Normally when you’re a manager and you save a team from a certain relegation, you’re given a key to the city and you have a welcome mat anywhere (and let me tell you from experience, having that in Leeds can lead to a lot of rough mornings). Jesse Marsch is not that guy, even though he saved Leeds from certain relegation. One, because he replaced a legend in Marcelo Bielsa, and two, because he hails from a country that is still subject to a high level of suspicion in football circles (and in all other circles, probably).
Marsch did not help himself by first proclaiming that he had never seen ted lasso, which everyone in the UK was quite eager to label as lazily. And then he filled almost every subsequent press conference with whatever inspirational quote he could find on Twitter, which is exactly what that character would do. Although they barely managed to maintain their status in the Premier League, Marsch made it to the end but did not win over many fans.
And it’s a question of whether buying players from their home country will appease Leeds fans and media. But that seems to be his chosen path.
It’s not uncommon for a coach to bring in players he’s familiar with and has worked with before, and both Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams, who are rumored to be joining the former in the coming days, meet that standard. Marsch managed Aaronson in Salzburg and managed Adams in New York. And it’s not like he fills a need that Leeds has.
The problem for both of them is that they will replace perhaps the two most important, and certainly most popular, players at Leeds. While Aaronson won’t be announced as a direct replacement for Raphina, his Leeds career is likely to start in the front row, albeit perhaps on the left side rather than the right where Raphina played. But he will take that place. He’s hardly the same type of player, but that won’t stop fans from pointing out what Raphina could have done in a certain situation or place that Aaronson couldn’t. Raphina could dazzle with her dribbling and spectacular goals from him, while Aaronson is more about energy and running off the ball (although he can do some of that Raphina stuff too).
Adams will be more direct in taking the place of a predecessor in the lineup, and that’s Kalvin Phillips, who will be the tougher task. Phillips came through the Leeds system, he’s from there, and worked his way up to become an England international. There is no other type of player that fans cling to more. And Phillips was all the pivot of the Bielsa system, which many of the Leeds faithful still haven’t put down. Phillips was not only a great defensive midfielder and able to protect his overwhelmed defence, he was also not shy about reaching the other end and helping to create chances. That kind of dual role is only fulfilled by very few in the game.
That’s not what Adams does, though he’s not defenseless against attack. Adams is more of a classic defensive midfielder, and could even play with more energy off the ball than Phillips. His positioning is excellent, although he is more content to simply make a pass for his team to go in the opposite direction than to join the counterattacks and attack himself. There will be fewer fireworks with Adams than with Phillips, but maybe a little more stability?
However, Adams fell out of favor with Leipzig last year, and the recent history of players moving from Germany to England is discouraging. Leeds style, or what we think it will be now that Marsch can set it up however he wants, will be Red Bull-esque, full of pressing and countering and running with hair on fire, what Leipzig had gotten away with and why Marsch hadn’t it worked there. Adams and Aaronson should be a perfect fit.
However, how much rope will they give you… the strong inclination will be to say “not much”. Both will gain a buffer zone early simply because they both work so hard, and fans rarely get on the back of any player who shows maximum effort. But Leeds were short on goals towards the end of last season, and if Aaronson doesn’t find the net early he will be labeled a ‘try’. Aaronson isn’t asked to be their leading scorer or anything like that, but he does need to contribute and he also needs to create some looks. It is a big step from the Austrian league to the Premier League.
Adams faces no less a test, as even if he plays well, Leeds’ defense could still be shaky. They certainly need a player like Adams to support and protect them, but this is a team that just bled goals against last season and a defensive midfielder, no matter how good, will figure it out.
The schedule should help. Leeds only see one of the greats, Chelsea, in their first seven games. You’ll also see Everton and Nottingham Forest in those top seven, and Wolves and Southampton which really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even a couple of wins should help everyone breathe a little. In fact, Leeds’ tough stretch isn’t really until the end of October, when they take on Liverpool, Spurs and Man City over the span of four games.
But again, their passports will have all three under a probably unfair microscope. Adams can lose his position at times, especially if he gets a little brave when his team has the ball. Aaronson has to go from producing in Austria to the biggest league in the world. If they are successful, he is a boon to the USMNT. But if it doesn’t work, how quick will Marsch be to squeeze them? And if he doesn’t, how many more knives will there be for him? There is a clue here, but the three of them have to reach it.