Bielsa will always blame himself above all others
06 Feb 2020 03:32 pm, by YorkshireSquare
There has been plenty of talk this week about blame and accountability, about the fact that Bielsa is ‘stubborn’ in his methods and cares more for the system and purity of football than winning. But you don't have to read far into Bielsa's managerial career to see why he operates the way he does with regards to man management. His trophy cabinet might not be full to bursting but there's another aspect to his style that is far more rare, one that earns him near universal admiration and influence from managers who've won much more silverware than him - his development and improvement of players.
What Bielsa lacks in trophies he makes up for in the sheer number of legends that he coached into some of the best players in the world over several generations, from legends like Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo to modern superstars like Alexis Sanchez and Nicholas Pepe. He's done this not by being a rhetoric-spouting, silver-tongued monument of charisma but through a process of seeking perfection and translating it into action on the pitch.
Even then, it was a trial and error process. I recall reading an anecdote of his about Crespo, how when he was a young man Bielsa told him that he was an amazing player who had little left to learn and couldn't possibly improve on his excellence. Then, years later, Bielsa met with him again after a great playing career, in which Crespo had improved markedly in his game. Crespo asked Bielsa why he lied to him years ago and the latter replied that he wanted to boost his morale, make him feel good about himself and his game. He acknowledged there and then that it was a mistake, and it remains to this day one of his greatest regrets.
There's an odd notion going around that Bielsa is some sort of distant authoritarian, aloof and uncaring of his players. When all we see is a man of unswerving principle, a humble man who sleeps at the training ground and buys bread from the local Morrisons, who always has the time to have his picture taken with adoring fans - how can that image be accurate? There's a lot of misreading into players' comments, mostly misquotation from online press for cheap clickbait, but it all sits at odds with what I've read about Bielsa himself both from the man and those who learned under him. Remember that simple elation that made him bimble across the pitch to hug Bamford after that training volley a while back?
Bielsa is a man who deeply cares about his charges, his willingness to be their human shield when things don't go our way is proof enough. But neither is he a cuddly grandad who babysits them every moment, because he knows from painful experience that handling players in the wrong way - especially in a squad as small and tightly-knit as this - will not only affect their next game, their next season but potentially their careers.
Underperformers will be replaced in time, but not on the basis of one game or a few games but after there's no doubt that their performances are hurting the team. Accountability can also be twisted negatively into the term 'scapegoat' or 'witch hunt', and that will only breed fear and more poor performances in the long term, as more players are put under the pressure of being the next target. The team itself will break down. We want someone to blame when things go wrong, it's only natural, and Bielsa will always blame himself above all others.
Content by Mothbanquet from the Accountability thread on our discussion forums.