Former Barcelona and Real Betis full-back Junior Firpo claims that the Leeds United players would rather have gone down with Marcelo Bielsa two seasons ago than remain in the Premier League.
The 27-year-old in part moved to Leeds for Sporting Director Victor Orta, now at Sevilla, and manager Marcelo Bielsa, both of whom departed not long after his arrival. The previous season he had turned down Inter in order to keep his family stable as his son was in intensive care in Barcelona at the time. That was at the end of his first season in Catalonia, but by the time his second summer came round, he was ready to leave. Firpo explained that it was Orta who he spoke to first.
“The first was Victor Orta, the Sporting Director. He was very on top of things. He is interested in you, in your family, he is the first to write to you if you are injured, he helps you in many day-to-day things… There was also Bielsa and his coaching staff, who were Spanish-speaking and I was going to be able to communicate much better, although I also speak English. They had done very well the previous season, close to the European positions.”
“Of course, it was also the Premier League – I wanted to play there, it is the best league in the world. The Leeds dressing room is one of the best I’ve ever been in. Look, the other day – Wednesday, eight in the evening, -3 degrees, the vast majority have to work the next day… and Elland Road was full. And we just got relegated, huh.”
The Dominican Republic international, who is hoping to make to the Olympics next year, explained exactly how Marcelo Bielsa justified his ‘El Loco’ [The crazy guy] nickname, to Relevo.
“He was a little crazy, as his nickname says, but for the better. He was very obsessive with detail. Until you gave a good pass it wasn’t worth it. And you could repeat it 50 times. It doesn’t matter that you scored the goal in the goal, but since the ball didn’t move well with the correct rotation that he thought, it wasn’t done well.”
When Bielsa left, it hit Firpo hard.
“It was one of the hardest coaching farewells I have ever experienced. All the players who had been with him for several years were crying in the dressing room. It was like when you know that something is going to sink, but you’d rather it sink with it than save it with someone else, it was that feeling. We were miraculously saved in the last game, the fans were singing his name. It was a very hard decision for the club.”
Since Bielsa’s departure it has been a tough run for Leeds United, with Jesse Marsch, Michael Skubala, Javi Gracia and Sam Allardyce all taking charge of games, before current coach Daniel Farke was given the job. Bielsa has since moved onto the Uruguayan national team, where he has La Celeste second in the South American World Cup quialifiers, with two wins from two against Argentina and Brazil.