Marcelo Bielsa

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Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa 2018 (cropped).jpg
Bielsa in 2018
Personal information
Full name Marcelo Alberto Bielsa Caldera[1][2]
Date of birth (1955-07-21) 21 July 1955 (age 67)[2]
Place of birth Rosario, Argentina[2]
Position(s) Defender
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1975–1977 Newell's Old Boys 25 (0)
1978–1979 Instituto 40 (0)
1979–1980 Argentino de Rosario 48 (0)
Total 113 (0)
Managerial career
1982–1990 Newell's Old Boys (scout)
1987–1990 Newell's Old Boys II
1990–1992 Newell's Old Boys
1992–1993 Atlas (scout)
1993–1995 Atlas
1995–1996 América
1997–1998 Vélez Sarsfield
1998 Espanyol
1998–2004 Argentina
2004 Argentina U23
2007–2011 Chile
2011–2013 Athletic Bilbao
2014–2015 Marseille
2016 Lazio
2017 Lille
2018–2022 Leeds United
*Club domestic league appearances and goals

Marcelo Alberto Bielsa Caldera[2] ([maɾˈθelo alˈβeɾto ˈβjelsa],[a] nicknamed El Loco Bielsa [ˈloko ˈβjelsa],[a] meaning "The Crazy Bielsa"; born 21 July 1955) is an Argentine professional football manager.[3] Bielsa is widely considered as one of the most influential coaches of all time.[4][5][6][7] Most recently, he managed Leeds United. He is a former player and played as a defender for Newell's Old Boys, Instituto and Argentino de Rosario.

Bielsa played as a defender in Newell's Old Boys' First Division team, but retired when he was 25 to focus on coaching.[8][9] Bielsa has managed several football clubs and also the national teams of Argentina and Chile. He developed his career as coach of Newell's Old Boys where he won several titles in the early 1990s, before moving to Mexico in 1992, briefly coaching Club Atlas and Club América. Bielsa returned to Argentina in 1997 to manage Vélez Sarsfield, leading them to the 1998 league title (Clausura).[10]

With Chile, he achieved cult status due to the improved results of the national team under his leadership.[11] His personality and gestures during his stint in Chile captured the attention of media and unleashed a series of minor controversies both in sports and politics.[12][13] He had a two year-spell in Spain at Athletic Bilbao between 2011 and 2013, leading them to domestic and continental cup finals in the first season, though they lost both. In August 2015, Bielsa resigned as coach of Marseille after just over a year at the French club.

In June 2018, Bielsa was appointed manager of then Championship club Leeds United, leading the club to promotion back to the Premier League in 2020 after a 16-year absence as a result of winning the 2019–20 EFL Championship. Leeds United is the club at which he spent the most time as manager in his career;[14][15][16] taking charge of 170 games before departing in February 2022.

Managerial career[edit]

Bielsa on the cover of the June 1992 edition of El Gráfico

In 1980, after retiring from playing in football, Bielsa decided to start a career as a football manager. His first job was coaching the youth divisions of Newell's. In 1990, he was given the task of managing their first team, where he would go on to win the 1990 Torneo Apertura and the 1990–91 Torneo Integración, defeating Boca Juniors on penalties. Bielsa managed the squad that competed in the final of the 1992 Copa Libertadores, losing to São Paulo on penalties. Weeks after the Libertadores defeat, Bielsa and Newell's won the 1992 Torneo Clausura.[17][18] After a period in Mexico, he returned to Argentina and won another league title – the 1998 Clausura – while coaching Vélez Sarsfield.[19]

Argentina national team[edit]

In 1998, Bielsa was given the job of manager at Spanish La Liga side Espanyol, but he soon left after being offered the management of the Argentina national team later that year, taking over after a four-year period by Daniel Passarella as manager. At the 1999 Copa América, Argentina were beaten 3–0 by Colombia in a game where Argentina forward Martin Palermo missed three penalties and Bielsa was sent off. On Bielsa's post match reaction Tim Vickery of the BBC wrote,

