Marcelo Bielsa isn’t just a manager, he is a scholar of football. His students and disciples have become some of the best managers working today. Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola and Roberto Martinez to name just a few. He is often referred to as El Loco (The Madman), but in his own words “A man with new ideas is mad until he succeeds”. In others words he is described as bold, daring and revolutionary.
The first aspect to Bielsa’s philosophy is attention to detail, he does his homework. He may have had online homework help from Pro-Papers but by the time Angus Kinnear and Victor Orta flew out to interview Bielsa he knew every detail of Leeds United’s previous season.
He watch every game he could get his hands on, he knew the formation used in every game plus the oppositions formation. Not just against Leeds but in every game in the Championship. Kinnear and Orta reportedly just looked at each other and shrugged in shock, with the pair both hugely impressed by Bielsa’s answer to their questions.
On the pitch the key to Bielsa’s philosophy is rotation. Rotation is primarily movement designed to increase the possibilities for playing the ball forward in attack and enabling pressing in higher numbers in defence. He is famous for his 3-3-1-3 formation but whilst his players must play with discipline they must also play with fluidity.
Former England Under-16 coach Dan Micciche said “It was the first time I'd ever watched a team and been unable to tell who was playing in which position” after watching Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao beat Manchester United Old Trafford in the 2012 Europa League. We’ve seen it in action at Leeds this year. Wingers swapping position, full-backs overlapping, midfielders dropping into defence.
It is more nuanced of course but all the intricate tactics deployed are designed to allow movement and create space providing the opportunity to play the ball vertically (forward). It his is attention to detail, his analytical studying of the opposition that allow him to create these opportunities. His ideas may once have seemed crazy but now he has become teacher to some of the most influential managers in the modern game.
Loco, haznos soñar (Madman, make us dream)
El Loco the scholar, homework is key