Newell’s Old Boys were Marcelo Bielsa’s first love and when the end of his coaching career comes, they will be his last love too. It was there that football consumed a man whose family preferred the trappings of jobs in politics, architecture or both.
The feeling at Newell’s is reciprocal and in 2009 the Argentinian club named their stadium after the coach who brought two league titles to Rosario in the early 1990s. Now Bielsa is returning the favour by using £3m of his personal money and the professional expertise of his sister to build a new facility at Newell’s training ground in Rosario’s Bella Vista district.
Built of carbon steel and five stories high, the project - albeit on a larger scale - is not unlike the changes which have come at Leeds United’s Thorp Arch complex since Bielsa walked in as head coach in June.
Newell’s are supplying their squad with modern sleeping quarters, new changing rooms, games rooms and a large video auditorium for the sort of analysis Bielsa thrives on. A huge garage has been created to house the team’s bus.
The structure is reported to have been funded to the tune of 2.5m US dollars by Bielsa but sources close to him say the final cost of his injection will come in at around 4m dollars or £3m, in excess of a year’s salary at Elland Road.
Newell’s plan to officially open the building - covering 2,000 square meters - on November 3, the club’s 115th anniversary, and have invited Bielsa and members of his family to be there. Leeds’ Championship game at Wigan Athletic the following afternoon will prevent Bielsa from flying home but he is planning to send a letter to Newell’s to mark the day.
The designs were drawn up by Bielsa’s sister Maria Eugenia, a qualified architect in one of the traditions of their family. His nephew Pedro has also been involved in the planning. Bielsa’s fingerprints will be all over the finished article but it has been named after one of his own inspirations, the former Argentina international and Newells’ legend Jorge Griffa.
Griffa, now 82, has an association with Newell’s going back much further than Bielsa’s, to the days when he was playing for the club as a highly-rated centre-back in the 1950s. These days he is better known for his scouting and his eye for emerging talent; the man credited with spotting Lionel Messi - another native of Rosario - and farming a long line of household names in Argentina.
Bielsa, after a short career as a player, took his first steps into management with Newell’s youth-team set-up. He and Griffa scoured both Rosario and the country at large for gifted youngsters, covering thousands of miles by car, and when Newell’s named Bielsa as their manager in 1990, Griffa acted as his assistant. The players they uncovered were pivotal in the championship-winning seasons which followed.
Bielsa was asked recently to name the individuals who had been most influential in his career. The 63-year-old said he had studied Louis van Gaal’s style of play closely but singled out Griffa as the man he was most indebted to.
I don’t want people to think I impose my point of view because that’s not the case. I make suggestions and then the club decides if it wants to invest in the infrastructures or not.Marscelo Bielsa
“I started as a head coach 35 years ago,” Bielsa said. “I received a lot of influence from Jorge Griffa. He’s a master for me and I was with him at Newell’s Old Boys. I collaborated with him.”
Newell’s new training facility will be known as the Jorge Griffa Hotel, a dedication to a close confidant of Bielsa’s rather than Bielsa himself. The cost to Bielsa is said to be a “matter of love, not money”, a donation made with the intention of helping Newell’s modernise.
At the time of his appointment by Leeds, he encouraged and persuaded the club to do the same. Newell’s building is a permanent structure and has been made to last but to a lesser degree, Leeds are following suit.
Much of Thorp Arch is a building site at present, with alterations to the internal flow of the main barn well underway, but a new two-floor prefab structure has opened to the academy, providing office space upstairs and classrooms downstairs, and work is expected to finish by December at the latest.
Bielsa wanted his players to have rooms to sleep or rest in and areas to properly relax in, away from youth-team squads and staff. Unlike Newell’s, Leeds do not see the development as a long-term asset with plans afoot to move to a new training ground closer to Elland Road in the next two or three years but Bielsa is gradually setting a trend.
In both this job and his last, with Lille in France, his arrival was followed by major changes to the training grounds of the clubs who were employing him. A commitment of £3m is making sure Newell’s, the first side to take him on as a coach, can do the same.
Bielsa explained his penchant for building work last month, saying his ideas were in line with the way that “big clubs” think and operate.
“I never impose my point of view because we’re here for a short time,” he said. “All head coaches are in a club for a short time. I just told the club what kind of infrastructures the big clubs have. This club has extraordinary infrastructures. If you see the pitches, they are a miracle.
“I don’t want people to think I impose my point of view because that’s not the case. I make suggestions and then the club decides if it wants to invest in the infrastructures or not. When I arrived at the club the players were receiving a very good service. I proposed some small changes.
“The club is willing to give additional facilities to the players. When you are a professional footballer you need to rest and you need to be together with your team-mates. This belongs to the profession.
“For regular citizens, when you rest, when you live together, when you have activities together, it’s not a necessity, it’s not an obligation. But in professional football it’s an obligation. The club has to take into account the fact that players spend a lot of time here.”