True to form, Marcelo Bielsa was too humble to accept credit when Uruguay kicked off their new dawn with some seriously sexy football in a 3-1 victory over his old flame Chile in September.
‘Bielsa Widows’ – from Rosario to Bilbao to Leeds – are following the veteran tactician’s latest chapter with great interest. ‘Bielsaball‘ was trending on Twitter in the hours after the first game he’d taken charge of since departing Elland Road 18 months ago as admirers gorged on Nicolas de la Cruz’s intricately worked goal.
“It is not something that we have worked on,” the manager responded in his post-match press conference when asked about the work in transitions.
“That has to do with the style of the players and their qualities. In reality, the training was only one day, so even though we spent more days together, due to travel, rest needs, after the weekend game at their clubs, we were only able to train one day then.
“Nothing the team showed was a product of the work’s influence”
To be fair, there was more than just false modesty to those words at the time. He’d barely been able to train his players.
Fast forward two months and Bielsa has unequivocally made his mark on Uruguay.
In October, they registered their first win over Brazil since 2001. Now they’ve beaten the world champions Argentina – a side who were yet to concede since the World Cup final, had lost just one of their last 51 outings and were unbeaten on home soil since 2016.
🟦 Uruguay's first-ever World Cup qualifying win in Argentina.
🟦 Uruguay's first win in Argentina since 1937.
🟦 The first goals Argentina have conceded since the World Cup final.
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) November 17, 2023
The 2-0 victory was Uruguay’s first win over Argentina in over a decade, their first win in Argentina since 1937, and their first-ever World Cup qualifying win over the border.
Something special is cooking in Montevideo. And if that wasn’t enough, football’s most box office coach has football’s most box office striker spearheading Uruguay’s new era.
Before he’d even met Bielsa – they first spoke over video call – Darwin Nunez credited his new national team coach for improving his game, shortly after he scored a late brace in ten-man Liverpool’s 2-1 comeback victory away to Newcastle.
“(Bielsa) showed me some of my matches, he corrected some things I’d done. For example, there’s a play where all of the opposition team are back, (where he says),” Nunez said.
“’Don’t run in front of the second centre-back, run in behind’; So that the centre-back loses me.”
The composure that Nunez demonstrated with those two goals at St. James’ Park made him look unrecognisable to the hapless figure who fluffed chance after chance in his debut season with Liverpool. Who replaced that guy with a dead-eyed marksman?
That clinical finisher was once again on show at La Bombonera. Sent through on the counter in the closing stages, Nunez picked up the ball just past the centre circle – with an entire half to run, you were just waiting for him to cannon the ball into row Z or lose his footing.
But no, he kept his cool and slotted the ball past Emiliano Martinez with little fuss.
¡Imparable! Darwin Nuñez le puso cifras definitivas a la gran victoria de @Uruguay, como visitante, ante #Argentina, por la Fecha 5 de las #EliminatoriasSudamericanas. 👏🏆#CreeEnGrande pic.twitter.com/QV7mBz5zea
— CONMEBOL.com (@CONMEBOL) November 17, 2023
Bielsa hasn’t completely coached the chaos out of Nunez. He’s already provided us with one of the misses of the season as Liverpool dropped two points at Luton and gifted us a moment of pure comedy in a Europa League clash with Toulouse.
But increasingly Nunez is looking like the guy that outscored Erling Haaland in his final season with Benfica and commanded a club-record £85million fee.
He’s notched three goals and three assists in five appearances for Bielsa’s Uruguay and is averaging a direct goal contribution every 67 minutes for Liverpool this season.
The international break elicits a groan from many quarters of the football world, but Bielsa coaching a Nunez-powered Uruguay are occasions to savour.
There’s a Copa America next summer and Uruguay have practically booked their ticket for the 2026 World Cup in North America already. Mark your calendars and count down the days; you don’t want to miss this.
By Nestor Waatch