Thanks to James Etxegorri from Inside Athletic, a great English-language source for Athletic Bilbao fans, for giving us his thoughts on what it’s like to have Marcelo Bielsa in charge of your football club.
When it comes to Marcelo Bielsa the first thing to understand is his personality and coaching style. He’s a dictator and demands to be in charge of everything; he won’t have it any other way. He requires full commitment to his ideas and expects nothing short of perfection from his players. He’s called El Loco for a reason. If things don’t go his way or players make mistakes he can lose it and throw fits of rage. His passion is what he puts into his players and what makes him such a great motivator.
Bielsa is meticulous and methodical. He studies every detail, plans for every scenario, and prepares his players as if every kick of the ball is thought out ahead of time. As a fan it is important to realize that Bielsa doesn’t care what any player has done in the past, who has been a starter, or even what position someone has always played in. He’s going to give minutes to the players that buy in to his system and will put them where he thinks they fit best. He can ruffle some feathers at times, but if he is in complete control he can really achieve massive success.
As far as his teams are concerned, Bielsa’s system can be characterized as one using space and intense pressing. He expects every player on the field to press and run the whole game, especially when defending. In attack he likes to keep possession in his own half, but in the attacking half he wants to play a vertical game and create chances as quickly as possible. He uses wide players to stretch the field and starts to box in defenders in a way that forces opponents to retreat in order to cover ground. In a way, he wears down opponents with constant, relentless pressure which can be really fun to watch.
Throughout his coaching career he has used a 3-3-1-3 formation and, at times, a 4-2-3-1 when a more conservative approach is needed. He will make that decision based on opponents but the idea is the same. The central attacking midfielder usually has less defensive responsibilities than everyone else and is used as a type of anchor to switch on the attack. Meanwhile he likes a pivot, or double pivot, that is good on the ball and can cover every blade of grass. They are the workhorse. His training sessions are intense, both physically and mentally, which can be taxing on the players. In the past he has alienated some players who began to feel overworked, but Bielsa is the boss and buying into his system will yield results. At a club level, he expects to be left alone and allowed to do his thing. If the club starts to question him he won’t have it. It’s his way or no way at all.
Bielsa is very direct and doesn’t hide things. He won’t conduct one-on-one interviews, but if he is in a press conference he can talk about football for hours with passion and a fiery energy. He will take every single question until there are no more and you always walk away having learned something about football. In the end, he is a fantastic coach who will make you proud of the team he is leading. Some of his antics may be tough, but they yield results and he knows it. He’s an innovator and one of the most respected coaches in the game...because he’s earned it.
If you can get past the tough exterior what you will find is a person who is so knowledgeable and passionate about the game that he’s just on a different level than most coaches. He can out-coach anybody and knows what it takes to win against any opponent. It’s almost like he’s playing the game on easy mode and that is why he demands perfection from his players because he knows his ideas will bring results and success. Marcelo Bielsa is truly Loco and is certainly a taskmaster, but he’s someone that you will fall in love with and will want to follow into any battle, no matter the odds.
Editor’s Note: Again, many thanks to James Etxegorri from Inside Athletic for providing insight into Marcelo Bielsa and what it will be like to have him at Leeds.