9 players describe Marcelo Bielsa’s ‘relentless, ridiculous’ training regime

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Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa‘s training sessions are the stuff of legend – and it’s not difficult to see why, when you listen to how his players describe them. 

Bielsa, famously meticulous and demanding, has earned plaudits for taking Leeds back to the Premier League after their 16-year exile, turning them into the top-flight’s fittest, most intense side.

Here are quotes from nine of his current and former players that give us an insight into the work behind the scenes that get his teams playing in the style that they do.

Andoni Iraola

“I know what you’re talking about. We called them the ‘champions’ games”, the former Athletic Club defender told The Athletic, speaking about the sessions that have become known as ‘murderball’ at Leeds.

“Sometimes they were for players who were playing fewer minutes than others but not always. They were a little bit shorter than a normal game but more demanding. He uses them as a test to see if you’re ready to play or to find your limits.

“He’s especially vocal and demanding in these games and he doesn’t care about the tactical side. The games are just for the physical side.

“We all knew we had to eat a big bowl of rice the night before because he made sure you empty the tank. They [the players] would say [privately] they hated it more than they loved it.”

READ: Revisiting the night Marcelo Bielsa’s Bilbao blew away Fergie’s Man Utd

Diego Llorente

“To be honest, people had spoken to me about Bielsa but until you are actually playing for him you don’t realise just how different he is in so many facets of training,” the Spain centre-half told The Guardian.

“At first, it’s a shock because his methodology is so different. There are certain drills that are very analytical, that describe certain specific moments in games that, because of our style of play, are repeated often.

“Movements you should be making off the ball, the way you support the free man, the help you give teammates. It’s very specific.”

Kalvin Phillips

“It’s relentless, just constant,” Phillips, who has gone from a standard Championship player to England international under Bielsa’s guidance, told 5Live.

“He wants you to be 100 per cent every time. Whenever you go out onto the training pitch, he wants you to give 100 per cent. If you’re feeling a little niggle or don’t think you can train one morning, he’ll just come to you and say, if you’re training, you’re doing the full session, you’re not coming out halfway through.

“Or doing the Murderball sessions we do, I could run into someone and clatter them, and he won’t even give a foul. If I clatter someone, we don’t stop, we don’t play offsides or anything.

“The first couple of weeks we did it, we were looking around wondering what it was we just did and surely we couldn’t do it for the whole season. It’s one of those sessions we most enjoy as we get the most out of it. He works us to the bone every single time – it’s one of those sessions you dread but after you do it, you feel good.”

Patrick Bamford

“He’s very 100 per cent. To the point where, if his staff aren’t putting cones out to the exact centimetre, they get an earful,” Bamford told the Daily Mail. “He wants everything to be perfect, the way it is in his head.

“One game, he said to us beforehand: ‘It is going to go like this. This is how they will score against us, but then this is how we will score against them.’

“We ended up winning 2-1, and everything that happened went as he said. If you had an hour to sit with him, you could learn so much.

“He is the hardest trainer I’ve ever had. Pre-season, you are told to run a kilometre as fast as you can and Marcelo has certain times. If you can’t get under this time, you won’t play.”

Liam Cooper

“You honestly have to see it to believe it – It’s something I’ve never, ever, been involved in before,” the Leeds skipper told SPORTbible.

“It’s just 100%, very chaotic. We do four or five-minute segments, maybe four or five times, with staff outside throwing the ball back in as soon as it goes out. It’s all man-for-man, there’s no escape. But the numbers the lads are putting up in these sessions are ridiculous.

“The games almost seem easier than the training is! And it’s not just the murderball, the tactical sessions are so in-depth. We always go on the pitch knowing exactly what rival teams are going to do – and if they were to change, we’d have that covered as well.”

Luke Ayling

“Five minutes, you rest for a minute and then go again. That’s where we get our fitness from. Hell for leather, run into each other, no fouls, no offsides. Most annoying thing for a defender, you scream for offside but you’ve got the manager and four members of staff just going, ‘run, run!’

“It seems to work for us, we are going to keep doing it and keep doing our stuff. It works.”

Gerardo Martino

“We shared the dressing room with the reserves,” said the former Barcelona manager, a noted Bielsista that played under him at Newell’s Old Boys (via FourFourTwo).

“You’d come in for training and there would be so many arrows on the whiteboard that you could barely make out where one ended and another began. You thought the Indians were coming! Within a year, that guy was our coach.”

“We had a chat before he started, and he told me there was only one chance to play in his team: you had to run. He convinced everyone that his was the way.

“Every training session with him was different, he never repeated a single one. I would come back from international duty and go straight to one of Marcelo’s sessions because they were that good.”

Fabian Costello

“In the middle of training, he would say, ‘I saw Ajax doing this in a game, let’s try it ourselves’,” the former Newell’s Old Boys striker told The Athletic. “I knew of Ajax, but nobody in Argentina watched them play.

“We had no ESPN and no sports channels like that. You maybe saw a result in a magazine from time to time, but that was it. Marcelo knew everything about them. How that was, I can’t say.”

Dimitri Payet

“I was having a bad session but he didn’t say anything at all. And then right at the end I managed to do something good and one of his assistants congratulated me. And he just lost it. He said ‘no no, you can’t congratulate him after he’s messed up in this session’.”

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