Marcelo Bielsa’s latest Leeds United press conference saw the 66-year-old Argentine vehemently deny any suggestions he would leave the club between now and the end of the season.
The 30-minute debrief between journalists and Bielsa, accompanied by his translator Andres Clavijo, saw the Leeds boss clarify his position on a range of topics, including the January transfer window.
“I never said that I don’t want players to come in January,” Bielsa insisted, responding to the commonly-held assumption that he prefers not to conduct business in the winter window.
“As you guys inform that I’m opposed to it, as you listen to me you think that I’m not right. The only thing I said [is] and I reiterate: to bring in players they should be better than the ones we already have,” he added.
This is not a deviation as such, but perhaps a clue as to his stance towards the upcoming January window.
He is not anti-transfers, but he is against signing players for the sake of it. The veteran coach will hold out for the precise player he wants.
Bielsa repeatedly insisted he was satisfied with the clubs’ business in the summer window, bringing in Junior Firpo, Jack Harrison and Kristoffer Klaesson on permanent deals to supplement the first-team. Then, on deadline day, Leeds spent a reported ?25 million on newly-available Daniel James – known to be a long-term target of Bielsa’s.
It is not out of the question that something similar could be sanctioned this winter given the current injury crisis befalling Leeds at present.
Ahead of tomorrow’s game with Arsenal, Leeds have eight first-team players missing: Patrick Bamford, Rodrigo, Pascal Struijk, Liam Cooper, Jamie Shackleton, Kalvin Phillips and Daniel James are all absent through injury, while Junior Firpo misses out due to suspension.
Leeds United are still expected to host Arsenal this weekend despite the growing number of positive Covid-19 cases in the Premier League. (Image: 2021 Getty Images)
In defensive midfield, Adam Forshaw is expected to continue, having made a remarkable comeback from injury after 23 months on the sidelines.
Yet again, Bielsa has insisted he is content with the options in reserve whenever first-choice for that role Kalvin Phillips is out. With talk that the England international could be missing until February, that is plenty of time and numerous matches to negotiate without one of the team’s key figures.
Factor in the bubbling transfer speculation that Kalvin Phillips may leave Elland Road in the near future and Leeds are faced with a problem – both in the short and long-term.
In sunnier climbs at French club Olympique de Marseille (OM), one of Bielsa’s former employers, the Ligue 1 giant are suffering from personnel issues of their own.
Sought-after defensive midfielder Boubacar Kamara is out of contract next summer, and will leave on a free transfer as things stand.
Attempts to revive negotiations broke down recently and – as per The Athletic – Kamara is preparing to leave his boyhood club in six months’ time.
In just over two weeks, he will be free to negotiate pre-contract terms with another club, outside of France, which would see him remain at OM until the expiry of his current deal, before joining a new club on July 1, 2022.
Olympique de Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara warms up for the Ligue 1 side (Image: Johnny Fidelin/Icon Sport via Getty Images)
Manchester United have been linked in recent weeks as they search for a long-term replacement for Nemanja Matic, while Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers were both interested in luring the 22-year-old last summer, but due to the lateness in the window, OM resisted a sale in the hope they could still persuade him to stay.
Now, it appears the club’s hands are tied and Kamara will see out the 2021/22 campaign at Stade Velodrome before departing on a free transfer.
Currently, there are few teams in Europe’s top five leagues who are in desperate need of a player like Kamara more than Leeds United.
A tempo-setting, both-footed, play-advancing No. 6 like Kamara is precisely the style of footballer Leeds could benefit from right now.
Not only would it plug the hole left by Phillips’ absence due to injury, but serve as a viable succession plan if the 26-year-old England man is set to depart next summer.
Kamara plays in a ball-dominant team as things stand: only Paris Saint-Germain enjoy a larger share of the ball than OM in Ligue 1 this season. Meanwhile, in the Premier League this year, Leeds rank fifth for possession.
He has experience as a central defender and can handily deputise in that role when required, as well as press and tackle opponents entering Marseille’s third of the field.
Presently, his pressing numbers are some way below those of the average Leeds United player, but that is largely to do with the fact he plays for a team who control so much of the ball. His athleticism and stamina suggest he would be able to scale up this particular aspect of his game in a Bielsa system.
Bielsa has often bemoaned the fact that players who will improve Leeds’ starting XI will cost in the region of ‘?20-30 million’, but the situation OM find themselves in with Kamara means that will not be the case.
A source close to the French club suggests a mere ?10 million could be permissible for Kamara to leave in January, with Marseille knowing full well they are highly likely to lose him for free in six months’ time.
OM have Pape Gueye in reserve, as well as a reported ?10 million option to sign Arsenal loanee Matteo Guendouzi on a permanent deal. Both midfielders operate at the base of midfield, much like Kamara, along with Valentin Rongier who has featured regularly alongside the 22-year-old this season.
Olympique de Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara has been linked with a move to several English clubs (Image: Getty Images)
In moving for the 22-year-old, Leeds could alleviate some of the pressure on the current squad, who are growing increasingly stretched each week, as well as proving Bielsa’s latest comments on the January window true.
Stealing a march on those clubs holding out for a pre-contract agreement with the young Frenchman may also be a quaint silver lining to the current injury crisis, if it’s a deal Victor Orta and the board choose to pursue next month.