In the press conference he sat staring into space, refusing to make eye contact with anyone – his usual stance. He was asked what he had made of the referee's performance. If the question was predictable, the answer was anything but. "One doesn't usually have the habit of commenting on referees, but…" he said, leaving everyone to believe he would continue with a rant about a joker running amok with a whistle. Instead he proceeded with, "but in respect of my expulsion, the referee was absolutely correct because I protested in an ill mannered form."[20]

Argentina won the qualification group for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, but did not progress through the first knockout round at the tournament.[21] Despite this, Bielsa stayed on his position as Argentine manager. The Albicelestes were runners-up in the 2004 Copa América[22] and won the 2004 Olympic Games' gold medal.[23] With the latter, his team became the first Latin American team to win the Olympic title in football since 1928 (when Uruguay beat Argentina in the final), the first Argentinian Olympic gold medal in 52 years.[24] Bielsa, however, resigned at the end of 2004, being succeeded by José Pékerman.[25]

Chile national team[edit]

Bielsa at a press conference in 2009, Santiago, Chile

Under Bielsa's guidance, the Chile national team underwent many positive and negative historic firsts. For the first time in its history, Chile was able to earn a point playing Uruguay away in Montevideo. Chile also suffered their worst defeat ever when playing at home during qualifiers losing 3–0 against Paraguay. This historic low was repeated with a Chile loss of 3–0 against Brazil, which also marked the first home loss against Brazil in a qualification game in nearly 50 years. On 15 October 2008, however, Bielsa masterminded a 1–0 win over his native Argentina, Chile's first win ever over Argentina in an official match; Argentina's loss prompted the resignation of its coach Alfio Basile.[26]

Chile soundly beat Peru 3–1 in Lima, a location where they last won in 1985. Bielsa then led Chile to a 2–0 win at the Defensores del Chaco Stadium against hosts Paraguay, obtaining an away triumph on this location for the first time in almost 30 years. The team continued the road to the 2010 World Cup with a victory over Bolivia, 4–0. After a 2–2 tie against Venezuela in Santiago, and travelling to Brazil to lose 2–4, Chile finally achieved qualification to the World Cup after defeating Colombia 4–2, a result that was also Chile's first ever away win against the Colombians.

By helping Chile qualify for a World Cup after two tournament absences, Bielsa attained great popularity there. His appointment brought about visible changes in the Chilean set-up, with the fast-tracking of young talents and a more attacking mindset away from home.[27] Due to the rumors that Bielsa would not continue to lead Chile after finishing their campaign at the World Cup, Chilean fans campaigned for him to remain as coach, with the movement titled "Bielsa is NOT leaving!"[28] Chile reached the round of 16 of the World Cup, where they were eliminated by Brazil.[29] On 2 August 2010, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, President of the Chilean Football Board, announced that Bielsa would remain with the Chile team until 2015.[30] Bielsa, however, stated that he would leave his position if Jorge Segovia was elected as the new President of the Chilean Football Board.[31] He followed through on this threat, despite Segovia's election being annulled, and resigned in February 2011.[32]

According to Hermógenes Pérez de Arce, President of Chile Sebastián Piñera had a personal long-term interest in removing Mayne-Nicholls from the Presidency of the Chilean Football Board and pushed for him to be replaced.[33] Bielsa subsequently made headlines for his brief and cold greeting to Piñera in the farewell before the 2010 FIFA World Cup.[34][13] Both Bielsa and Mayne-Nicholls had good relations with former president Michelle Bachelet, Piñera's political rival.[35]

Athletic Bilbao[edit]

Bielsa as Athletic Bilbao manager in 2012

On 8 July 2011, Josu Urrutia announced Athletic Bilbao would appoint Bielsa as manager after Urrutia promised the appointment of Bielsa in his campaign to become president of the club.[36] On 18 August 2011, Bielsa took charge of his first game at San Mamés, drawing 0–0 against Turkish side Trabzonspor in the UEFA Europa League play-offs.[37]

On 3 October 2011, Bielsa, a devout Roman Catholic, visited the Poor Clares of Guernica, Spain, alongside his wife. He wanted them to pray for his team, which they continued to do.[38] The players began to adjust to the changes as the season progressed, and following an away victory at local rivals Real Sociedad. Athletic Bilbao produced a good run of autumn form which included wins over Paris Saint-Germain, Osasuna and Sevilla, as well as credible draws with Valencia and Barcelona, then only to drop points at home to newly promoted Granada.[39] The team also finished top of their UEFA Europa League group and defeated Lokomotiv Moscow in the last 32.

