Leeds and Marsch need time to ‘get’ one another

Leeds and Marsch need time to ‘get’ one another post thumbnail image

Did you ever see the footage of the night The Cure were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the band shuffled up the red carpet in New York to accept the honor?

Millions have. The clip went viral because of its accidental comedy value and whatever it tells us, if anything, about the occasional differences between certain British and American attitudes.

There is a very excitable interviewer on stage, bubbling with enthusiasm.

Her name is Carrie Keagan and she is absolutely determined — or certainly gives that impression — that these old English rockers should want to whoop it up.

“Hi, guys. Hey! How are you? I’m Carrie. It’s soooo nice to meet you. Hi! Congratulations. The Cure, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, 2019. Are you as excited as I am?”

At which point 59-year-old lead singer Robert Smith, who is already scratching his chin, gives her a sideways look that can be described only as a mix of bemusement and wonder. His timing is immaculate (he is a musician, after all) and his response is a moment of beautiful awkwardness.

“Umm,” he deadpans. “By the sounds of it, no.”

To give Smith the benefit of the doubt, he probably didn’t mean to sound dismissive. It’s just two very different people bouncing off one another. An English-American thing? It doesn’t really matter where they are from. They are just… different. It’s going to need time, possibly quite a lot of time, before they “get” one another.

And that, in a nutshell, seems like a reasonable synopsis about how a lot of Leeds United supporters feel about Jesse Marsch now we are two and a half months into the getting-to-know-you stages at Elland Road, and there is growing evidence (just look at the comments section on any Leeds article on The Athleticfor starters) that many of those fans are already starting to look at their American leader through suspicious eyes.

Marsch is certainly confident and, heck, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A bit of confidence can be vital for a football manager and, while it is true that maybe Marsch is still learning about his audience, he is not the first person at that club to go down the tub-thumping route.

“People hate Manchester United because they are so successful,” Jonathan Woodgate, then a Leeds player, said in 1999. “People will hate us in a few years because we shall be winning everything.”

Well, almost, Jonathan.

Leeds were relegated within five years of that statement and, even before they went down, had been financially shipwrecked because of mismanagement that led to a headline in the old News of the World UK tabloid of “Post-war Iraq is being better run than Leeds .”

They did reach a Champions League semi-final before the roof caved in. But they were also on their way to the third division of English football and administration in an era when the souvenir stalls outside Elland Road sold a T-shirt with the message: “2004 Premiership, 2005 Championship, 2007 Sinkingship, 2008 Abandonship.”

The lesson, perhaps, is that sometimes it is better not to shout from the rooftops until there is something worth shouting about. Don’t make promises you can’t necessarily keep. Don’t say stuff that might be held against you if it never happens.

It is something, for example, that Manchester City have done well since they got to where they want to be.

Ignore that old line from Sir Alex Ferguson about Manchester United’s “noisy neighbors”. You won’t ever hear Pep Guardiola, or anyone else at City, talking about how many (more) trophies they are going to win, how long they expect to dominate English football, or how they are going to expand and improve the club. PR-wise, the policy at City is: do it first, talk about it after.

Plainly, Marsch takes a different approach.

He has a new set of fans to impress. He wants to talk big. Maybe he thinks, deep down, we don’t need to be so stuffy, so reserved, so very English. He has some grand plans and he seems to go by the old Kevin Keegan rule of thumb that every football fan, deep down, is a dreamer.

Keegan was too, if you remember that when his Newcastle United side were promoted to the top flight in 1993 he had the nerve in his next program notes to include a message for the attention of Manchester United: “Watch out Alex, we will be after your title.”

Marsch has not gone anywhere near as far but, in a relatively short space of time in Leeds, he has probably established a couple of things about the Premier League.

First, that every sentence to emerge from a manager tends to get dissected if the results on the pitch are not good. And, second, that maybe the scrutiny is even more intense when those words are spoken in an American accent and there is still an attitude among some English fans — arrogance, ignorance, call it what you will — that managers from the US can be an awkward fit for Premier League clubs.

