Respected Leeds United journalist Phil Hay has hinted in a Q&A for The Athletic that Pontus Jansson has been the only player to challenge Marcelo Bielsa’s ‘absolute’ authority since the Argentine’s arrival at Elland Road.
Bielsa took charge in the summer of 2018 following Andrea Radrizzani’s decision to move on from Paul Heckingbottom, though the former Chile head coach was not the club owner’s first choice after revealing a failed attempt to bring Antonio Conte to West Yorkshire on a €20million (£18.3m) contract.
While Conte went on to sit out the 2018/19 season on the back of being fired by Chelsea, Bielsa was already working his magic at Leeds by guiding the club from a 13th placed finish to clinch our first Championship Play-Off appearance since 2006.
Jansson was a key part of Bielsa’s plans as we fought relentlessly for automatic promotion last term, with the 23-cap Sweden international starting 37 of his 39 regular-season appearances and offering a commanding figure at the back that would be named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
Feathers were being ruffled between Bielsa and Jansson, though, and Hay has revealed that the now Brentford defender has been the only player El Loco has tired of since coming to England.
“[Bielsa] can be hard work and he’s not afraid to ruffle feathers but his authority at Leeds is absolute,” Hay noted. “No-one takes him on and everyone defers to him.
“It’s one reason why the last two seasons have gone so well – the dressing room has been on a tight leash. Jansson is the only player he tired of.”
Despite Jansson playing in 39 of our 48 regular season fixtures and recording more successful tackles (95/119) than all other Championship centre-halves last term, per WhoScored data, the Swede was sold to Brentford in the summer for £5.5m plus add-ons.
Reports soon emerged suggesting there had been a rift between the defender and Bielsa ever since the boss was appointed, with it alleged the Argentine was initially taken back by how long it took Jansson to return from the World Cup.
Do you miss having Jansson at Elland Road?
A year later and Jansson was then left unimpressed by the suggestion he should return to Thorp Arch for the first day of pre-season training on June 24 after requesting further time off following international duty, before the club informed the 29-year-old to stay away until July 12.
Not long after that, and the deal for Jansson to join Brentford was concluded, although sources close to the Malmo product claimed it was for the purposes of balancing the books despite Jack Clarke’s £9.7m move to Spurs relieving some of the Financial Fair Play concerns.
What truly went on behind-the-scenes between Jansson and Bielsa may never be revealed, but at least the Brentford defender is the only one to have ruffled the boss’ feathers and we are challenging for automatic promotion again, even without the Swede at the back.
In other Leeds United news, the club have been dealt a setback in hopes of signing Victor Orta’s €20m target.