Should Marcelo Bielsa’s Refusal to Adapt be Replicated?

You can count the names of the world’s most influential managers on one hand: Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, and Antonio Conte. However, you can count the names of the managers who influenced all of them on just one finger: Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine is renowned for the role he plays in the development of coaches around the world and the way they seek him out so that he can impart his knowledge to them. 

Marcelo Bielsa the messiah 

Bielsa is, if you will, a modern-day soccer messiah, and his disciples come from far and wide to hear the gospel according to El Loco. If you needed proof of this then perhaps we should look back on Pep Guardiola’s pilgrimage to Bielsa’s farm in Maximo Paz in 2006 after being advised by his teammate Gabriel Batistuta to do so. At the time, Guardiola was thinking of going into management, and Batistuta, having worked under Bielsa whilst playing for the Argentine national team, encouraged Guardiola to have an audience with Bielsa given how beneficial it would be to his own career prospects in the dugout. 

Guardiola ended up doing so and the two would spend the entire day and most of the night passionately talking about soccer as Bielsa barbecued some famous Argentinian steaks. At one stage, the conversation about tactics became so animated that both men began feverishly moving furniture around the room in an attempt to create a line of defenders and attackers. When the night eventually came to an end and Guardiola made for his hotel room in Buenos Aires, the wheels were in motion for soccer to change for good

The apprentice upstages the master 

And here we are, nearly two decades later with both managers in the Premier League but with Guardiola having won trophies everywhere he has gone whilst Bielsa had enjoyed meager success. Indeed, since that conversation, Bielsa’s only silverware has been the Championship trophy with Leeds United whilst Guardiola has won 31 titles.

That number will in all likelihood go up to 32, with the Spaniard looking set to add another Premier League title to the Etihad Stadium trophy cabinet this season. The Cityzens have had a strong 2021-22 campaign, and as of February 11, they are strong favorites in the Betway sports betting with odds odd -1000 to win back-to-back Premier League titles which tells you everything you need to know about the continued success that Guardiola’ style of play has helped the club achieve.

You may be tempted at this point to remonstrate out loud that Guardiola has had far greater resources to call on to build championship-winning teams and you would of course be right. It’s also worth stressing that Bielsa’s title with Leeds was a phenomenal achievement given that the Whites had become known as ‘The Damned United‘ over their history owing to the fact that they had a habit of being perennial underachievers. 

But even if we were to put finances to one side, one still needs to explore the point regarding Bielsa’s unwillingness to adapt and instead double down on plan A when things begin to go wrong. Could there be an argument to be made about his outright refusal to adapt his methods and whether this has cost him the chance to enjoy a glittering career as Guardiola has enjoyed?

Should success be measured by trophies? 

All of those managers mentioned at the top of the piece and in particular, Pochettino and Guardiola, have used Bielsa’s blueprint but with a degree more flexibility to establish their own unique way. In essence, this has added more strings to their bow and ultimately made it harder for the opposition to prepare for what they might encounter on match day.

Similarly, when their initial plan isn’t yielding much success, they can call on a philosophy that allows them to modify where need be. Bielsa doesn’t modify as much as he doubles down and you would have to conclude that this uncompromising soccer ideology has cost him the chance to win trophies. 

Of course, Marcelo Bielsa will tell you that soccer is not all about winning silverware and rather has more to do with entertaining the fans and the role that soccer has to play in making people’s lives better. If trophies are measured by enjoyment and a brand of soccer that leaves you desperately longing for more then you could say that supporters of Newell’s Old Boys, Athletic Bilbao, Marseille, Lille, and Leeds have won everything there is to win. 

The best Leeds United football from our return to the Premier League under coach Marcelo Bielsa. Highlights of Bielsa ball from Leeds United.