Jesse Marsch: The American coach Leeds United hope can keep them in the Premier League

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Jesse Marsch
Marsch has been out of work since leaving RB Leipzig in December

The only exposure some English football fans will have had to Jesse Marsch is the expletive-riddled half-time team-talk he delivered that almost inspired Red Bull Salzburg to one of the great comebacks in a match against Liverpool at Anfield.

The clip of his rousing speech quickly went viral in the aftermath of the Champions League tie in October 2020, in which his side came back from 3-1 down to draw level, before losing 4-3.

It was a demonstration of the American’s eloquence, leadership and fight, with his side’s second-half display an encapsulation of his tactical nous and style – high intensity, high pressing, going for the win.

The 48-year-old is going to need all of that and more if he is to achieve the target struggling Leeds have set him as Marcelo Bielsa’s successor.

Big shoes to fill

For some Leeds fans, Marsch is already starting from a negative position purely by virtue of not being Bielsa.

The Argentine was adored by Whites supporters and embraced by a club and city to which he brought not only brilliant, fearless football but an integrity and humility not often evident in modern football and a unity and purpose rarely seen at Elland Road this century.

His successor will not only have to reckon with Bielsa’s metaphorical shadow but also the more tangible representations of his impact – murals of him across the city and an as-yet-unannounced “permanent tribute” by the club.

Marsch will be helped by the fact he inherits a club transformed by Bielsa – now modern, forward-thinking, with much-improved facilities and a culture in tune with Billy Bremner’s famous mantra ‘side before self, every time’.

However, they are also a side currently in free-fall in the Premier League, having taken just one point from the last 18 available to leave them two points above the bottom three. In February they conceded 20 goals – the most by any Premier League side ever in a calendar month.

It is to Marsch’s credit and a testament to his self-belief that he is willing to step into such a situation, while once again trying to fill massive shoes after his recent failure to do so at RB Leipzig.

Last summer, he was viewed as the right man to build upon the Champions League semi-final, German Cup final and third- and second-place Bundesliga finishes provided by Julian Nagelsmann before he departed for Bayern Munich.

His attempt would last just four months, 20 games in total, 14 in the Bundesliga, of which he won seven, lost nine and left the club 11th in the table.

Much has been said and written about what went wrong, but the common consensus is he was the right man – and a decent, well-liked one with good tactical acumen – at the wrong time.

In an interview on German football television show Doppelpass, Leipzig chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff revealed that Marsch himself had approached the hierarchy twice to question whether he and the club were the right fit.

What attracts Leeds to Marsch, though, are many of the same qualities and ideas that earned him the opportunity at Leipzig – ones developed during a playing and early management career in Major League Soccer in the United States and then honed in the Red Bull stable, partly under interim Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick.

‘I like my teams to play with speed and aggression’

Jesse Marsch
Marsch was hugely successful with a Red Bull Salzburg side that included Erling Braut Haaland (second from right)

After a 14-year playing career as a midfielder spent entirely in his home country, mainly with Chicago Fire and Chivas USA, Wisconsin-born Marsch retired in 2010 before going into coaching.

His first role was as assistant for the US national team under Bob Bradley, who would later go on to have an unsuccessful stint in the Premier League as Swansea boss in 2016.

Marsch cut his managerial teeth with an unspectacular spell at Montreal Impact before taking a three-year break, which included a six-month sabbatical from football to travel to 32 countries with his family, staying in hostels in order to broaden his perspective on life.

A 2015 Supporters’ Shield win and the most victories by any coach at New York Red Bulls would earn him his route to Europe and the assistant manager’s job at RB Leipzig under Rangnick.

The German has clearly had a profound impact on Marsch’s thinking about the game, as he has with the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Ralph Hasenhuttl.

He describes Rangnick as a “genius” who “really opened my eyes as to how detailed you can be about this game”. In a 2020 interview with Newsweek, he said: “I like my teams to play with speed and aggression, and a great deal of credit for that is down to Ralf.”

These teachings were evident in his time at Red Bull Salzburg, where he employed a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation designed to force high turnovers and dominate through high pressing.

It helped bring him two successive league and cup doubles in Austria.

At Leeds he will find players attuned to such demands, battle-hardened to hard work by Bielsa’s ‘murderball’ sessions and with some of the league’s most impressive running stats under their belt.external-link

Where he is likely to significantly differ from Bielsa is in his slightly less gung-ho approach and a preference for more zonal marking over the Argentine’s unwavering belief in man-marking – two areas that Leeds will hope can rectify their woeful defensive record.

The first big challenge for the American, though, is winning over hearts and minds at a club, large parts of which are grieving the loss of their spiritual leader.

In Marsch they could well find another intelligent, considerate and humble manager, one who understands the need to immerse oneself in the local culture.

Speaking to the Independent about his half-time team-talk at Anfield, which flitted back and forth between English and German, he said: “There’s two things that come along with [speaking German]. There’s an adaptation to the culture, which includes understanding how the people work and how they think and how they talk, and there’s also showing my vulnerability, the imperfection of who I am.

“That’s a big part of how I coach. We have a lot of young players in our team and they have to know that making mistakes is OK.

“If you know German fluently and you listen to me speaking German, literally every sentence I make mistakes. So it’s then a chance for me to show improvement, show vulnerability, and work through that personally.”

At Leeds, Marsch has little time for mistakes after what is undoubtedly a risky move by the club.

The next six matches see the Whites face two of the sides in the division’s bottom three and none of those in its top seven. The first under Marsch’s watch comes at Leicester this Saturday.

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