Athletic then drew Manchester United and in impressive style won 3–2 in the first leg at Old Trafford, going on to knock them out of the tournament with a 2–1 victory at home. In the quarter-final, they went to Schalke 04 and won the first leg 4–2, despite being 2–1 down after a Raúl brace on 72 minutes. Athletic drew the second leg against Schalke 2–2, going through to the semi-finals with a favourable aggregate score of 6–4 to face Sporting Clube de Portugal.[40][41][42]

After Athletic lost the first leg of the semi-final 2–1 in Lisbon, they overturned this result in the return leg and ran out 4–3 winners on aggregate when Fernando Llorente scored the winner in the 88th minute. This set up a match with Atlético Madrid in an all-Spanish Europa League final.[43][44][45] Athletic, however, would lose 3–0 in the final, played on 9 May at the Arena Națională, Bucharest.[46][47][48] On 25 May 2012, Athletic also lost the Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón Stadium, falling 3–0.[49]

The 2012–13 season was a major disappointment for Athletic: the sale of key midfielder Javi Martínez to Bayern Munich, and striker Fernando Llorente being frozen out of the club over contract disagreements, led to the Lions' performances faltering. After finishing only in 12th place in La Liga, on 7 June 2013 Athletic's president revealed that Bielsa would not be offered a new contract. When it expired on 30 June 2013, he left the club.


Bielsa as manager of Marseille in 2015

On 2 May 2014, Marseille president Vincent Labrune announced the hiring of Bielsa as his team's coach on a French radio station. Labrune had previously confirmed an agreement in principle had been reached after the club's 0–0 Ligue 1 draw with Lille on 20 April. Bielsa signed a two-year contract set to begin after the 2014 World Cup, thus becoming the club's first Argentine coach.[50] He led them to the symbolic title of "autumn champions" after they beat Lille OSC on Matchday 19 (on 21 December 2014) of the 2014–15 Ligue 1 season before they faded to finish fourth in Ligue 1 at the end of the season.[51] On 8 August 2015, after Marseille lost their opening 2015–16 Ligue 1 match against Caen, Bielsa announced his resignation due to conflicts with the club's management, stating that changes had been made to his contract.[52]


On 5 July 2016, Bielsa was appointed manager of Italian club Lazio of Serie A.[53] However, just two days later, on 8 July, Bielsa quit as the club's manager,[54] prompting Lazio to issue legal action against Bielsa for breach of contract, suing him for €50 million.[55] Bielsa later explained that the club had been unable to recruit the players he had wanted by the deadline he had given to the club and did not feel that his needs would be supported during the transfer window.[56][57]


On 24 May 2017, Bielsa was unveiled as the new manager of Ligue 1 club Lille on a two-year contract.[58] Upon joining, Bielsa wanted to bring a more youthful side to Lille's squad[59] and before the season started he informed 11 experienced players including Vincent Enyeama, Marko Baša, Rio Mavuba and Eder that they could leave the club.[60] Then-Lille player Éric Bauthéac revealed that Bielsa informed the players he wanted to leave in a conversation before pre-season had even began.[61] Bielsa then signed younger 'promising' players such as Nicolas Pépé, Thiago Mendes, Thiago Maia, Kévin Malcuit, Fodé Ballo-Touré, Luiz Araújo and Edgar Ié.[62]

