Leeds in race to shed self-destructive streak as Premier League relegation threatens

Luke Ayling was sent off at Arsenal and it leaves Leeds with gaps to fill

Jesse Marsch cited Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and John F Kennedy. None, it should be stressed, as an option to fill the vacancy at right-back after Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling ruled themselves out of the remainder of Leeds United’s battle against the drop with overly violent challenges; Gandhi, that most famous of pacifists, might not have condoned either. The Leeds manager is inspired by a number of historical icons. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, had to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis. His compatriot Marsch has to navigate the Leeds Relegation Crisis. Kennedy held off Nikita Khrushchev but Marsch could lose out to Frank Lampard.

He is approaching his quest for survival with a methodology that some of his predecessors may not have adopted. Don Revie felt team spirit came from carpet bowls, dominoes and bingo. Howard Wilkinson removed the pictures of Revie’s team. Marcelo Bielsa liked “Murderball” training sessions though, by the end of his reign, it felt as though the casualties were Leeds themselves. Enter Marsch, who has 52 excerpts of books he likes to give players to motivate them, aided and abetted by hundreds of quotes. “I love quotes, I love from learning from people of the past, sports figures, historical figures, whoever,” he explained.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that many of those sporting reference points come from his homeland and that those sports stretch beyond football. He mentioned France’s 1998 World Cup-winning team but also the United States’ gold medal winners at basketball in the 2008 Beijing Olympics; a documentary covering their progress was called Road to Redemption and Leeds may hope their journey has a similarly happy ending. “I love basketball culture, the way they combine inner-city kids with university graduates,” said Marsch, a Princeton history major. His hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, is north of Chicago on Lake Michigan and he looks to two of the Chicago Bulls greats, Michael Jordan and coach Phil Jackson.

A less heralded Jackson – Burnley’s unassuming caretaker manager Michael – is more responsible for Leeds’s plight. When they beat Watford a month ago, they were nine points clear of the bottom three. Then rivals surged past them. “Credit to Burnley and Everton, in a difficult moment, they fought for their lives to claw their way back,” said Marsch. Now the manager with a hinterland finds himself dragged towards the netherworld of the Championship. For the first time since October, Leeds are in the drop zone.

They have been overtaken in part because others have played games in hand and have had more favourable fixtures. “We knew coming into those three matches, [Manchester] City, Arsenal and Chelsea, it was going to be very difficult to pick up points,” he said. Leeds took none from the first two and host Chelsea on Wednesday. It is worth stressing that that their return of 11 points from nine games under the American is not relegation form: replicate it over a whole season and they would get a healthy 46. It is also academic if Leeds go down.


Marsch tried to rationalise Sunday’s defeat at the Emirates Stadium and their second-half bid for a draw with 10 men. Had it been the ninth game of the season, he said, it would be seen as a positive. Yet the abiding images offered a picture of club in meltdown, a team panicking under pressure. There was Illan Meslier gifting the first goal to Eddie Nketiah. There was Ayling, the great stalwart, an emblematic success story of a lower-league player Bielsa transformed into a Premier League talisman, flying in two-footed on Gabriel Martinelli. There was Raphinha, seemingly trying to talk his way into a red card.

Jesse Marsch applauds the visiting fans after Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal

“You could see his emotion as lack of discipline, I see it as total investment. He is all in,” insisted Marsch, claiming the Brazilian is not distracted by talk of a move to Barcelona. Raphinha could be Leeds’s trump card but only one of his 10 goals this season has come under Marsch. “We haven’t got enough out of him, that is the truth,” accepted the American.

Marsch may have felt powerless and luckless when Ayling lost his composure. He was nevertheless forgiving. “Luke Ayling defines heart, fight, hard work, mentality, dedication and what we want to be,” he said. “In one situation he jeopardises all he has invested. Think how it hurts us a team, but more about how it hurts Luke.”

In his absence, Jamie Shackleton, who has not played since February, may line up at right-back against Chelsea, Other alternatives include using a centre-back, probably Robin Koch, on the flank, or dropping Raphinha or Dan James into a more defensive role. None is exactly an ideal scenario. Whoever plays, Leeds will have to shed their self-destructive streak. “On game day we have to be a mixture of pragmatic and clever,” said Marsch.

Maybe motivational messages and historic references will help. Certainly they offer an insight into Marsch’s ambition. “My vision from the beginning is not [over] 12 games, it is over years,” he said. But with three matches to go, the risk is that Leeds will spend next year in a territory they have occupied for 16 of the last 18: outside the Premier League.

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

{{#verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}} {{^verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}}

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Source: Read Full Article