Jesse Marsch always talked a good game. He spoke constantly of "the group" at Leeds United and his "process","mood" and "development". Mortifying defeats after dominating possession would be varnished with his pride in the performance and certainty that a pot of gold lay at the end of the rainbow. Palpably a decent and personable man despite the occasional Rumpelstiltskin act on the touchline, Marsch maintained a relentless positivity that would have made Norman Vincent Peale sound like Dad's Army's Private Frazer by comparison. He was all about the big picture during 343 turbulent days at Elland Road. But results did for him in the end.
When he took over last February, Leeds were 16th and two points above the relegation places. He leaves them in 17th, out of the drop zone on goal difference, having won eight of his 32 Premier League matches in charge spread over both seasons, with nine draws and 15 defeats. Since beating Chelsea on August 21, Leeds have won two, drawn five and lost 10.
Leeds stayed up by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the 2021-22 season but their form under the man the board chose to replace Marcelo Bielsa has made chairman Andrea Radrizzani's pre-season assertion that "it's impossible" for Leeds to experience "a situation similar to last season" sound preposterous.
Match-going fans know the crowd has been restless for months, not weeks, and at 3-1 down at home against Fulham, which turned into a fourth successive October defeat, his position looked terminal. Scrambling thrilling last-gasp wins at Anfield and coming from 3-1 down at home against Bournemouth to win 4-3 bought Marsch some latitude. But lately most supporters have been turning up more in hope than expectation to watch a team that looks less than the sum of its parts, playing a reductive style, their confidence on the floor and seemingly either unable to understand his tactical strategy or not believe in it.
Although Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha were sold in the summer, Leeds have reinvested the proceeds and about a further £50 million on 11 players with Weston McKennie also joining on loan with an option to buy for £33 million if they stay up. No Leeds manager has ever had more backing in the market and four of the players - Rasmus Kristensen, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and Max Wöber - had worked with Marsch before. And yet even they haven't flourished sticking to the instructions he emphasised in a poster on the dressing room wall: minimal width, vertical, counter-press, swarm.
The style bred congestion, particularly against counter-attacking teams who would pounce on a defensive error to take the lead against them and then drop their defence deep. Leeds would huff and puff for ages because the coach told them the opposition defence was made of straw or wood only to find it was built of brick.
Sometimes they resembled a man jiggling the wrong key in a lock, convinced the door would yield to breezy optimism rather than giving up and going round the side. It did come good on occasion - against Chelsea and Liverpool - but worked best against adventurous teams who made mistakes rather than those mired in the bottom half who were prepared to smash and grab. Essentially it was scavenger football for a fanbase that wants its team to be predators.
Leeds' ownership is split between Radrizzani's 56 per cent and 49ers Enterprises 44. A deal has been agreed for the latter to assume full control of the club next year and the final price, obviously, will be dependent on which league the club is in. It has been said that Marsch and the signing of three USA internationals was part of a drive to expand Leeds' commercial reach in North America and that the owners would be loath to get rid of the loquacious and genial manager, especially one with a tailor-made squad. But for all his talk of momentum building, with results so poor and the cost of relegation so ruinous, the only momentum was propelling him out of the door.