On 22 November 2017, Bielsa was suspended as coach after just 13 games in charge, with Lille announcing he had been "suspended momentarily as coach" pending further announcement. After Bielsa's initial suspension, Lille appointed a four-man 'technical coaching unit' of Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux.[63] On 15 December 2017, Lille announced Bielsa's contract had now been terminated.[64] Christophe Galtier was named as Bielsa's replacement as manager on 29 December 2017.[65] Sporting adviser Luis Campos said after Bielsa left that he felt the decision to let some of the experienced players leave was the key to the departure.[66]

Leeds United[edit]


On 15 June 2018, Bielsa became Championship club Leeds United's new head coach to replace Paul Heckingbottom, signing a two-year contract with the option of a third year. In doing so he became the highest-paid manager in Leeds United history.[67][68] Leeds won their opening game of the new 2018–19 Championship season, beating Stoke City 3–1 at Elland Road.[69] In his second game as manager, Bielsa's side beat Derby County 4–1 at Pride Park Stadium. Bielsa also won his third game in charge, 2–1 against Bolton in the EFL Cup, making him the first Leeds manager to win his opening three games since Jimmy Armfield in October 1974.[70] This run extended to four games following their 2–0 victory over Rotherham United, making him the first Leeds United manager ever to record four consecutive wins at the start of their tenure as head coach.[71] Leeds' winning run was threatened after a 2–2 draw with Swansea City, but a 79th-minute equaliser from former Swansea player Pablo Hernández ensured Leeds continued their unbeaten run.[72] After leading Leeds United through the first six Championship rounds unbeaten and to the top of the league, Bielsa was awarded Championship Manager of the Month for August 2018 by the EFL.[73]

Bielsa's unbeaten start to the season was ended on 22 September with a 2–1 home defeat, inflicted by Birmingham City. Che Adams’ first half brace was enough to beat Leeds, despite the home side having most of the possession and chances created.[74] Bielsa's Leeds had to endure an extensive injury list with several of his squad picking up significant injuries within the first few months of the season.[75] However, with Leeds still in the Championship automatic promotion positions at the start of December 2018 despite the injuries,[76] Bielsa was praised for his integration of Leeds United academy players to seamlessly cover the gaps of his injured squad[77] and over the course of the 2018–19 season he gave 10 players under 21 their senior debuts.[78] On 23 December after a dramatic late 2–3 win against Aston Villa,[79] at the exact half-way point of the season, Bielsa's Leeds side sat top of the Championship despite a continued extensive injury list.[80] Bielsa was nominated for the Championship Manager of the Month award for December 2018,[81] but lost out to Hull City manager Nigel Adkins.[82]

Before a 2–0 victory over Derby County on 11 January 2019 to further Leeds' lead at the top of the Championship table,[83] in the pre match build up Bielsa admitted he had sent a spy to the Derby training ground,[84] after reports emerged in the press that a man was spotted the previous day outside the Derby training ground.[85][86] Derby manager Frank Lampard was critical of Bielsa's method.[87] On 12 January, Leeds United released a statement in response to the incident.[88] Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino described the incident as "not a big deal" and commonplace in Argentina.[89] Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, when asked about Bielsa due to his scouting methods, described him as "the best" and said "everyone who works with him is a better player and the teams are better. That's why he's a special manager and special person".[90] On 15 January, the EFL announced they would be investigating the incident.[91]

With intense media scrutiny on what was coined 'Spygate' in the media, dividing opinion worldwide,[92][93][94] on 16 January 2019 Bielsa announced a press briefing, where he gave a detailed analysis of his research on a PowerPoint presentation to the gathered media and journalists, detailing his meticulousness, thoroughness and preparation over his opponents,[95][96] with some journalists in attendance describing it as a 'coaching masterclass' and 'genius'.[97][98][99] Bielsa's 'Spygate' saga was resolved on the 18 February, when Leeds were fined £200,000 by the EFL for breach of a portion of Rule 3.4 of EFL Regulations ("In all matters and transactions relating to The League each Club shall behave towards each other Club and The League with the utmost good faith.),[100][101] with the EFL also announcing a new rule as a result, that teams could not watch opposition training up to 72 hours before a game.[100] It was subsequently revealed, by Bielsa, that he paid the £200,000 fine in full out of his own pocket.[102] With Bielsa's Leeds in second place with just four games to go and thus in the automatic promotion position ahead of rivals Sheffield United, on 19 April, Leeds lost in a shock 1–2 defeat against relegation threatened Wigan Athletic, with Leeds playing 70 minutes against 10 men after Wigan had Cédric Kipré sent off. The result proved costly, as Sheffield United overtook them on goal difference.[103]