It is an old-fashioned stigma and, put bluntly, it would not be tolerated if it applied to other groups.

And we know Marsch feels it because he has already talked to The Athletic about the experiences of his friend and former colleague, Bob Bradley, during a tough, brief, spell at Swansea City six years ago in which the then-Premier League club’s players, as well as the fans, found it hard to believe in the former US men’s national-team manager.

“I was angry about it, honestly,” Marsch said. “I knew how hard he’d worked to get himself there and watching it crumble was awful. To see that happen to someone I knew had invested his entire life in the sport… to be rejected in the way he was, it was hard for us Americans to swallow.”


Jesse Marsch has worn his heart on his sleeve since taking over at Leeds in February (Photo: Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Bradley lasted 11 games at Swansea, winning two and losing seven, from October to December 2016.

Marsch has taken charge of 10 so far at Leeds — three wins, two draws, five defeats — and it was always likely there might be some early issues when another obvious problem, in the eyes of many Leeds fans, is that his name is not Marcelo Bielsa.

At the same time, it is also true that Marsch has not always helped himself when he has tried to be, well, more Carrie Keagan than Robert Smith.

In one interview this week, Marsch was asked what he thought Leeds United would look like in three years. “It looks like the best academy in Europe,” he replied, “with young players who are playing in the first team consistently, and where we are competing for Europe consistently.”

His intention, he explained, is to bring through “world-class players who can perform here but can also help us financially by selling them to the most massive clubs for massive amounts of money, then reinvest that into the infrastructure of the club, until We get to the point five or 10 years from now when we can really talk about competing for titles and being one of the best teams in Europe. That’s the goal.”

It sounded like some kind of football utopia and, in ordinary circumstances, which set of fans would not like to hear from their manager that he is ultra-ambitious and fully intends to drag their club into a brave new world?

Unfortunately for Marsch, these are not ordinary circumstances.

Leeds are in the bottom three with only two games of the season to go, and the fingers of relegation are tightening around their neck, just two years after they finally escaped an EFL they spent 16 painful seasons in when they last dropped out of the elite .

He has been parachuted into a club, and a city, living on their nerves.

Leeds have been severed by injury issues but also shot themselves in the foot by having the worst disciplinary statistics of any team in 30 years of the Premier League. Marsch cannot take all the blame for that, having been there less than three months, but it has been a confetti show of yellow and red cards on his watch, too.

Perhaps there is also a slight cultural difference here, in terms of football-speak, and Marsch has not fully grasped that there are certain things he might say now that will jar with his new audience in Yorkshire.

This might never have been such an issue at the first European club he led, serial Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, or while he was managing New York Red Bulls in MLS back home before that.

It is actually a shame, in one sense, that a manager who is unafraid to show his personality and prefers not to speak in cliches already seems to be opening himself to scorn and — based on his latest round of interviews after Leeds lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea on Wednesday — now appears to be taking a more cautious approach to what he says.

On reflection, he probably wishes it had not been made public that he has tried to bring together his players by reciting quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

In another sense, it is difficult to pass over his decision to announce, on a national UK radio station, that the fans’ still-beloved Bielsa was guilty of over-training the players, and had left them “physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically” in a bad place. Where to start? It was silly and unnecessary and, even if he believed every word, the kind of thing Marsch really ought to have kept to himself.

More than anything, however, let’s not forget that the best place to judge a football manager is almost always on the pitch rather than what he says into a microphone.

If it isn’t to end well for Marsch at Leeds, it will be because they have gone down and do not look like a side that will swiftly come back up.

Let’s judge him by his tactics and his ability to motivate his team. Let’s see what happens in the next two games and the reaction from the fans.

It’s just starting to feel like Marsch, 10 games in, is straying dangerously close to finding out that the people who fill Elland Road can chop you down to size if they don’t like what they are seeing and hearing.

(Top photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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