Bradford City goalkeeper Will Huffer has opened up on what life was like working under demanding head coach Marcelo Bielsa at former club Leeds United.
The current Whites boss has been renowned throughout his career for his challenging regimes and high intensity style of play.
Leeds have enjoyed a meteoric rise since the 65-year-old arrived at Elland Road just under three years ago as he has taken them from Championship mediocrity to arguably the Premier League’s most entertaining side.
Their improvement did not just happen overnight, though, and it all began when Bielsa first walked through the doors at Thorp Arch and implemented a rigorous pre-season programme to get the players into the shape he desired.
Huffer, who was at the club under Bielsa during the Argentine’s first season at Leeds, explained exactly what he said to the players to get them up to scratch.
— Will Huffer (@will_1huffer) July 24, 2018
He said: “Our body percentages were all pretty good, I think I was about 13% body fat which probably for a goalie was the lowest I’d ever been, so I was happy with my shape going back.
“But then we got sat down by the head of medical when Bielsa came everyone got a bit of telling off. They told us that: ‘We can’t be coming back in this sort of shape; you need to be 10% body fat on the dot or below.’
“That was a bit of a shock to start off with. Then, they implemented our weight targets on the back of the DEXA [bone density] scans. We all had weight targets that we had to meet every morning and those were targeted at us being 10% body fat.
“So, for me, I came back and was 84kg and my target was to drop to 80kg. Over the course of pre-season, they wanted us to be getting closer and closer to the target so that when the season came, everyone was 10% body fat which worked because everybody’s fitness levels went through the roof.
“That was the main thing through pre-season. Trying to hit your weight target every morning, but also making sure you have enough energy to train and perform well.”
While the dietary alterations have been pivotal in transforming the fitness levels of each player, the technical drills on the training field have been equally as important.
Due to the language barrier between Bielsa and the players, Huffer claimed that his sessions took some getting used to, but was full of praise for the way he and his staff persevered with the group as they looked to get accustomed to a unique new style.
He said: “There were a lot of technical drills, but he did it quite differently to anything I’ve experienced under other managers. In the morning we would have a team meeting at around ten past ten.
“Bielsa wouldn’t usually do it but one of his assistants would take us through what we were doing in training. They would explain every single drill of what we were going to do and then when we were out on the pitch, we would have iPads. It would show you where you need to run, where you need to pass and what you need to do. I think that really helped.
“There was a lot of drills in terms of how he wanted us to press and play out of the back, as well as how they should look and the patterns we needed to pull off to make sure it was effective.”
— Leeds United (@LUFC) November 1, 2018
Given where Leeds were when Bielsa arrived at the club, it is still a mystery to many supporters just how he has managed to transform a group of players to the levels they are today.
That is a conundrum that even Huffer still struggles to get his head around, although he did offer some insight as to why he thinks the two have worked so well.
He said: “That is a great question that I still don’t know the answer to! I think it’s a lot to do with confidence. He gives you the confidence that you can play a certain way and when you feel fitter than the opposition throughout the game it gives you more confidence to be able to express what you want to do.
“Him and his coaches, which also filtered down into the younger age groups, gave you the freedom to play out. Because he wants you to play out, if you mess up, he’s not going to be shouting at you if we concede a goal from it.
“It’s more like: ‘Okay that didn’t work but how are we going to make sure this doesn’t happen again and what are we going to do differently to make sure it does work next time?’
“All the lads got massively behind that in terms of this is the style we’re going to play and we need to help each other out here because it is very hard, so we need to show a real grit and determination to make sure it works. I think that is a huge part of it.”