On 28 April 2019, Bielsa made one of the most contentious managerial calls of the Championship season in Leeds' penultimate league game against Aston Villa at Elland Road.[104][105][106] In the 72nd minute of a tight game between two teams who were essentially jostling for position in the playoffs, albeit Leeds 'mathematically' still able to gain automatic promotion, when Villa's Jonathan Kodjia was injured and remained on the ground, Tyler Roberts passed the ball up the line to Mateusz Klich who took it up the left wing and put the ball into the far corner past Jed Steer. The goal – the first of the game – sparked pandemonium, with Villa's Conor Hourihane, Ahmed Elmohamady, Neil Taylor and Leeds' Patrick Bamford caught up in a fracas with Klich at its centre, which involved several additional players from both sides and was eventually broken up by referee Stuart Attwell, Elland Road stewards and other players. In the immediate aftermath, Attwell sent off the peripherally involved Anwar El Ghazi with a straight red card (subsequently rescinded by The FA[107]) and Bielsa's response to his players was, in the interests of fairness and after consulting with Villa boss Dean Smith,[108] that his team should allow an unchallenged equaliser to be scored (the manager can be seen shouting "Give the goal! Give the goal!" from the touchline). From the restart, Albert Adomah essentially walked the ball into net unchallenged by 10 Leeds players, with only a frustrated and disbelieving Pontus Jansson giving chase and nearly dispossessing the forward. The game remained 1–1 and put the second automatic promotion spot mathematically out of reach for Leeds and see them enter the play-offs. Bielsa and the team were subsequently awarded the 2019 FIFA Fair Play Award on 23 September 2019, for their actions during this game,[109] with the FIFA citation noting that "The game finished 1–1, ultimately allowing their promotion rivals Sheffield United to guarantee their automatic spot in the Premier League, at Leeds’ expense. What was at stake makes Bielsa's act of sportmanship all the more remarkable".

At the end of the 2018–19 season, with Leeds missing out on automatic promotion, Bielsa said that he refused to blame the club for missing out on signing winger Daniel James whose deal fell through dramatically on deadline day in the 2019 January transfer window, but said "I'm not underlying the importance of the absence of (Dan) James".[110] Leeds finished the regular season in third place and qualified for the playoffs, after an injury hit season, Leeds also had several key players out injured for their playoff campaign.[111] In the semi-final playoffs versus sixth-placed Derby County, they were beaten on 3–4 aggregate over the two legs. Despite taking a 1–0 win at Pride Park into the home leg at Elland Road, Bielsa's Leeds lost 4–2 in an encounter that saw both teams reduced to 10 men and Derby progress to the final against Aston Villa.[112] With Bielsa denying the narrative of 'Bielsa Burnout'[113] (journalists' theory that his sides tire in the second half of a season),[114][115] Bielsa said one of the big reasons Leeds failed to gain promotion was their profligacy in front of goal over the course of the season, saying that statistically Leeds needed several more chances to score compared to their league rivals.[116][117]

2019–20: Promotion to the Premier League[edit]

Banner in honour of Bielsa in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, following Leeds United's promotion to the Premier League

On 28 May 2019, Bielsa and Leeds jointly exercised the option on Bielsa's contract to continue as Leeds head coach for the following 2019–20 season.[118] After Bielsa had signed his new contract, Leeds announced the signings of Hélder Costa, Ben White (loan), Jack Harrison (loan), Jack Clarke (loan), Illan Meslier (loan) and Eddie Nketiah (loan) in their bid to get back to the Premier League in the 2019–20 EFL Championship season. Defender Pontus Jansson was told by Bielsa to return to training later than the rest of the first team squad in order to give him time to find a new club, with him no longer in Bielsa's plans for the upcoming season. Jansson was subsequently sold to Brentford.[119][120]

