Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa has a terrific reputation in the game and has achieved wonders at Elland Road in recent years, with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hailing him as a ‘magical man’.
The Argentine boss has taken Leeds from dwelling in the Championship year after year to competing in the Premier League and going toe-to-toe with the best of the best in England each week. He won the second tier title with the club in the 2019/20 campaign before leading Leeds to a ninth-place finish in the Premier League last term, avoiding relegation in style.
Along the way, he has developed a number of players at Elland Road instead of relying purely on big-money additions to the side. The likes of Liam Cooper, Pascal Struijk, Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas are just a few of the players who he either inherited or brought through the academy and developed into being top-flight regulars for the club.
Struijk is a particularly fascinating case as he arrived at Leeds six months prior to Bielsa as an academy player. He joined from Dutch giants Ajax and formed part of the U23 squad and did not play a single first-team minute in Bielsa’s first season in 2018/19.
In the 2019/20 promotion out of the Championship, Bielsa brought Struijk into the first-team fold and handed him five appearances in the second-tier. He averaged a SofaScore rating of 6.83, starting two of those matches, and made 2.2 tackles and interceptions per game.
Following his first foray into senior football, Struijk was handed a valuation of £675k by Transfermarkt in October 2020. This seemed a fair evaluation of his talents given that he had only started two league matches for Leeds the previous campaign.
Struijk’s breakthrough season for Leeds came in the Premier League last term as Bielsa placed his faith in the central defender to perform in the top-flight. The Argentine coach slowly bedded the Dutchman in after initially being in the academy and coached him into becoming a reliable player in the top division.
In the 2020/21 Premier League season, Struijk averaged an excellent SofaScore rating of 6.94 across 27 appearances. He made 3.4 tackles and interceptions per game as he helped Leeds to keep seven clean sheets and avoid relegation back to the Championship.
This form led to ex-Whites gem Dominic Matteo saying that Struijk has ‘got it all’ and lauding all the areas of his game. He said:
“There’s plenty of work to be done but, with the size of him, his physicality, his passing, he’s got it all and can step into midfield.
“He looks very calm on the ball, players who are a bit erratic are not for me but he looks comfortable in possession.”
At the time of writing (07/10/21), Struijk is valued at £8.10m by Transfermarkt. This means that his value has soared 1100% in one year under Bielsa’s coaching, with the defender thriving after being handed a leading role in the Premier League last season.
Bielsa has pulled off a masterclass with Struijk as he has turned an academy prospect into a valuable Premier League asset in virtually 12 months, although some of the groundwork was laid in the build-up to last term. Hopefully, Struijk will continue to progress and play a key role for the club for years to come.