Why Leeds United fans should be excited about the possibility of Marcelo Bielsa

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From Dick Ray through to Don Revie and Brian Clough, to Howard Wilkinson and George Graham, onto Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom, Leeds United have had a wide range of managers and characters.

But no one quite like Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa.

The link to the Argentine seemed to begin as an outlandish rumour, wishful thinking by someone on the internet. Yet in the last few days it has developed arms and legs to become a realistic prospect.

More than that it is is a mouthwatering prospect. Five simple words uttered by Bielsa should get Leeds fans’ hearts racing: “I am obsessive about attack.”

Leeds would be getting more than a man or a manager. They’d be getting an idea, a belief, a fabled figure.

Ever since returning to coach his home town club Newell’s Old Boys in the city of Rosario in his native Argentina, he has developed a cult-following, inspiring coaches, captivating crowds, opening players’ eyes and emptying their legs.

Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa.

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His success was such at Newell’s Old Boys that the club have named their stadium after him. Such an honour is usually reserved for legends who have passed away, or at least retired. Bielsa is only 62.

It suggests that he brought unprecedented success to La Lepra, a glut of trophies, domestic and continental. Except he won only two league titles and took the club to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League equivalent, final.

Bielsa brought something more intangible than silverware. He transmitted a feeling. One which stays with fans and players. One which lasts a lifetime. It was the same at Velez Sarsfield, with Chile, Athletic Bilbao and Marseille.

It wasn’t until he led Chile to the 2010 World Cup that he became such a revered figure globally.

Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa.

He managed Argentina at the 2002 World Cup. They went into the tournament as one of the favourites after a dominant qualifying campaign and a star-studded squad but then failed to progress from their group, finishing behind Sweden and England.

He left the post in 2004 and didn’t return to pacing the technical area in his oxymoronically flustered but precise manner until 2007, taking over Chile, a nation which had appeared at one World Cup (France ‘98) since performing poorly at Spain ‘82.

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What he found was a nation which required direction on the football field. While South American rivals Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil had familiar styles, Chile lacked any sort of identity. Their qualification for the 1998 World Cup owing to the twin attacking threat of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamarano.

With a young, energetic and talented squad, featuring Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel, he shaped the team into an aggressive, dynamic, attacking unit. They showed little fear as they looked to suffocate the opposition with their pressing and quick, incisive football.

They defeated Argentina for the first time in a competitive match on their way to qualifying before becoming the neutral’s favourite in South Africa.

Bielsa is still revered in Chile. The godfather of modern Chilean football. When the team struggled under his replacement Claudio Borghi, fans and players wanted a return to the style of Bielsa, one which they felt most comfortable with.

In came Jorge Sampaoli, the ultimate Bielsa disciple. He built on the foundations laid by Bielsa to take Chile to the 2014 World Cup and their first ever Copa America triumph a year later.

The current Argentine manager is just one of many coaches to have drawn inspiration from Bielsa. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola credits him as the best in the world, while Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino refers to him as his “football father”.

It is not just managers who are inspired, players are shown a new side of football, a facet of their own game they didn’t know they could access. However, those players had to be willing to push and be pushed. To meet Bielsa’s intense demands. Total buy-in would see immense improvement.

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The Argentine’s football requires an exertion of substantial amounts of energy. Bielsa’s defensive system is built on hard-running and pressing, winning the ball back so they can attack again. But it is also about understanding positioning, where to be, when to be there, where team-mates should be and when they should be there.

It can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a concern in a 46-game Championship season.

It’s that exhaustion which saw Newell’s Old Boys fight relegation not long after Bielsa left in the early 90s. Athletic Bilbao’s players had nothing else to give after reaching the finals of the Europa League and Copa del Rey, having got there playing some of the most thrilling football European football has seen.

Marseille ran out of steam in the 2014/2015 season, finishing fourth when, at one point, they looked like storming to the French title.

Bielsa bemoans the fact his players are human. If they weren’t he’d win all the time he believes. But he too puts in the work. It is alleged he took 2,000 tapes of matches with him to the 2002 World Cup, while he only brought 51 to a job interview for the Velez Sarsfield job interview.

He spent many nights at Bilbao’s training session, going over every single detail. That was transmitted to the players who were often equally bemused and amazed at the level of detail Bielsa provided.

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André-Pierre Gignac, Benjamin Mendy and Dimitri Payet, Fernando Llorente, Javi Martinez and Ander Herrera have all given snippets of the man and the manager, how he changed and influenced their career.

Bielsa is a peculiar character, he has to be with the nickname ‘El Loco’. To quote Winston Churchill he’s “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. It is unsure if there is a key. Maybe he is the only one which possesses it. The Argentine perhaps demands more of those above him than he does of his players.

He lasted just 14 games at Lille last year. It was significantly more time at Lazio where he was manager for just two days.

If Andrea Radrizzani can provide him with the raw materials and structure he requires, if he can be afforded patience, if the players can commit themselves to Bielsa, Leeds United may be about to embark on something very special.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’, yet one thing’s for sure Bielsa is a football genius, and fans should prepare for one hell of a ride. It could well be bumpy, there is a good chance it will be short. But it will be fun should he take up the vacant position in West Yorkshire.