'I loved what he said' - the moment young fan confronted Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa live on air

Nacho Negri was 11 years old when his mother passed him the phone so he could confront Marcelo Bielsa live on the radio.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 10:46 am
NEWELL'S FANATIC - Newell's Old Boys supporter Nacho Negri spoke with Marcelo Bielsa, now Leeds United head coach, in 1992 on a Rosario radio show.

Bielsa was on his way out of Newell's Old Boys, his beloved hometown club for whom he played as a centre-back and then coached, working his way up from the youth teams to take charge of and lead the senior side to a pair of titles - the 1991 Primera Division Apertura and the Primera Division Clausura in 1992.

When, after securing his second title, Bielsa went on local radio show Los Notables it was already known that his intention was to leave Newell's for pastures new and emotions were running high when a young fanatic was put through to the studio.

Nacho did not mince his words, following up an emotional tribute to the outgoing manager with a firm declaration that La Lepra would be champions again without Bielsa.

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MADE FAMOUS - Marcelo Bielsa recognised Nacho Negri, centre, from the magazine cover. Left is Gerardo 'Tata' Martino and right is Mauricio Pochettino

"For me whatever you decide is fine," he told the coach.

"I want you to be happy because you made me happy, because you were an example, not just a good manager. Those players have the will to win thanks to you.

"If you want to go, well fine, another manager will come and we will be champions again."

Bielsa appreciated the youngster's tribute and agreed with his sentiment about the club.

DEPARTING IDOL - Marcelo Bielsa's departure from Newell's Old Boys caused an outpouring of emotion from fans of the club who idolised him, as Leeds United supporters do today. Pic: Getty

"'I loved what he said because I think there is no name that is above Newell's," he said.

"And he said no matter who it is, Newell's will be great anyways, we're going to win, and that's beautiful."

For 29 years a TDK 90-minute cassette labelled 'Nacho's talk with Bielsa in Los Notables' lay in storage at Nacho's familial home, until he unearthed it recently when looking for some university texts.

Its discovery has allowed him to relive one of the most poignant chapters in the life of a football supporter and a Bielsa devotee, although it was not the first time his path crossed with his idol's.

"As a Newells fan, Bielsa was a before and after in the club's history," Nacho, now 40, told the YEP.

"It was his first experience as a first division coach, and he had to lead a squad of experienced players among which was Gerardo 'Tata' Martino as captain. He managed to convince them that they had to press hard up, that everyone had to sacrifice and run, and he injected the fans with that same energy.

"I always went to the court with my dad and my brother. Sometimes my mom would also go. In those moments of life, at 10, 11, 12 years old, one is very fanatic. And just at that moment the Newells of Bielsa was a model team throughout the country, they played better than River and Boca and managed to be runner-up in the Copa Libertadores.

"For a boy of that age who likes football, there is nothing better than seeing your team emerge as champions and compete on all fronts."

Nacho and Bielsa first met a few days before their radio appearance, when a member of the club's staff ushered the youngster, who had recently achieved a measure of notoriety, into the dressing room after a vital 2-0 win over Club Atlético Talleres.

"With that triumph Newells was practically champion and when I entered the dressing room everything was a party," he said.

"And there was Marcelo Bielsa who recognised me because I had appeared on the cover of a well-known magazine called El Grafico, alongside Gerardo Martino and Mauricio Pochettino."

The next time they met it was down a phone line and over the air waves.

"The one who called was my mother and she made me speak," said Nacho, who recalls the emotional wrench of losing Bielsa and the knowledge that there was nothing he could say to change his mind.

"It was a very big pain, but at the same time you had confidence that the team would continue to play well. Besides, he already had the decision made and nothing was going to stop him."

In today's news cycle, such an interaction between a young fan and Bielsa would quickly go viral. Almost three decades ago, it was quickly forgotten, although Nacho is no different from any other Newell's fan in holding dear both the memories and continuing story of Bielsa.

"At that time the power of social networks did not exist, there was not even the internet, so it was all very short-lived," he said.

"In addition, Bielsa did not have the international popularity that he has today. But for all the fans it was very hard [to see him leave].

"For a long time we fantasised about his return.

"Some years ago, Marcelo donated a hotel in the training complex that the club has. I don't think you can ask for more. He gave a lot to our club.

"What makes us fans of Newell's burn with pride, is to see Marcelo taking his values around the world, because ultimately they are the values of our club."

Nacho, a journalist with his own daily TV show on the Somos Rosario channel, is one of many Newell's fans who track Leeds United closely.

"I followed his last season a lot in the Premier League," he said.

"I liked seeing Leeds faced with the challenge of maintaining their top division status and boy did they achieve it."

Access to Bielsa does not come as easily in 2021 as it did for Nacho in 1992.

But if there was to be a third encounter, he would be no more lost for words than he was as a boy.

"I would speak to him as a fan and also as a journalist, no longer from the place of that child who saw him as an idol," he said.

"As a Newell's fan I would say thank you and ask him if he would like to lead the club, not as manager but as general coordinator, a figure of counsel.

"As a person, I would ask him if he fulfilled all his dreams, if he had any unfinished business and if he would like to be a teacher - I think Bielsa is more of a teacher than a soccer coach.

"I really appreciate how he instills in his players not to lose the amateur spirit, how he seeks to influence them by leaving them a life lesson, beyond the competition.

"I would ask him how the boys who fail to become professional players should be contained and accompanied, in what way should access to sport be improved in Argentine schools and in what professional role does he see himself in his coming years.

"It would be very interesting to be able to speak with Bielsa."