You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!
Saturday, 2nd Jun 2018 23:41 by Tim Whelan
This week’s dismissal of Paul Heckinbottom means that Leeds are now searching for our tenth ‘head coach’ in the four and a half years the club has spent under Italian ownership, only one of whom has lasted a full season. So who on earth will be potty enough to want the job now?
Step forward 62 year-old Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa, a man who goes by the nickname ‘Loco’, or ‘mad’ after his many eccentric episodes during his many years in the game. This includes a spell of only two days in charge of Lazio, which is brief even by our recent standards! Leeds are said to have been in talks with him for a while, and to have begun the process of applying for a work permit for him to take over.
The timing of Heckingbottom’s dismissal seemed a bit odd, coming a couple of weeks after the end of the season, but presumably the club waited until they were confident that the talks with Bielsa were progressing before they made their move. Angus Kinnear has told the Daily Telegraph Leeds are “confident of making a quick appointment”.
Bielsa began coaching after he retired from playing in 1980, but it wasn’t until 1990 that he became a first team manager, when he took charge of Newell's Old Boys in his native Argentina, the team he had supported as a boy. After managing four other clubs in different countries he was offered the job of managing the national side.
He guided Argentina to the 2002 world cup finals, but they failed to get out of the group as England and Sweden progressed instead. You might remember England beating them 1-0 through a David Beckham penalty awarded by legendary Italian referee Collina after Michael Owen went down in the box. But Bielsa had more luck in 2004, as Argentina won the gold medal in the Olympic games.
Next stop was a successful spell in charge of Chile’s national side, and he became hugely popular when they qualified for the 2010 world cup after missing the two previous tournaments. But it ended on a sour note after he fell out with several members of the Chilean Football board and carried out his threat to resign if Jorge Segovia was elected as President of the board.
His career since has been spent in European club football. First at Athletic Bilbao, who he guided to the 2011/12 Europa League final after a very impressive win over Manchester United in both legs. But the second season was a disappointment, though he wasn’t helped by the sale of a couple of key players.
Next stop was Marseille when again things turned sour after a promising start, and he left after falling out with the powers that be at the club. Then came that infamous two days at Lazio, where his resignation prompted the Italian club to sue him for breach of contract. His most recent job was at French club Lille, but their players failed to grasp his tactical ideas and he left after 14 games in charge.
Bielsa is known for unorthodox tactics and training methods, but some of the world’s top coaches cite him as an influence. Even Pep Guardiola has credited Bielsa as his tactical inspiration and called him the "best manager in the world" in 2012. Pep is known for his attention to detail, but has nothing on Bielsa who claimed to have watched videos of 1800 matches during close season.
This obsession and intensity probably explain some of his extreme behaviour. Franch website Ligue 1 quoted LOSC president Lopez as saying "I've rarely seen someone suffer like he does after a defeat. On an emotional level he really takes things to an extreme.” And Author Thomas Goubin said "His bosses at Atlas Guadalajara told me that Marcelo Bielsa would even cry after a defeat."
While Jorge Griffa (Bielsa’s mentor in Argentina) told ‘Ligue 1’ " He's always been slightly crazy in the way he acts. His friends have always said he's mad. In reality, he's isn't, but he's always found it hard to control his emotions. After certain defeats, I had to lock him in the toilets so that he could calm down a bit. I had to be careful because during those moments we didn't know what he could be capable of doing."
Fernando Llorente, who played under Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao, said of his former coach, "At first he seems tough and he may even annoy you with his persistence and don't-take-no-for-an-answer resilience, but in the end he is a genius."
And he certainly doesn’t take kindly to criticism, which probably explains some of the disagreements he has had with authority and different clubs and national associations. And there is a story that when the fans of one of his clubs came to his house to protest about recent results he answered the door carrying a hand grenade!
His favourite formation is 3–3–3–1, involving three defenders, three midfielders, three attacking midfield players and a centre forward. This requires players to move quickly into attacking positions when we’ve got the ball and to press the opposition when we haven’t, the idea being to overwhelm the opposition by weight of numbers in every area of the field.
But this calls for a lot of teamwork and players who can grasp his complex tactics, as well as the fitness to be able to get up and down the field to be in position at the right time. Some observers think this is why a couple of his spells in charge of different clubs have gone sour after a promising start, as the intensity of it all causes the players to ‘burn out’.
And what does the man himself say about his ‘El Loco’ reputation? “I cannot consider myself through the definition of my own nickname. I think I am a normal person. And I don't have a lot more to add." Whether he is really Loco or not, we can be sure of one thing. If he is appointed as the next head coach of Leeds United then life will not be dull!
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