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Marcelo Bielsa: The Most Influential Coach of the 21st Century

Managerial success is measured in silverware, but rarely do we consider the long-term influence of a coach on their players and peers. Marcelo Bielsa can’t boast a lavish trophy cabinet, but what he does enjoy is the acclaim of some of the greatest managers of the modern era.

El Loco—The Madman

Influenced by the pragmatic Carlos Bilardo and the expressive César Luis Menotti, Bielsa adopted the best qualities of their contrasting philosophies and molded them into a distinctive style of his own. He took the repetitive training drills and meticulous opposition research from Bilardo and married them with a love of attacking football and the entertaining modus operandi of Menotti’s sides.

Combine those ideas with an immense adoration of Total Football’s fluidity and the intense pressing of Ajax teams from the 1970s, as well as Óscar Tabárez’s focus on youth and quick transitions, and you get one of the greatest footballing philosophies of all time. Bielsa was a revolutionary, earning him the nickname El Loco—The Madman.

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Bielsa’s teams rely heavily on fitness and discipline. His manic press and quick transitions ask a lot of his players. He likes to play vertically with a lot of fluidity and positional flexibility; dependable passing from deep and the movement of midfielders and outside backs help create overloads and overwhelm the opposition.

The four pillars of Bielsa’s philosophy—permanent concentration, movement, rotation, and repenitización (a kind of improvisation)—have inspired the most prominent minds in football today. Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pochettino, and Tata Martino all played under the 65-year-old and are profoundly influenced by their former coach. One of his biggest admirers is Pep Guardiola—the two even met up after the Spaniard retired in 2006 to pontificate about the game—but also Zinedine Zidane and countless others idolize the Argentine.

Hardships

Throughout his illustrious career, Bielsa has experienced his fair share of suffering. His Argentina side crashed out in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup, despite entering the tournament as one of the favorites. He wept uncontrollably in the locker room afterward and had to step away from football for three months.

In 2016, he lasted just two days at Lazio before terminating his contract, and at Lille, he ousted numerous senior members of the squad, ultimately leading to his sacking.

Restoring Former Glory

After his unsuccessful stint in France, Bielsa ventured into English football for the first time in his career. Leeds United had gone through eleven managers in the 2010s before his arrival in 2018, and it’s fair to say he’s made an impact. He has revitalized a fallen giant and has brought passion back to Elland Road.

In typical Bielsa fashion, it hasn’t been without controversy, though. Last season, he told his team to let Aston Villa score uncontested after Leeds took advantage of an injury; and of course, who could forget Spygate.

This campaign, Marcelo Bielsa has returned Leeds to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years, something countless others before him failed to do. It's a testament to what an incredible manager he is and how much he loves football regardless of the challenge he faces.

 

Illustration by @inakivector.

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