Long before he arrived at Leeds United, legendary Argentinian tactician Marcelo Bielsa established a reputation as one of the most influential managers in the world. Plenty of his players certainly say so.
The Argentine inspires cult-like devotion everywhere he’s been, from starting out as a coach at his boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys to managing the Argentina and Chile national teams, to working in Europe with Athletic Bilbao, Marseille and Leeds.
Here’s what 13 players from his past and present have said about how he’s developed them, over the course of his 30-year coaching career.
“When I arrived, I was fat – it’s that simple.
“I liked alfajores [a traditional biscuit]. The first thing Bielsa did was get rid of them and teach me to train in the rain. I hated him for it.
“We were a group of dreamers and the first dreamer was Bielsa. He dreamed about being Arrigo Sacchi, who he watched constantly winning European Cups. He wanted that to be us. A group of street kids to become heroes.”
“It helped you find answers on the pitch.
“All that homework – I wish all my friends could have experienced at least one per cent of what I did.”
🎓 The Newell's Old Boys School of Leadership. Notable alumni include:
✅ Marcelo Bielsa
✅ Tata Martino
✅ Mauricio Pochettino
✅ Eduardo Berizzo
✅ Lionel Scaloni
✅ Gabriel Heinze
✅ Walter Samuel
✅ This kidpic.twitter.com/0dUorbeS9O
— Newell's Old Boys – English (@Newells_en) October 2, 2019
“I have the influence of several coaches: Bielsa, Eriksson, Basile, they have all left a mark. Bielsa taught me the most.”
“I learned a lot from him and it is because of him that I am who I am. What I remember the most about Bielsa was the mentality that he tries his players to have.”
“Without him, I might not be where I am today.
“Bielsa’s different in lots of ways, his character, his personality. You only have to talk to him to realise he’s not cut from the usual cloth. But he’s also a really hard worker: he never stops watching matches, he has an extraordinary knowledge of football, he knows everything about the game.”
“He made me devour videos like never before.
“To begin with, he put me in front of the videos and I’d fall asleep. But he was happy! I was shocked.
“After a while I stopped sleeping and told myself go on, I’ll watch two minutes of this thing after all. After that he talked to me, I talked to him and we’d go over moves together.
“He told me, see, that’s why I let you sleep. You slept, you slept, you slept, but the day you decided to watch you got interested on your own. If I’d pushed you to watch you wouldn’t have been interested. Marcelo is just too good.”
Bielsa was coach of @benmendy23 when he was 20 years old. However, Bielsa already knew that he would be one of the best LBs in the world. But that would depend on whether Mendy wanted to be or not. So, he decided to give him some advice. #Bielsa #lufc pic.twitter.com/bOPO9QLqZq
— Juani Jimena (@JimenaJuani) August 15, 2019
“Bielsa was one of the coaches who taught me the most, but maybe I missed some of his concepts because I was very young and they didn’t interest me that much at the time.”
“When I joined Bilbao, Marcelo Bielsa told me, ‘Don’t complain ever again, because referees are there to help footballers, not to kill them.’ That was a lesson I had from him.
“I was going from a team that was fighting to keep alive to the romantic football of Marcelo Bielsa, so it was a big change for me. We played amazing football. Marcelo Bielsa should always be in football because the view he has about football is amazing.
“I remember the things he would say: ‘If we score the first goal, we are going to try to score the second,’ ‘don’t waste time,’ ‘don’t complain to the referee,’ ‘even if you have a bad decision, keep running, keep fighting,’ ‘if you score a goal, the best way to defend is to score the second one.’”
“I never thought I’d be able to do this well.
“I think it’s just the way he makes us train 100 per cent every game, he makes us watch videos on our games and goes back and tells us what we’ve done wrong and what we’ve done right.
“And positional play, I felt like I could play anywhere in midfield, but he knew what position was best for me, and he knew where he wanted me to play.”
When Phillips received his first England call-up in September 2020, Bielsa gifted him one of his old shirts at Newell’s Old Boys, and Phillips responded by giving the Argentinian his Three Lions shirt – adding he probably never would have earned a cap without him.
“He gave me a gift – one of his old playing shirts – and a message to my family and grandma, mum and girlfriend. That was a very nice touch for me.”
🗣"I gave one to Marcelo Bielsa and he gave me a cuddle"
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 10, 2020
“He opened my eyes to the way football can be played.
“On and off the pitch as well, you learn a lot from him. It is like school. Like going back to school but in a football sense.
“He gave me new ideas of how to play the game and also gave me consistent game time to be able to do that and show what I can do.”
“It’s new for me, all the different methods he brings into training.
“On the Saturday, you can feel it helps and it’s in your mind. That’s how I feel personally. When I go out there, I’ve got full confidence of what I’m doing and trying to do in that game.”
“I think he’s helped the players to know some things, also with football.
“Like giving value to people around the club, the fans, how difficult it is for some fans to pay for tickets and to follow the team for away games.
“I think this is important for us, because we play for us, for the players and for the club, but we play for a lot of people outside the club: fans here in Leeds, in England and around the world.”
“The secret really is Marcelo Bielsa, how he keeps us calm and to not think about being happy about winning six games in a row and that then it’s easy,” Alioski told the Yorkshire Evening Post after Leeds’ 2-0 win at Huddersfield.
“Especially then it’s difficult when you win with a high score like against Middlesbrough – 4-0. It’s difficult again to win a game because you can have too much confidence and make mistakes but we have a special coach that works with the team.
“He doesn’t let you think that the game will be easy, we have our heads down and work hard and it’s a clean sheet again. For me the secret is the coach.”