Jesse Marsch: Leeds got worse after I left – the owners told me they sacked me too soon (2024)

Had he taken one of the opportunities that came his way, Jesse Marsch might this week have been preparing for a busy programme of Christmas fixtures. But when he left Leeds United in February he decided to turn down two Premier League job offers that came soon after.

After what was an abrupt end to 11 intense months at Elland Road, first Southampton and then Leicester City made Marsch, 50, offers to join their respective battles against relegation. Both were tempting prospects but he reflects the emotion of his rise, and eventual fall, at Leeds meant he could just not envisage himself jumping back in immediately. Since then he and his wife Kim have moved permanently from the US to make their family home in Europe and he is ready to work again.

Marsch has rarely spoken since he was sacked by Leeds, the day after a 1-0 defeat by Nottingham Forest. “It broke my heart when I left,” he says, and in the months that followed he says the Leeds hierarchy of the time admitted to him in private they had moved too quickly. After Marsch, Leeds went through three more managers in three months, culminating in the short-lived, high-stakes appointment of Sam Allardyce. Leeds did not survive in the Premier League.

“I invested everything I had into that club and into that team,” Marsch says. “It was painful for me to watch them getting relegated and the manner in which it happened.”

A potential return to Elland Road as the opposition manager was one of the factors in him choosing not to take the Southamptonand Leicester jobs, although it was not the only reason. “[The] Southampton [offer], it was right after Leeds. Literally days. I was very serious about it. I could see internally they had a few different ideas on the direction they were moving forward ... but wonderful people.

“Leicester I was incredibly close to taking but in the end I just felt that I wasn’t ready to jump back in. In hindsight I think it’s a wonderful club and a great place and maybe if my mindset had been in a different place I could have – and should – have maybe taken that job.”

He is back in London this week to catch up with contacts and we speak via Zoom – with my end of the conversation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It has taken Marsch time to get over Leeds. He had replaced Marcelo Bielsa, one of the most popular managers in the club’s history, saved Leeds from relegation in May last year and begun rebuilding the team in his own style through two transfer windows. But by February a run of seven games without a win, and just about every relegation-threatened club making changes, created a pressure he believes the club found impossible to ignore.

Marsch is clear: by February his Leeds team were making progress. Every metric he considers important was improving and after his departure he says those went into decline – a point borne out by the statistics included on this independent analysis.

“I agree we should have won more games than we did,” Marsch says. “Even though from the outside it looked like the team wasn’t as good as it should have been. We were in control of more matches and weren’t getting the points we frankly deserved. That is what put stress on the environment and that is what put stress on the decision-makers in the club. In terms of what the work was like, and what it was like to be with the team, and the passion, work ethic and commitment from the group, it was outstanding.”

The plan had been to replace Bielsa in the summer of last year but as results declined, Leeds’ then director of football Victor Orta and chair Andrea Radrizzani asked that Marsch come early, at the end of February. The 12 weeks which culminated in a final-day win away at Brentford, and Premier League survival, Marsch says was “the best work I have done in my career”. He had to adjust his wider plans for the team and find answers to difficult questions.

“I don’t think we ever played perfect football,” he says. “At that moment it was more of a psychological project than it was anything else. That part, along with the training and ideas, I’m really proud of – and that we managed the situation. It felt like we won a title.”

‘You can see the team was really starting to come together’

Leeds started last season like a train with seven points from their first three but then only won twice more before the break for the World Cup, albeit one of those at Anfield at the end of October.

“I felt after the World Cup our progress was starting to take hold,” Marsch says. “If you look at metrics you can see the team was really starting to come together. If we get a couple more wins the stress levels are different and the pressures on decision-makers are different. I think we were on track to finish the season strong. When those decisions [on his sacking] get made, you’ve to accept them, hard as it is. And then you have to figure out how to move on with relationships and your life and your profession.”

At the end, as the club went from Michael Skubala to Javi Gracia to Allardyce, it felt chaotic. A club that was just clutching at strategies that might work. Marsch considers that. “I would say one of the things I am proud of is that it was chaos before I came – 7-0 [against Manchester City in December 2021], 6-0 [Liverpool in the following February] – incredible losses and the most amount of goals conceded in a month in the Premier League [20 in February 2022, which Leeds surpassed in April 2023 after Marsch had left]“

“When I came in, we were able to calm things down and stabilise. If we get a couple more wins it’s very different. If you look at goal difference, if you look at goals conceded, if you look at expected goals – major metrics as to what was happening in the games – the 11 months I was there were quiet. We were calm. It was professional, it was controlled. There wasn’t big information getting out of the club. Because the work was strong.

“Then after I left, the chaos ensued almost immediately. So, yes, it was chaotic. But the way I work is to focus on the things I can control, which is team environment and the way we treat each other and the way we work.”

His normal processes were always under pressure, although Marsch regrets there was no opportunity to put his case to the club in the days before he was dismissed. The decision to sack him was presented as a fait accompli. He had persuaded players he knew well, including fellow US nationals like Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronsen – both now elsewhere, the latter on loan – to join Leeds. Then suddenly he was out the door. “I felt bad,” he says. “That I was letting them down, that I was abandoning them. Time has helped but that was my initial reaction.

