El Centrocampista

FED TO THE LIONS? – Bielsa under early pressure at Athletic Club

Time and patience: two virtues which do not appear in the job specification of a modern day football manager.

In an age where success must be instant and where football club chairmen change their managers more often than they change their underwear, newly appointed managers must hit the ground running or risk being dismissed before they have had time to hang up their coats.

One man who is currently feeling the pressure of the “instant success age” is Athletic Bilbao Coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Bielsa only took over in July but already finds himself under scrutiny after a disappointing start to the season which has seen Bilbao take one point from a possible six.

There have been encouraging signs during Los Leones’s opening 180 minutes, like the impressive Iker Munian, but it’s not the start the San Mamés masses or club president Josu Urrutia, the man who appointed Bielsa, would have hoped for.

The problem it would appear, is that Bielsa is trying to impose a completely new way of playing onto the club.

Bielsa, as his work with the Chilean national side proves, prefers an attack minded short passing game, which encourages teams to create from the back.

Athletic, though throughout their history have been more synonymous with playing a more direct, physical game.

Altering a football club’s culture is not an overnight job, but this is precisely what Bielsa seems intent on doing.

Athletic suffered a 2-1 defeat last week against Espanyol.

Using this more traditional, physical approach, Athletic enjoyed some success under ex-manager Joaquin Caparrós.

Caparrós however was sacked and replaced by Bielsa, seemingly because the new club chairman wanted to play more attractive football.

Some sceptics are already beginning to question this decision and are suggesting that Bielsa, an Argentinian, is not the right man to coach Atletico due to his place of birth.

One of these sceptics is former Valencia and Spain star Gaizka Mendieta.

In a recent interview, Medieta said of Bielsa and Athletic: “Bilbao is a club which are down to the routes a Basque club, yet all of a sudden, they hire an Argentinian manager.

“It’s something that can’t really work out. Bilbao, as a club has always played in a physical way. Right down to the academy, the players play this way. Now they have a new coach telling them to play pass, pass, pass, it’s going to take a lot of time.”

Whilst there is a lot to scoff at in Mendieta’s comments, especially the ludicrous idea that a foreigner cannot manager Athletic, one of Los Leones’ greatest ever coaches was Englishman Fred Pentland, he is right in saying that this new approach will take time.

Bielsa’s appointment was a gamble, of that there cannot be any doubt, however to suggest that the gamble has already failed would be ridiculous.

Concerned fans only need to look at “El Loco’s” time with Chile, where results started off poorly and then picked up when the players began to understand Bielsa’s approach.

Marcelo Bielsa’s appointment as Coach of Athletic Bilbao was brave as it was admirable.

He has a proven track record as well as the players at his disposal to make Atletico into a very good side.

What he needs now is simply time and patience.


  1. Athletic Offside (@AthleticOffside)

    15 September, 2011 at 21:37

    Don’t know what Mendieta is on about, been quite a few foreign managers before Bielsa
    and you could argue Caparrós was too (i.e. non-Basque).

    Think it’s ludicrous people are questioning Bielsa already, as you say changing things take time and we all need to be patient… hopefully tonight silence any doubters.

  2. Jamie

    15 September, 2011 at 22:14

    Agreed, it was a very strange comment. Hope he gets it right too, La Liga needs a strong Bilbao

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