night but there is already encouragement to be found at the other end of the pitch.

Against Leicester and Norwich, Leeds registered expected goal totals among their highest of the season so far. Patrick Bamford’s return to fitness should provide the cutting edge they have sorely lacked for much of the campaign, but Marsch is just as excited by what he can contribute to their all-round game.

“I like his intelligence,” he says. “He’s obviously got a lot of physical qualities. He’s fast, he’s good with both feet, he can finish, he’s good in the air.

“But I like the way that he can see the game, fit into the game, make himself available, and combine. Then there’s the confidence he has on the ball, the ease he has to connect plays, and the aggressiveness he plays with without the ball.

“He is in many ways a complete striker, so the more I can help him understand what the tactical roles are, the more I can help the team understand how to continue to play with him and play to his strengths. I think that will be mutually beneficial.”

There is still an urgent need for points given Leeds sit only four points above the drop zone but Marsch’s contract runs until 2025 and he is thinking long term too. On Wednesday, he was at Elland Road to watch the club’s U23s beat Manchester United 3-0.

Patrick Bamford has recently returned from a lengthy injury absence
Patrick Bamford has recently returned from a lengthy injury absence

“All three goals came from pressing,” he says, smiling.

That synchrony is important to him.

“I have a reputation for working well with young players and developing a lot of young players and that’s because I love it.

“We had a mixed training session yesterday and I had a discussion with the 23s and the 18s about the idea that I’m trying to create for the club, which is to try to integrate all the different age groups in a way where everybody can understand clearly what we want our playing philosophy to be.

“That’s the most important thing to invest in young people and players and help them understand how to grow and get better. You can see massive development when you do that effectively.”

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Marsch knows that from experience having helped Erling Haaland, Karim Adeyemi and a host of other young players thrive at Red Bull Salzburg. For now, though, Friday’s game is the priority.

“The long-term goals are a little bit on the back-burner right now because the focus has to be on preparing the first-team every day to get results,” says Marsch.

“But the way I work, it’s impossible for me to only do that on its own because I love working inside a club to help in every way.

“I have to remind myself a little bit more every day to stay focused on what matters right now. But we have big plans and a long-term vision, so we will continue to put that in place.”

And with that, Marsch is off. There are meetings to attend, tactics to be discussed and messages to get across. Molineux awaits.

Watch Wolves vs Leeds live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Friday Night Football; kick-off 8pm

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