Veteran manager Marcelo Bielsa stunned the football world by terminating his contract with French Club Marseille after his side fell to a 1-0 opening day defeat to Caen in the French Ligue 1. From being labelled by Pep Guardiola as the a Best Manager in the Worlda to being nicknamed as a El Locoa or the a The Mad Onea , Bielsa divides opinion amongst players and fans alike. Is Marcelo Bielsa an eccentric genius or an obsessive madman?
a Ia m leaving my post as coach of Marseille. My work here is over, I will return to my country. I am not leaving here to take another job. I thank the supporters, who were always behind me during the matches and day to day. I have given all I have to this team,a Bielsa said during his post-match press conference after the defeat to Caen. No one knew this was coming. Not the players. Not the support staff. Not the Chairman. His resignation dropped like a bombshell upon the Olympique de Marseille.
Marcelo Bielsa has always had a penchant for the dramatic. Marseille would vouch for that. Athletic Bilbao would vouch for that. So would his native Argentina. That is why his dramatic parting of ways with Marseille did not come as a big surprise to those who have been closely following his managerial career for the past three decades.
His tactical acumen, attention to detail, obsession with perfection and unpredictability has cemented his legacy in the contemporary football world as a a Mad Geniusa .
The Obsessive Madman
There is a never a dull moment when Marcelo Bielsa is around. A Spanish journalist once asked Athletic Bilbaoa s Iker Muniain a Is Marcelo Bielsa as mad as he seems?a “No, hea s maddera , replied Muniain. Bielsa has always been revered as a cult figure by the fans of the clubs and countries hea s managed, not only because of his tactical acumen, but also due to his reputation as an eccentric madman.
Legend has it that Bielsa once drew circles on his shoes using a marker in order to show his Bilbao players how to kick the football. He continued wearing those same shoes for months afterwards. He is also been known to devise team formations after measuring the dimensions of the football pitch in different stadiums using an inch tape.
He spends the best part of the match crouched on his knees on the edge of the touchline, which is an awfully ominous task for a 60 year old. Last season, he became the subject of a butt of jokes on social media after accidentally sitting down on a hot cup of coffee. He keeps a stopwatch in his hand during training and often picks out random children from the crowd to deliver instructions to his players.
Bielsa often infuses a sense of socialism into his dealings with the media and his press conferences have been known to even stretch on for 3-4 hours. He does not believe in preferential treatment for prominent TV channels and often takes up questions from every last member of the media present in the room.
The Tactical Genius
To say that Marcelo Bielsa strives for perfection would be tantamount to using euphemism at its very best. For Bielsa, a synchronization is fundamental, attacks automatic, movement mechanized, the pitch partitioned with tape, moves constructed and deconstructed piece by piece, passes made instantlya , wrote Spanish football expert Sid Lowe.
Bielsa is a true student of the beautiful game. It has often been documented that the Argentinean spends hours and hours watching football videos, obsessing over each and every minute detail of each and every event in a football match, noting them down in his little black book. Bielsa is a meticulous planner who formulates distinct strategies for both defence and attack in every match.
Bielsaa s preferred formation is a high pressing 3-3-3-1 system with a libero employed at the center of defence. He is devoted proponent of free flowing attacking football. At the same time, his teams employ a highly effective recovery and pressing system when not in possession. His high octane philosophy has often been criticized by many for being too energy sapping come the end of the season. Bielsaa s teams have been accused of running out of steam in the 2nd half of seasons as a result of that.
Two league trophies in 25 years is quite an unimpressive tally for any manager. But Bielsaa s legacy stretches far beyond his trophy cabinet. His fundamental contribution to the world of football management is the formulation of a philosophy of football that has inspired an entire generation of football managers in the contemporary era such as Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pochettino and Jorge Sampaoli.
So is Bielsa a madman or a genius? As he himself says, a A man with new ideas is mad until he succeeds”.