Mutual respect as Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa and Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson meet in battle of elder statesmen

TWO elder statesman have dominated the headlines this week, locked in combat looking to assume power.

By Lee Sobot
Saturday, 7th November 2020, 5:45 am

Not for the White House but the Palace, Crystal Palace that is, as 65-year-old Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa takes on 73-year-old Eagles boss Roy Hodgson at Selhurst Park.

Today’s battle comes amidst the almighty backdrop of 74-year-old Donald Trump’s struggle against 77-year-old Joe Biden in the American presidential race.

But Bielsa and Hodgson are fully focused on their own battle in south London with the duo sharing huge mutual respect and Bielsa unsure if he will still be in management at Hodgson’s ripe age in eight years’ time.

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FIRST MEETING: Between Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa, above, and Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson. Photo by Peter Powell - Pool/Getty Images.

Whilst Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti gives the pair a run for their money, Bielsa and Hodgson are the two oldest and most experienced managers in the Premier League, providing a fascinating sub-plot to today’s 3pm kick-off in south London.

By the time Argentinian head coach Bielsa arrived in England in the summer of 2018 to take over at Leeds, former defender Hodgson was already one year into a remarkable 22nd job in management with the story all beginning at Swedish club Halmstad back in 1976.

Bielsa was an emerging young defender for first club Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina at the time and 44 years later the South American now awaits his first battle against former England boss Hodgson who had four years at the helm of the Three Lions between 2012 and 2016.

Internationally, Bielsa only just missed him with the former Espanyol boss having had six years in charge of Argentina between 1998 and 2004 followed by four years with Chile between 2007 and 2011, after which Bielsa had spells at Athletic Bilbao, Marseille, Lazio and Lille.

Hodgson was at the helm of Blackburn Rovers, Inter Milan, Grasshoppers Zurich, Copenhagen and Udinese before switching to the UAE national side whilst Bielsa was Argentina boss with Londoner Hodgson then at Fulham, Liverpool and then West Brom during Bielsa’s time with Chile.

The Palace boss also has the likes of Bristol City, Malmo and the Switzerland and Finland national sides on his CV and Bielsa’s respect for his opposite number is clear.

“I sincerely respect him a lot,” said Bielsa.

“I’m not the best person to have an opinion as I have only been here for two years but I have the opinion that he’s a very valued member in the English community, given the trajectory of his career and his behaviour.”

Asked if he thought he would still be managing at Hodgson’s age, and if he had an idea when he might finish, Bielsa laughed: “No. But I am open to suggestions!

"There is still eight years for that to happen and eight years is a long time in a person’s life. It is not my word that, in this type of job, you can’t do it if you don’t desire it.

"To be able to do the job as a manager, you need to have a lot of will and desire.

“There are a lot of jobs that you do without a lot of desire.

"But if you work as a manager and you don’t have any enthusiasm, then ultimately you are excluded. It is admirable with the enthusiasm he still has.”

Despite having managed 34 clubs between them taking in four different continents, Bielsa and Hodgson have never met.

Hodgson, though, says he has always been aware of his opposite number and is looking forward to his first encounter against United’s South American head coach.

“Marcelo is a man who has had a lot of success since coming to Leeds and I think it was an inspired decision to take him on as manager,” said Hodgson.

“He has got them back into the Premiership, something which so many people have tried and not been able to do and now of course he has started extremely well in the Premiership.

“His team has played some outstandingly good games.

"I have never met him unfortunately, of course I have always known about him but I look forward to meeting him.

"He’s a person for whom I have much respect for and I’m impressed by the type of football that Leeds are playing.”

It is football that has finally taken the Whites back to the promised land – and Bielsa to the Premier League for the first time in his glittering career.

But could Leeds now be Bielsa’s final job in football?

That, quipped the head coach, is subjective.

“It depends how you imagine how long I am going to be here.”

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Thank you Laura Collins