“We [Leeds] went from mid-table in every metric to 20th across the board [after Marsch left]. Every meaningful metric they went dead last. The conversations I had with certain people in the leadership group – they were apologetic they abandoned the [Marsch] project. There wasn’t any real dialogue about the decision it was just – ‘This is the decision’. Which they have the right to make … but if we had more time to talk about it and [I could] walk [them] through it, I could have shown more details on how and why this is moving in the right direction. And that abandoning the project at that time was not the right thing to do.”

He still has a strong relationship with Orta and the Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear, whom he says were always supportive. There is also a sense the bloodlust for managerial sackings took over last season. Clubs were under pressure to make changes. Marsch was the eighth Premier League managerial dismissal of 14 in total.

“The league has been calmer [this season] and there is a clearer gap between the bottom and the rest of the teams,” he says. “There are more clubs saying we are sticking to the process and to our coach. I think it is proven when you start ripping coaches away from places – especially when you have invested in building a team that is for the identity of that coach – then it is unsuccessful. It is a little bit of a shame but I am ready to move on. And I am glad that Leeds have a chance to come back up.”

He says more than once he put everything into Leeds. Since leaving he and Kim, who now has Italian citizenship, have relocated to Tuscany. Their three children are all in full-time education in Britain, two at university, and Marsch is learning Italian to add to the German he mastered while in the Red Bull group of clubs. But it is English football and the Premier League in particular that he would like to return.

“I am not the type of manager who is a dictator,” he says. “I like to work in a leadership team where you feel like everybody is really connected. In the darkest moments you need strength from the support and the belief system that has been created around you. The more you put yourself on the island, the more you invite problems. In modern day football there is so much that goes on around a team it is too hard for one man to control.”

Marsch: AI can give coaches a real advantage

Still the affection for Leeds is strong. His data team told him before he took the job in February 2022 that Leeds had an 84 per cent chance of relegation in the following three years. There were more promising offers on the table in that regard but he opted for Elland Road because it felt right. Since leaving, he and associates have been working on an AI model to help shape strategy on a match day as well as on wider questions.

Marsch’s broad quest is to use AI to analyse data and draw conclusions about the way the game works, and then apply that to specific strategies relative to a specific opponent. “These [AI] people are used to dealing with heavy, heavy data [large amounts],” Marsch says. “What we think in football is heavy to them is actually a small sample size.

“It is complex and not the easiest for everyone but I believe it could be a real advantage. Even in terms of verifying match plans and looking at scouting networks. I think there is a lot of use for it. It has to sit within the eye-test of what football is, but it can be very useful.”

Before Leeds, he had coached continually in four different jobs in three countries – and the break has allowed him to make some adjustments. What, I venture, might the data say this time around about managing Leeds – a club with a fanatical support who have endured such a long time outside the elite in the 21st century? “It was a club that I thought fit the ideals of who I am,” Marsch says. “It was always interesting and certainly very difficult to manage. But I am very thankful and if I had the chance to go to Leeds, I would go again.”

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Jesse Marsch's Departure from Leeds United

Jesse Marsch, a former manager of Leeds United, left the club in February. After his departure, he received job offers from Southampton and Leicester City, both of which were battling against relegation. However, Marsch decided not to take these offers immediately. He reflects on the emotional journey he experienced during his time at Leeds and felt that he needed some time before jumping back into another managerial role. Marsch invested a lot of effort into Leeds United and was heartbroken to see the club getting relegated.

Leeds United's Performance under Jesse Marsch

During his time at Leeds United, Marsch believes that the team was making progress. He states that important metrics were improving, and the team was in control of more matches. However, they were not getting the points they deserved, which put stress on the environment and decision-makers at the club. Marsch acknowledges that the team should have won more games, but he is proud of the passion, work ethic, and commitment shown by the group .

Chaos After Jesse Marsch's Departure

After Marsch's departure, Leeds United went through a period of chaos. The club had multiple managerial changes, and there was a decline in important metrics. Marsch believes that the chaos ensued almost immediately after he left, and the decision-makers at the club abandoned the project he had started. He wishes there had been more time for dialogue and to show the details of how the team was moving in the right direction.

Jesse Marsch's Relationship with Leeds United

Despite the challenges faced, Marsch still has a strong relationship with Victor Orta, Leeds United's director of football, and Angus Kinnear, the club's chief executive. He appreciates their support and acknowledges that they were always supportive of him during his time at the club.

Jesse Marsch's Future Plans

Since leaving Leeds United, Jesse Marsch and his wife have relocated to Tuscany, Italy. Marsch is learning Italian and is ready to work again. He expresses his desire to return to English football, particularly the Premier League. Marsch prefers to work in a leadership team where everyone is connected and supports each other. He believes that in modern-day football, it is challenging for one person to control everything and that a collaborative approach is more effective.

Jesse Marsch's AI Model for Strategy

During his time away from coaching, Marsch has been working on an AI model to help shape strategy on match days and for wider questions. He aims to use AI to analyze data and draw conclusions about the game, which can then be applied to specific strategies against specific opponents. Marsch believes that AI can provide a real advantage in terms of analyzing match plans and scouting networks.

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Jesse Marsch: Leeds got worse after I left – the owners told me they sacked me too soon (2024)
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