After beating Yorkshire rivals Barnsley on 15 September 2019, Bielsa's Leeds side remained top of the Championship after seven games during the 2019–20 EFL Championship.[121] Leeds continued to impress throughout November and Bielsa won the EFL Championship Manager of the Month for November.[122][123]

Bielsa's side returned to top of the league on 29 December 2019 thus ending the decade at the top of the Championship after a 4–5 victory in a dramatic win against Birmingham City.[124] On 1 January 2020, Leeds drew with then-second-placed West Bromwich Albion in a 1–1 draw. The result kept Leeds on top of the table on goal difference.[125] However, after the game it was revealed that Arsenal had recalled Eddie Nketiah.[126] Bielsa had also lost loanee Jack Clarke who had been recalled by Tottenham Hotspur,[127] with Bielsa stating that he would be looking to replace both players.[128] The club secured replacements for both players during the January transfer window, signing Jean-Kévin Augustin on loan from RB Leipzig and Ian Poveda on a four-and-a-half year contract from Manchester City.[129][130]

After the English professional football season was paused in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season was resumed during June. Under Bielsa, Leeds United secured promotion to the Premier League on 17 July 2020 with two matches remaining of the 2019–20 season and also became the EFL Championship Champions for the 2019–20 season, finishing 10 points ahead of second placed West Bromwich Albion.[131]

On 18 July, after Bielsa had delivered promotion, a street in Leeds city centre was renamed 'Marcelo Bielsa Way'.[132] After the achievement of being crowned Champions of the Championship and guiding Leeds to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, on 27 July 2020, Bielsa was named the LMA Championship Manager of the Year 2020.[133] On 31 July, Bielsa won the Championship Manager of the Month award for July.[134] On 11 September 2020, Bielsa signed a new contract to stay at Leeds for the 2020–21 Premier League season.[135]


On 12 September 2020 Bielsa's first game as head coach in the Premier League ended in a 4–3 defeat at Anfield against reigning champions Liverpool.[136][137] Conversely the first Premier League game at Elland Road for 16 years saw Leeds come out 4–3 victors against fellow promoted club Fulham.

These two games set the tone for a free scoring, free conceding first half to the season, earning Bielsa and his team many plaudits for their style of play and culminating in Bielsa placing 3rd in The Best FIFA Football Coach award on 17 December.[138] As if for emphasis, the two week period following the awards witnessed a 5–2 home win against Newcastle United on 16 December,[139] followed by a 6–2 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford;[140] only for the year to end in a 5–0 away victory at West Brom nine days later.[141]

Despite the New Year starting poorly with a 3–0 away loss to Tottenham,[142] and an ignominious 3–0 FA Cup defeat to Crawley Town,[143] Bielsa's Leeds ended the campaign strongly. They lost just one of their last 11 games while securing impressive results against the league's top sides. This included draws at home against Manchester United, Chelsea and defending champions Liverpool, as well as victories against Tottenham at home and champions-elect Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium (despite playing most of the match with just ten men). Leeds United eventually finished ninth; securing more points and scoring more goals than any other promoted side for 20 years.[144]


On 27 February 2022, Leeds and Bielsa parted ways after a streak of four consecutive losses across which Leeds conceded 17 goals, leaving them 16th in the table, two points above Burnley and one above Everton with these teams, however, both with two games less than Leeds. The fans were still singing Bielsa’s name even after poor performances.[145][146][147]

Coaching style[edit]

Hailed as one of the most influential managers of all time, introducing a third wave ideology in Argentine coaching, previously influenced by César Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo.[citation needed] Pep Guardiola has described Bielsa as the best in the world.[148] He has been a heavy influence on his former players, many of whom later became coaches (Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone, Marcelo Gallardo) [149]

Bielsa's signature formation in his squads is the 3–3–3–1 formation, which he made famous and brought to the front of the world's mainstream football scene during his coaching tenures in with the Argentina and Chile national teams and Marseille.[citation needed]

