Bielsa at a press conference in 2012
|Full name||Marcelo Alberto Bielsa|
|Date of birth||21 July 1955|
|Place of birth||Rosario, Argentina|
|Height||1.84 m (6 ft 1⁄2 in)|
|Leeds United (manager)|
|1977–1978||Newell's Old Boys||25||(0)|
|1990–1992||Newell's Old Boys|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Marcelo Alberto Bielsa (Spanish pronunciation: [maɾˈselo alˈβeɾto ˈβjelsa],[a] nicknamed Loco Bielsa [ˈloko ˈβjelsa],[a] English: Madman Bielsa; born 21 July 1955) is an Argentine football manager, currently in charge of English side Leeds United.
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, leading that team to several wins in the early 1990s, then moved to Mexico in 1992, briefly coaching Club Atlas and Club América. Bielsa returned to Argentina in 1997 to manage Vélez Sarsfield. With Chile, he achieved cult status due to the improved results of the national team under his leadership. 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. 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 losing both. On 8 August 2015, Bielsa resigned as coach of Marseille after just over a year at the French club.
On 15 June 2018 he was appointed manager of Leeds United, before which his most recent role had been at Lille.
Early years and playing career
As a child, Bielsa opted to support Newell's Old Boys instead of neighbors and eternal rivals Rosario Central, the team his father passionately followed. Coming from a family steeped in politics and law (including his older brother Rafael and sister María Eugenia), Bielsa decided to break with tradition by dedicating his life to football. Bielsa played as a defender in Newell's Old Boys' First Division team, but retired early at the age of 25.
In 1980, after retiring from playing in football, Bielsa decided to start a career as a football manager after qualifying as a physical education teacher. 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. After a period in Mexico, he returned to Argentina and won another league title – the 1998 Clausura – while coaching Vélez Sarsfield.
Argentina national team
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 America, 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 writes,
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."
Argentina won the qualification group for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, but did not progress through the first knockout round at the tournament. Despite this, Bielsa stayed on his position as Argentine manager. The Albicelestes were runners-up in the 2004 Copa América and won the 2004 Olympic Games' gold medal. 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. Bielsa, however, resigned at the end of 2004, being succeeded by José Pékerman.
Chile national team
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.
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. 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!" On 2 August 2010, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, president of Chile's Asociación Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, announced that Bielsa would remain with the Chile team until 2015. Bielsa, however, stated that he would leave his position if Jorge Segovia was elected as President of the Chilean Football Board. He followed through on this threat, despite Segovia's election being annulled, and resigned in February 2011.
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 have done ever since. 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. 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.
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. Athletic, however, would lose 3–0 in the final, played on 9 May at the Arena Națională, Bucharest. On 25 May 2012, Athletic also lost the Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón Stadium, falling 3–0.
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.
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. 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.
On 6 July 2016, Bielsa was appointed manager of Italian Serie A club Lazio. However, just two days later, on 8 July, Bielsa quit as the club's manager, prompting Lazio to issue legal action against Bielsa for breach of contract, suing him for €50 million.
On 24 May 2017, Bielsa was unveiled as the new manager of Ligue 1 club Lille OSC on a 2 year contract. Upon joining, Bielsa wanted to bring a more youthful side to Lille's squad 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. Then Lille OSC player Éric Bauthéac revealed that Bielsa informed the players he wanted to leave in a conversation before pre-season had even began.
On 22 November 2017, Bielsa was suspended as coach after just 13 games in charge, with Lille OSC 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. On 15 December 2017, Lille announced Bielsa's contract had now been terminated. Christophe Galtier was named as Bielsa's replacement as Manager on 29 December 2017. Sporting adviser Luis Campos revealed after Bielsa left, that he felt the decision to let some of the experienced players leave was the key to the departure.
On 15 June 2018, Bielsa became EFL Championship side Leeds United's new head coach to replace Paul Heckingbottom, signing a two-year contract with option of a third year, after two weeks of negotiations with the club. In doing so he became the highest paid manager in Leeds United history. Leeds won their opening game of the new 2018–19 EFL Championship season, beating Stoke City 3–1 at Elland Road. In his second game as manager, Bielsa’s side beat Derby County 4–1 at Pride Park Stadium. Bielsa's also won his third game in charge, 2–1 against Bolton in the Carabao cup, making him the first Leeds manager to win his opening 3 games since Jimmy Armfield in October 1974.
This run extended to four games following their 2–0 victory over Rotherham, making him the first Leeds manager ever to record four consecutive wins at the start of their tenure as manager/ head coach. Leeds' winning run was ended after a 2–2 draw with Swansea City, but a 79th minute equalizer from former Swan Pablo Hernández ensured Leeds continued their unbeaten run. After leading Leeds United through the first six rounds unbeaten and to the top of the league, Bielsa was awarded Championship Manager of the Month for August 2018 by the EFL.
Bielsa’s unbeaten start to the season was ended on the 22nd of September with a 2–1 home defeat, inflicted by Garry Monk’s Birmingham City. Che Adams’ first half brace was enough to beat Leeds, despite the home side having most of the possession.
Given his heavy influence on former players, many of whom later became coaches (Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone, Marcelo Gallardo) he is considered one of the most influential managers in the modern era, introducing a third wave ideology in the Argentine coaching dichotomy previously influenced by César Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo. Pep Guardiola has labeled Bielsa as the best in the world.
Bielsa's signature formation in his squads – 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 – is the 3–3–3–1 formation.
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.
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.
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.
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 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. Jorge Sampaoli, former manager of Argentina, Sevilla FC and Chile, has been described as a "disciple" of Bielsa.
A fanatic of football videos that he adds to his collection, Bielsa, on occasion, checks pitch measurements by pacing them out before deciding on a particular formation. He allocates separate training times for different parts of his squad. 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."
Bielsa is known for watching and collecting numerous football videos to the point of obsession. He edits and analyzes each video for each individual player. He also utilizes 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".
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.
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". 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." 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.' 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.'
Manchester City and France player Benjamin Mendy cited for his improvement under Bielsa at Marseille, Mendy claimed Bielsa had "given back to him the strength and aggressiveness lost last year." His club and international teammate Aymeric Laporte who was given his debut by Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao, described him as a 'mentor' figure., whilst 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.'
Bielsa's unique style continued at Leeds, where in order 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 trash 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.
As Bielsa refuses to grant exclusive interviews, the press conference has become his preferred method of communication. He has been known to field every last question from the assembled media during these gatherings. If the talk turns to the intricacies of the game, a three- or even four-hour press conference is possible. According to him, "Every media should get the same attention from me, from the biggest TV station to the smallest newspaper."
- As of 10 November 2018
|Newell's Old Boys||1990||1992||94||39||37||18||41.49|
|Argentina||1998||15 September 2004||68||42||16||10||61.76|
|Chile||11 July 2007||4 February 2011||66||34||12||20||51.52|
|Athletic Bilbao||7 July 2011||30 June 2013||112||43||31||38||38.39|
|Marseille||17 May 2014||8 August 2015||41||21||7||13||51.22|
|Lazio||6 July 2016||8 July 2016||0||0||0||0||—|
|Lille||24 May 2017||15 December 2017||19||5||5||9||26.32|
|Leeds United||15 June 2018||Present||19||9||6||4||47.37|
As a manager
- Newell's Old Boys
- Vélez Sarsfield
- Athletic Bilbao
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- In isolation, Bielsa is pronounced [ˈbjelsa].
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