Leeds United fans might not be alone in looking to new boss Marcelo Bielsa for inspiration. Indeed, latest occupant of the Elland Road dugout might well be pivotal if his nation is to remain in the World Cup this week.
Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli is a coach with the world on his shoulders. A draw against Iceland and an incredible 3-0 defeat to Croatia looked to have dumped the two-time winners out of the World Cup. The results prompted wild rumours of players trying to oust the coach and one Argentinian TV station even held a minute’s silence, such was the morbidity surrounding the La Albiceleste’s performances.
Yet, Nigeria have thrown a lifeline to Sampaoli and his misfiring megastars by beating Iceland and the Super Eagles now await in a crunch Group D decider. Where there’s a glimmer of light there’s hope and with the likes of Messi, Higuain, Di Maria and Agüero to call upon William Hill predicts that the 2014 runners-up still have a better chance than many of at least repeating their performance in Brazil.
Yet the final is a long way away and there’s a lot of work to do for Sampaoli if he’s to rescue results from the mess of the second half against Croatia. As he looks in the mirror and weighs up the way forward, he’ll no doubt have Marcelo Bielsa in mind (although, he might also want to revisit that strange ‘divorced dad out on the pull’ outfit too).
The new Leeds boss has been hailed worldwide as a tactical pioneer – and his disciples even include Manchester City’s all-conquering boss Pep Guardiola.
When Bielsa took charge of Lille, Guardiola hailed Bielsa as the best in the business. He said: "It is important for me to say this about Marcelo because it doesn't matter how many titles he had in his career. We are judged by that – how much success we have, how many titles we have won.
"But that is much less influential than how he has influenced football and his football players. That is why, for me, he is the best coach in the world.”
Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone and ex Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino all owe a lot to studying Bielsa’s innovative approach, with Pochettino once remarking: "We are a generation of coaches who were his disciples. How he feels football, the passion he has for football, I think we all took that from him."
Sampaoli will surely be wanting to return to Bielsa’s teachings for his big test on Tuesday. The current Argentine boss took over the Chilean national team when Bielsa left and was seen as a natural heir, continuing his tactical legacy and winning the Cope America in 2015. That wasn’t a huge surprise that his side kept a Bielsa flavour given that Sampaoli was a youth player at Newell’s Old Boys when Bielsa played in the first team. That close bond followed as Sampaoli studied and adopted the famous 3-3-1-3 formation that Bielsa deployed with Argentina and Chile – as well as the likes of Marseille and Athletic Bilbao.
Bielsa might be known as El Loco, but there’s definite method to the madness. His teams operate at high intensity, pressing high up the pitch and with the aim to move players around to gain a numerical advantage in key areas. It’ll be fascinating to see how teams in the Championship cope with this once the season kicks off and it could well be a good fit for a high-energy, physical division. Players and positions and flexible – with midfielders often performing defensive functions. That energy, dynamism and attacking intent is badly needed in an Argentina side that has looked less than the sum of its parts.
Going forward, Bielsa’s style involves a ‘un enganche y tres punta’ or one playmaker and three forwards to you and I. Think Spurs, Alli, Kane, Eriksen and Lamela, for example. Surely Messi, Higuain, Di Maria and Dybala could fit the bill for a Bielsa style forward line? That might be what he has in mind with rumours that Agüero might have to drop to the bench for Nigeria. Harsh as that sounds, Sampaoli surely has to go back to what he knows and embrace the ‘Bielsa Way’ to succeed. It served him so well at Chile, after all, and in times of crisis managers normally go back to what they know and trust.
Whatever happens, Leeds fans should watch with interest to see if the man seen as a mentor to so many can inspire his compatriots to a remarkable back-from-the-brink recovery through one of his most devoted disciples.
‘Best coach in the world’: How Leeds boss Bielsa could inspire an Argentinian World Cup revival