There are multiple examples of geniuses in football. These are individuals whose revolutionary ideas, ingenious and intuitive tactics and extraordinary demeanor redefine the game. One of the biggest, or the biggest enigma to grace the sport is none other than Marcelo Bielsa. It is almost fitting that he got the name ‘El Loco’ [The Crazy One] in Argentina while holding a grenade in his hands. Bielsa is a man obsessed with football, a purist and a proponent of The Beautiful Game. He exhibited this with his comments after a 6-0 defeat while managing Newell’s Old Boys, “Do you ever want to kill yourself when you lose a game?”
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Every decade, some English Championship club will come up with a masterstroke to open doors of the revered Premier League. The only difference today is, that Leeds United have never really belonged to the Championship. The Whites are the sleeping giants of English football, and their owner Andrea Radrizzani is the catalyst. The Lily Whites’ owner made the shrewd appointment to get Marcelo Bielsa as his head coach.
Bielsa, with all his idiosyncrasies, is a football mastermind. He is a meticulous planner and an obsessive winner. He exhibits an extreme attention to detail, and has used this time and time again to unlock defenses and opponents. His appointment with Leeds was preceded by him watching 70 hours of drab match footage of a 13th placed Leeds United from the 2017/18 season. He walked into the managerial role by displaying his awareness of the club, the city and the environment.
It is almost fitting that a man of Bielsa’s stature takes over at a club like Leeds. He has transformed the team under his tutelage. His high pressing high intensity game is a feature of the Yorkshire team. The willingness of his players to give it their all, a tribute to the man himself. The fact that the stadium is sold out at every game week, a proof for success for the management.
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Bielsa is a student of football, and his game is a reflection of his ideas and beliefs. He does not center his game around one type or another. A Bielsa team would defend in a 4-1-4-1 solid structure, with the ‘Regista’ central to the game. Marcelo Bielsa focuses on hounding opponents if he is out of possession, and then making quick passes to unlock opponent defenses.
His Leeds United features Kalvin Philips, who sits behind the attackers to control the tempo. He stays around the halfway line and sprays balls to the wingers and wing backs who always focus to create overloads. This forces opponents to sit back and try to counter attack, but end up with a numerical disadvantage. Bielsa’s propensity to have his players perform both forward and backward actions with equal vigor make it a difficult prospect to score against his sides. This is also one of the reasons why we see Bielsa teams fade out around the 75th to 80th minute.
During attacks, Bielsa likes to overload opponent fullbacks Leeds United often attack from one side of the pitch, leaving 3 players at the back to defend against counters. This leaves his team in a 3-3-1- formation with overloaded wings giving the midfielders an option to innovate. His strikers are tasked to make runs in the channels and allow wingers to get inside and go towards goal. This creates a high intensity attacking situation which becomes difficult when you are unable to play long or pass out from the back.
Bielsa’s Obsession with Planning
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Marcelo Bielsa is a meticulous planner, his attention to detail a major reason for his fame. His 66-minute-long press conference detailing every match of Derby County was a joy to behold. The Spygate scandal was testament to the scrutiny every opponent of his goes under. He maintains detailed analyses about all of his opponents, allowing him to prepare better.
In the man’s own words, spying is not a means to win, it is only for him to sleep better. Bielsa already keeps enough evidence of opponents to plan for any game situation.
Bielsa details his training sessions to perfection, and he does not shy away from failure. He is famous for making players repeat patterns of play and movement until they become perfect.
A Bielsa team will work harder than most, run more and ensure they do not get caught due to a lazy move or a missed chance. Loosening up is not an option under the Argentine.
Bielsa The Man
Bielsa hails from Rosario, Argentina, from the same part as Lionel Messi. He has managed Newell’s Old Boys, won the Olympics Gold with Argentina and changed the face of Chilean football. ‘El Loco’ schooled Alex Ferguson’s United with his Bilbao side in the 2011/12 season. He changed the face of Marseille and resigned from Lazio within 2 days of joining. Bielsa has been at Leeds United for 2 years now and taken them to the Premier League after a 16 year stint in the wilderness.
Marcelo Bielsa does not believe in glitter, turning up in the club tracksuit for a formal Leeds United gala event a testament to that. He paid the fine for the Spygate scandal from his own pocket, and termed it a momentary brain fade. Bielsa donated £ 2 million to Newell’s Old Boys during a time of need. He called it repaying a debt, as he holds the club responsible for his position in the football world.
Marcelo Bielsa is a manager of an ilk unlike his peers. He is a revolutionary strategist, and has inspired managers like Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone among others. He urges his disciples to develop their own style of play, and not get overawed by the usual.
The 2020/21 Premier League promises to be a peculiar one, and it is set to be even more with the introduction of the Argentine mastermind. Coming from a Manchester United supporter, Leeds United are a team to watch out for come 12th September.