Jesse Marsch says he is used to being thrown in at the deep end, so joining Leeds United in the middle of a relegation battle was not about to faze the American boss.
It was not just the club’s perilous position that provided a daunting challenge for the 48-year-old, but also the fact he was replacing Marcelo Bielsa – the man who guided Leeds back to the Premier League after a 16-year absence.
Marsch, a former Major League Soccer player, has since steered the team away from the drop zone with two wins and a draw from their past three matches, his belief unwavering after starting life in West Yorkshire with successive defeats.
Having spent his past three coaching roles with the Red Bull football group at New York, Salzburg and Leipzig, it is not the first time Marsch has had to step out of his comfort zone.
His formative years included swapping life as a state-school student for study at Ivy League Princeton University.
“When I stepped foot into Princeton, I was surrounded by people who had been to boarding schools and high-level high schools and I barely knew how to write a paper,” Marsch tells BBC Radio Leeds’ Adam Pope.
“I barely knew how to discuss a topic in a course. I was a good student, but I wasn’t exposed to the level of education that most of the other people there were.
“I had to work too. My parents had to take out loans, I had loans and I finished off paying loans 15 years after university. You’re thrown in the deep end in all these situations and I guess I’m used to that again.
“This doesn’t faze me. Even coming here, maybe you could say, ‘OK, you come to Leeds United, you’re following a great manager, you’re in a relegation fight, you’re thrown in the deep end’, but OK, let’s go. I don’t really look at it as being fearful or having things to be afraid of.”
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Marsch, who grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, says he tries to embrace the “chip on my shoulder” and takes nothing for granted.
“We wanted to be gritty, we wanted to have to fight for things and my family was like that,” he says of his upbringing, adding he has been given a warm welcome at Leeds.
“Even in the community, when people have seen me, they’ve been so friendly and they’ve been so open and I know that everybody misses Marcelo, but they’ve tolerated me and supported me in a good way.
“And, internally here, I can only say that I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a club with more people who are positive, supportive and committed to helping in every way possible.”
Marsch first spoke to the club’s sporting director, Victor Orta, during lockdown in 2020 while managing Salzburg, and says he was not thinking too much about a move to the Premier League at that point.
“I always dreamed of potentially coming here and being a manager once I came to Europe, but I wasn’t sure where that would fit in my whole progression,” he adds.
“But I walked away from the meeting with Victor and Gaby Ruiz, the head of scouting who was along with him, feeling like, ‘what a great conversation, really smart guys’.”
An unsuccessful spell at RB Leipzig followed, but Marsch believes having arrived at Leeds two years later means “this club at this moment is perfect for me”.
“I really feel that,” he says. “I feel like the fit, the people, the mentality, the city, the players, Victor Orta, [CEO] Angus Kinnear, [owner] Andrea [Radrizzani] – I feel like everything just seems to fit.
“A lot of times my wife will say: ‘What’s the energy like?’ And I used to think, ‘what is she talking about?’ But now I realise it’s what the feeling is among everybody here and how it comes together. That’s the energy and the energy here just feels right.”
‘This job is about dreaming big’
Marsch made his mark as a midfielder with Chicago Fire and Chivas, but says: “I wish I was half as good as Kalvin Phillips.”
He wants to instil the kind of work-rate in his side he witnessed while observing different sports during a coaching spell at Princeton, especially rowing.
“They’re up often at 5am and they’re putting their boat in the water at 5.30am,” says Marsch. “Then, to see the workouts that they would put in on those mornings… I would often jog down from where I lived and go to the bridge and then watch them training.
“And it was dead quiet, the water was dead still, and you would see these athletes pouring physically everything they had into training every day and almost every moment.
“There was obviously form training, but most of it was about pushing the levels of physicality and exertion that they could every day.
“I was amazed by it and all I thought is how can you get a football team to encompass that? So it fits also with this type of football that I like to play with pressing and counter pressing and running.”
Marsch, who won two caps for the United States national team, is also not afraid to state his goal at Leeds is to one day be competing for silverware.
“I want this club to be everything it deserves to be,” he adds. “I want this club to just day by day, year by year, just see if we can climb the ladder a little bit and establish ourselves more and more.
“I know how important it was to get back to the Premier League and to be in this competition again – and certainly our focus right now is to maintain our ability to stay in this league.
“Then in the summer we have to really think: ‘OK, how do we really implement a plan that can help us stage by stage, step by step, get bigger and bigger and better and better?’
“And so what does success mean? I don’t do this without the the end goal in mind, and I don’t mind saying: ‘You want to win trophies.’
“This was a big thing in Germany. You’re not supposed to say that because you’re only setting yourself up for failure. But come on man, this job, this business is about dreaming big and pushing every day to try to achieve those goals.”
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