Whatever Jesse Marsch’s heart desires from English football, Christmas cards are not.
A month into the season and his run-in list shows a scrape with Bruno Lage, a shadow cast over Thomas Tuchel, a booking from Graham Salisbury, a red card from Robert Jones and, very close, a partridge in a pear tree. It’s “human behavior 101” as Marsch defined it in April, his temper on display in the heat of battle and something of a mental ploy, but there’s a time when angry head coaches risk becoming enemies of the state.
Marsch hasn’t seen the best of England officials and as he pointed out last week there is an inexperience within the ranks of the Select group which has shown itself in Leeds games over the past fortnight. But game after game, Marsch is toeing a finer line. A yellow card came from Salisbury last weekend, the height of sarcasm as Marsch goaded him and urged him to take his name. A red card followed at Brentford on Saturday, the consequence of an abandoned penalty appeal and Marsch going over the tap.
It’s the heat of the moment but it’s also calculated and Marsch, somewhat haphazardly, has made it clear that some of what he does on the touchline is emotion by design. If the decisions go against him, he rejects them. If, as happened on Saturday, a dubious tackle on Crysencio Summerville goes through without a VAR check for a penalty, he is inclined to sprint down the touchline, vent on an assistant and berate the referee for not running towards the screen. Jones got to the near sideline early enough, but only to consult with the fourth official and point Marsch into the tunnel. In the coin toss on when Marsch would incur the wrath of the establishment, Brentford called.
His defense was to say that when Brentford were awarded a penalty in the first half, the start of the London club’s 5-2 win over Leeds, he made the decision fairly and frankly, even though he was not not convinced Luis Sinisterra’s tackle on Ivan Toney deserved it. It was the 30th minute and a scenario in which Jones had avoided making up his mind completely. There were no penalties and no free kicks awarded against Toney, just a shrug that threw the incident upstairs.
“When the wording is clear and obvious and the decision takes so long…” Marsch said without finishing. “I don’t think that’s a penalty and if it is, that’s incredibly sweet.” He felt like the threshold to award them was supposed to increase this season and when Summerville fell later in the game, no one but Marsch seemed interested.
Even so, the penny drops that by tackling the umpiring standard with a hammer, Marsch puts himself in danger. Wasn’t his approach likely to influence how the referees treated him? “Yeah, I witness it right away,” he said. “I need to have more conversations. I don’t know how the avenues work or who to talk to and what to say. I know our club have reached out (to the authorities) but maybe it’s time for me to have discussions. On game days I was a bit frustrated, especially the last three games. Not seeing Aaron Hickey’s challenge on Summerville again was, Marsch said, “a lack of respect”.
He undoubtedly has the devil in him, although it is often hidden. Players who know him say that beyond the open communication, cuddly personality and beaming smile, he enjoys circling his teams with a bad streak. But it’s fair to say that within the Premier League’s managerial fraternity there will be few coaches making the referees talk to each other more than he does. The result was a heavy defeat in London that ended with Marsch’s assistants Mark Jackson and Rene Maric holding the fort as Leeds retreated into play only to capitulate again.
Surrenders were the biggest problem in London, with a defense retreating whenever the outcome hung in the balance. Ivan Toney terrorized Leeds, winning a penalty and scoring it, drilling a brilliant free-kick into the top corner for 2-0, then diving into an even bolder chip for 3-1 in the second half. His hat-trick was both sublime and a gift, with Diego Llorente missing a challenge, Illan Meslier rushing to try and clear the floor and Toney holding his nerve to send the ball into an empty net. It went 3-2 when Marc Roca turned in a low cross from Luke Ayling but, immediately, Bryan Mbeumo ran behind Llorente and stabbed home a Robin Koch shot. Llorente’s afternoon was drowning in mud and Brentford knocked him out again in injury time when Yoane Wissa stormed in, robbed him and finished him off with a low shot.
No resistance or panache at the other end of the pitch was going to make up for such a defense and Leeds had gone from five goals in five league games to conceding five in an afternoon. Liam Cooper was on the bench on Saturday and having hinted beforehand that in his mind Cooper and Robin Koch were his ideal centre-back duo, Marsch could find himself heading in that direction before Nottingham Forest switch to Elland Road next Monday. “Sometimes we put our centre-backs in difficult situations,” he said. Llorente had done a great job himself. Toney spent the whole afternoon devouring red meat.
Jones didn’t help either, but mind games with officials are hard to dictate. Like the average casino, they usually end with the house winning as split decisions get tougher and head coaches lose by landing on red. There was more to the Brentford defeat anyway and, as Marsch lamented the loss of Dan James on deadline day in what he said was a one in, one out strategy at Elland Road – a comment that will need further explanation – there was plenty to talk about closer to home, starting with a defense that will pay for such shaky performances as surely as Marsch asks for his card to be marked.