Bielsaball is back and Nunez is firing

Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay are lighting up the Copa America with football from another planet

It’s happening again. It first happened over thirty years ago, at Marcelo Bielsa’s beloved hometown club Newell’s Old Boys. From Rosaria to the Basque Country, from Chile to Yorkshire, fanbases across the world have fallen under Bielsa’s spell. And now too Uruguay.

Bielsaball is something special when it all clicks into place. It’s the reason that fans from Argentina, Chile and Bilbao made the pilgrimage to Elland Road to see Bielsa’s Leeds United. It’s why you can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be a fair few Leeds supporters out in the United States following Uruguay.

Ask supporters of his former teams what his football meant to them and chances are their voice will warble like the Geordie talkSPORT caller reminiscing about Micky Quinn.

We ought to have seen this coming.

Bielsa’s Uruguay have already practically booked their return to the States in a couple of years, having made a stupendous start in CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualification. Last year they ended Argentina’s 14-match winning run, which dated back to them lifting the World Cup in Qatar, by winning 2-0 away at La Bombonera. They also beat Brazil by the same scoreline, their first win over the Selecao since 2001.

But there were fears that after a long and gruelling season, Uruguay would struggle to reproduce their best football at this summer’s tournament. Just go back to the 2002 World Cup, in which Bielsa’s Argentina were almost perfect in qualifying, among the favourites, and crashed out in the group stage. Kicking things off in May, moved forward to avoid East Asia’s monsoon season, was not ideal for Bielsa’s high-intensity demands.

No such fears this time around. After a sufficient post-season break, Uruguay’s look fit and hungry enough. The style with which they thrashed fellow Copa America side Mexico 4-0 in a pre-tournament friendly hinted they were gearing up for something special.

Now we’re seeing it at the tournament proper, too.

Uruguay kicked things off in decent enough fashion, beating Panama 3-1. But it was their second outing that really pointed to them being capable of going all the way in the coming weeks.

Bolivia simply couldn’t live with Uruguay as American spectators in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium were treated to an exhibition of prime Bielsaball in a 5-0 mauling.

Take a look at the way they dashed up the pitch, seconds after winning the ball back on the edge of their own box. Bolivia had just taken a throw-in in the final third and within the blink of an eye they were fearing for their lives, such is the relentless verticality that’s a hallmark of Bielsa’s best teams.

One tackle. Three passes. Barely a dozen touches. Ten seconds. From one box to the other and into the back of Bolivia’s net.

Darwin Nunez timed his run perfectly, looking like the second coming of Copa America legend Gabriel Batistuta, such his intelligent movement and dead-eyed finishing ability.

Darwin Nunez? Intelligent? Dead-eyed? Efficiency is not a concept you associate with a striker who’s just endured two bafflingly bonkers seasons with Liverpool. Yet he’s a different beast for Bielsa’s Uruguay, for whom he’s now scored in seven successive games.

Uruguay aren’t quite through to the last eight just yet, although it would take an almighty collapse and goal difference swing in the final match against hosts USA for them not to end up as group winners, which ought to give them a forgiving quarter-final draw.

Who knows where this will end up. Playing as they are, we can certainly imagine Bielsa’s men rocking up to the final at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida and taking Lionel Messi’s Copa America on his own patch.

But maybe this’ll end in glorious failure. For his mythical status in the game, Bielsa’s career is not littered with silverware, with a last-gasp Adriano equaliser famously denying his Argentina the Copa America exactly two decades ago.

Whatever happens, Bielsa’s Uruguay are playing the kind of football you wouldn’t want to miss. Set your alarms for the Marcelo Bielsa & Darwin Nunez show. Appointment viewing.