Although the 3–3–3–1 and its variations the 3–3–1–3 and the 3–4–3 "diamond" were occasionally used by other managers at UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup level before Bielsa - notably by Johan Cruyff at Barcelona,[150] by Louis van Gaal at Ajax,[151] by Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven[152] and Australia,[153] by Vicente del Bosque at Real Madrid,[154] by Ottmar Hitzfeld at Bayern Munich,[154] by Co Adriaanse at Porto,[155][156] by Frank Pagelsdorf at Hamburger SV,[157][158] by Mircea Lucescu at Galatasaray,[159] by Ivica Osim at Sturm Graz,[160][161][162] by Angelos Anastasiadis at Panathinaikos,[163] by Dušan Bajević at AEK Athens[164] and by Yuri Semin at FC Lokomotiv Moscow[165] and Russia[166][167] - it was Bielsa who first made it his standard formation and popularized it worldwide during his tenures with Argentina,[168] Chile[169] at Olympique de Marseille.[170] and occasionally at Athletic de Bilbao[171][172]

For this formation, the players are: three defenders, three midfielders (one central midfielder with two wide players / wing backs), three attacking midfielders (one No.10 and two wingers) and one centre-forward. The 3–3–3–1 allows quick transitions from defending to attacking, as many of the players used in the formation can perform both defensive and attacking tasks. Moreover, it establishes superiority in numbers in every part of the field, since with this formation his teams could defend with seven players, attack with six or seven players, or protect a scoreline by overwhelming the midfield with six players. To use 3–3–3–1, all players have to quickly set to attacking positions when the ball is in the team's possession, and all players have to aggressively press and recover the ball when it is not in possession, so it requires great teamwork and understanding between teammates.[173]

When he took the Argentina job, at the end of his first training session Bielsa handed the players a pencil and a little slip of paper. He wanted them to write down whether they wanted to line up with a back three or a four. He went through all the replies. "Back four, back four, back four... This clearly shows your preference for a line of four. But I'm telling you that from now on we're going to be playing with a back three. See you tomorrow." And he won them over, bringing them round to his way of thinking.

— BBC South American football correspondent Tim Vickery.[20]

He adapted to an attacking 4–3–3 at Athletic Bilbao (as seen in the 2012 UEFA Europa League Final), with full-backs pushing forward and a converted midfielder in the back line also involved in build-up play, with the pressing and coordination elements still in evidence.

In the 2018–19 season at Leeds United, Bielsa introduced a 4–1–4–1 formation,[174] with Kalvin Phillips converted from a box-to-box or attacking midfielder into the deep-lying midfielder.[175] When facing a team who played with two central strikers, Bielsa would switch to the 3–3–3–1,[176] with Phillips dropping further back into the defensive line as a centre-back or "sweeper",[177] or Luke Ayling shifting from right back.

This signature style of Bielsa's has had so much influence in the football scene that many present coaches – former players under Bielsa's command – are heavily influenced by the style, such as Gerardo Martino, Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone, Matías Almeyda, Eduardo Berizzo, Mauricio Pellegrino, Santiago Solari, Andrea Pisanu[178]and Marcelo Gallardo. Current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola credited Bielsa as his tactical inspiration and called him the "best manager in the world" in 2012.[179] Jorge Sampaoli, former manager of Argentina, Sevilla FC and Chile, has been described as a "disciple" of Bielsa.

Former Argentina national team captain Roberto Ayala, a defender under Bielsa, stated: "Sometimes we wouldn't see any of the strikers, because he'd have them training at a different time, and it was the same with the midfielders".[180]

Bielsa is known for watching and collecting numerous football videos to the point of obsession. He edits and analyses each video for each individual player. He also uses statistical software and other technological tools to prepare for games. John Carlin, an English journalist, has stated that Bielsa has "the most learned football library on the planet".[181]

Bielsa likes to systematise the game. He says that there are 29 distinct formations in football and believes that every young player should be given the opportunity to experience each of them.[182][better source needed]

