Marcelo Bielsa may be hailed as a genius in some circles but this is perhaps not the case everywhere. Ex Les Bleus internationals Frank Leboeuf and Christophe Dugarry recently slammed the Leeds manager for his behaviour during his spell managing Marseille. It seems to be on trend for pundits to have their say on Bielsa since spy-gate but Leboeuf and Dugarry didn’t hold back from sticking the boot in on their RMC Team Duga radio show.
He's somebody I don't like. I don't like his life philosophy. I don't like how he manages a group and for me he's shown nothing. It's the way he treats people, journalists, it's a bit autistic, isn't it? It's not true Guardiola looks up to him. Guardiola just said he spoke with him a bit. He's not their mentor at all. But there's dozens of them who mock him. Who's he respected by? Because he's crazy? Because he's sat on a cooler? That's why he's respected. What has he brought to the game? Cruyff inspired football. What has he created in the game?
The outburst may have been particularly striking in it’s language but some of the points do echo others who have seen fit to express their views on Bielsa. He may be admired by coaches such as Guardiola and Pochettino but why? What has he achieved? He has won nothing! In this day and age football fans and journalists judge success in black and white terms, in most cases judging success by the number of trophies won. No trophies, no success. It’s a simplistic way of looking at things, but that is how Bielsa is judged by many. The lack of trophies is the main criticism of him, something the man himself has been very open about…
I can’t say I’m a successful head coach, I’d rather say the opposite. One of the things you hear the most when people talk about me is the lack of trophies. You can verify this.
But can you really define a successful manager by what trophies they have won? There should be some context surely? Some clubs just aren’t likely to win trophies, most clubs in fact.
In 1980 he began a coaching career at Newell's Old Boys in Argentina. Starting with coaching the youth teams he became first team manager in 1990. As well as two Primera Division titles Bielsa also took Newell’s to the Copa Libertadores final, losing to Sao Paulo on penalties. Bielsa is regarded as somewhat of a revolutionary at Newell’s. The Rosario clubs version of Don Revie or Howard Wilkinson. He is held in such admiration that their stadium was named after him in 2009.
Newell's Old Boys made Marcelo Bielsa and he rejuvenated them. His style of football and philosophy were developed whilst coaching at Newell's and this is a philosophy that has gone on to influence managers around the world. But he wasn’t just successful in South America. Look at Bielsa's two longest spells in European club football he was successful on both counts. Three seasons at Bilbao and Marseille combined, not one trophy, but in context still successful. To show why, we need a bit of a history lesson, we will start with Athletic Bilbao.
Bilbao are a very important club in Spain and a very successful one. But while Bilbao have had success historically, since 1956 they have only won two La Liga titles, in 82/83 and 83/84, the latter season was also when they won their last Copa Del Rey. Javier Clemente in the 1980s was the last Bilbao manager to deliver trophies to Bilbao. Since 1984 Bilbao haven’t really achieved anything of note, nothing in fact if you define success purely by trophies. And this is where Bielsa defence comes in.
His second season wasn’t great but in his first season Bilbao finished tenth. They got to the Copa Del Rey final only losing out to Barcelona. Since they last won the Copa Del Rey 35 years ago Bilbao have only made the final four times, once was Marcelo Bielsa. But more impressive, Bilbao have never won a European title, they have only got close twice. The UEFA Cup in 1977 where they were runners up, and the Europa League in 2012 under Bielsa when they ended up losing in the final to Atletico Madrid who only a few months later would destroy Champions League winners Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup final. That’s successful isn’t it?
And then Marseille. One of Frances most successful clubs, nine-time Ligue 1 Champions and the only French club to win the Champions League. They last won Ligue 1 in 2010 under Didier Deschamps. The season before Bielsa they finished 6th, under Bielsa they finished 4th, an improvement, that's successful isn’t it? The season after Bielsa they finished 13th. Furthermore, Bielsa's points total of 69 has in the past been enough to win the title, indeed its considerably more than Marseille got for three of their four in the titles late 80s early 90s.
Next Up: Leeds United vs Swansea
Swansea make the 270 mile trip North to Elland Road on Wednesday evening hoping to keep their play off hopes alive following a gritty performance to see off Millwall last weekend. There may be a bit of added spice in the fixture following the Daniel James transfer saga. Leeds will be without Jack Clarke following his illness last week but otherwise should name a strong squad. Swanseas top scorer Oli McBurnie is fighting to be fit though he has returned to training this week. Leeds are 5/7 to beat Swansea with BetUK.
This is why context is important, on the face of it Bielsa may consider himself unsuccessful, and his critics may too. But history shows us that he is being unnecessarily harsh on himself, with a bit of luck at Bilbao and Marseille, Bielsa could have won league titles, European and domestic cups. Critics can say what they want but Bielsa almost lead Bilbao to their only European success ever, only one other coach has got as close as Bielsa did in their history and that was decades before.
His Argentina record wasn’t without highlight, the 2004 Copa America runners up medal was the closest Argentina had got to winning it since 1993. He also lead them to their first ever Olympic Gold, they had failed nine times previously. His last 16 in the World Cup with Chile was successful. He revolutionised Chilean football and played a large part mentoring the group of players who would repeat the last 16 feat four years later.
He was successful enough for Argentina to offer him the national team job again in 2016. He was successful enough for Real Madrid to make contact with him over whether he would be interested in the Madrid job back in 2004. He was successful enough for Inter Milan and Barcelona to pursue him while he was at Bilbao. Reportedly he made it clear he wouldn't leave Bilbao because he had a project to finish. He was successful enough to be offered the Sampdoria job in the summer of 2015. He was successful enough to be given the job at Lazio who had finished fifth the previous season then walk away from it when they lied to him.
Bielsa may lack trophies, but circumstances and bad luck have played a huge part in that. That doesn't make him ‘unsuccessful’. he has a fine body of work to be proud of in European and South American club football and at International level. Success is relative and given the clubs he has been at and what he achieved there he has been successful.
He could have gone to the top clubs like Inter and Barcelona, he was given opportunities, probably winning trophies in the process but he showed loyalty to Bilbao. He is a manager that likes a project, who likes to work with and develop young players. Judging his success so far at Leeds you just need to look at how poor this group of players have looked in the past. He hasn't come in and insisted on replacing the nucleus of the squad he has simply analysed them and made every player considerably better.
He is a very successful coach, trophies don’t define him, just ask Pep Guardiola.
Content by Cjay from our Is Bielsa actually successful? discussion thread.