Football Features

Marcelo Bielsa’s refusal to adapt leaves Leeds facing play-off lottery – but he wouldn’t have it any other way

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 11:08, 6 May 2019 | Updated: 14:38, 27 June 2019

Marcelo Bielsa could very well lay claim to having shaped modern football as we know it.

The list of coaches he’s influenced throughout a near three-decade managerial career is a who’s who. Pep Guardiola – who famously shared an 11-hour barbeque with Bielsa at his Rosario home before heading into management – Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone are just three who have cited the man dubbed “El Loco” as a source of inspiration.

Although he’s not heavily decorated, with his last domestic success coming in the 1990s, Bielsa remains a force to be reckoned with. Blessed with incredible studied knowledge of the beautiful game, his passion can be overwhelming. Those who have played under him agree it can be exhausting but ultimately worth it.

Bielsa is fully aware of the intense demands he puts on his players, which has often led to burnout, and – in typical idealistic style – nonchalantly countered those criticisms.

“If players weren’t human, I’d never lose,” came the words.

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Of course, there’s an element of truth even if he’s conceding the football he strives for – in the purest sense – may never be attainable. As someone who has soaked up every system and idea we could be talking about reaching football utopia and beyond.

And he’s never going to quit pursuing the impossible. Whilst speaking to a forum in Rio de Janeiro in 2017 the Argentine tactician argued Jorge Sampaoli could never be his disciple as, unlike himself, the current Santos boss is able to adapt; something he’s incapable of doing.

Leeds United, in this rollercoaster of a season, have discovered that firsthand. As late as matchday 29 they were leading the Championship, but a run of eight wins from their next 16 saw them not only squander top spot but also automatic promotion.

Their dream of ending a 15-year Premier League exile hangs in the balance. It’s now in the hands of the play-offs. Though, a part of Bielsa must be thinking, if his players were androids would they have already reached the promised land?