Discovered by Bielsa, prolific former Argentina national team striker Gabriel Batistuta proclaimed Bielsa to be "the one who taught me how to train on rainy days, he taught me everything".[183][184] 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."[185] Chile international Alexis Sánchez said of Bielsa: "I learned a lot from him and it is because of him that I am who I am."[186] Bayern Munich player Javi Martínez who worked with Bielsa at Bilbao, said that 'Bielsa taught me a lot, how to play as a centre-back and to learn a different style of football, everyone should work with him at least once in their life.'[187]

Bielsa is credited with the rise of the Leeds United and England international player Kalvin Phillips, with former Leeds United Manager Howard Wilkinson stating: "Bielsa can take huge credit for the player that Phillips has developed into".[188]

Manchester City and France player Benjamin Mendy noted for his improvement under Bielsa at Marseille, said Bielsa had "given back to him the strength and aggressiveness lost last year."[189][190] His club and international teammate Aymeric Laporte who was given his debut by Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao, described him as a 'mentor' figure,[190] while fellow France international Dimitri Payet who worked with Bielsa at Marseille said: "The season with Marcelo Bielsa made me grow, as a man and especially on the field, in the game, he gave me important bases that I still use today." Former Lille player Nicolas Pépé (now at Arsenal) who was signed by Bielsa for Lille described Bielsa as 'special' and a 'great coach'.[191]

Bielsa's unique style continued at Leeds, where to receive a work permit from the UK government, he had to prove "exceptional talent": he did so by compiling a dossier of every formation used in every Championship match during the 2017–18 season, with notes on frequency and variations. Once at the Yorkshire club, he instituted all-day training sessions, gave the first team their own private space at Thorp Arch, and had sleeping quarters installed in his office so he could devote more time to match analysis. As a motivational tactic, Bielsa once made players pick up litter around the training ground for three hours, as he had been told that was how long an average Leeds fan worked to afford a ticket.[192]

Some critics have argued that the taxing demands of Bielsa's management style have led to his teams starting a season brightly before a dip in performances as players begin to tire.[193]

In August 2019, Bielsa was one of the main stars of Leeds United documentary Take Us Home documenting the 2018–19 season on Amazon Prime, featuring in several episodes in voiceover, before doing an interview for the final episode "The End". The documentary was narrated by actor and Leeds United fan Russell Crowe.[194][195][196] After Leeds' 4–0 defeat of then-chasing rivals West Bromwich Albion at home on 1 March 2019 in Take Us Home, Bielsa (through a translator) mused on the nature of victory:

I came to be part of a programme that has goals, and of course we are aware of the goals wanted by the city and the club, the players, the fans, everybody. But I also can't say that my only interest is winning. What also interests me is the way we build to the victory.[197]

Managerial statistics[edit]

As of match played 26 February 2022[198]
Managerial record by team and tenure
Team From To Record
P W D L Win %
Newell's Old Boys 1 July 1990 30 June 1992 97 39 38 20 040.2
Atlas 1 July 1993 31 January 1995 77 29 20 28 037.7
América 1 July 1995 25 March 1996 33 10 14 9 030.3
Vélez Sársfield 1 July 1997 30 June 1998 44 23 14 7 052.3
Espanyol 10 July 1998 19 October 1998 12 3 3 6 025.0
Argentina 20 October 1998 15 September 2004 85 56 18 11 065.9
Chile 11 July 2007 4 February 2011 51 28 8 15 054.9
Athletic Bilbao 7 July 2011 30 June 2013 113 43 31 39 038.1
Marseille 17 May 2014 8 August 2015 41 21 7 13 051.2
Lazio 6 July 2016 8 July 2016 0 0 0 0 !
Lille 24 May 2017 15 December 2017 14 3 4 7 021.4
Leeds United 1 June 2018 27 February 2022 170 81 30 59 047.6
Total 737 335 190 212 045.5



Newell's Old Boys

Vélez Sarsfield


Athletic Bilbao

Leeds United



  1. ^ a b In isolation, Bielsa is pronounced [ˈbjelsa].


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