How El Loco’s ec­cen­tric method

Ar­gen­tine man­ager’s pas­sion as a fan fu­els the high-tempo ap­proach which has taken Leeds back to the Premier League

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Total Football - By Rob Bagchi

There is a pic­ture of Marcelo Bielsa taken af­ter Leeds United’s 2-0 vic­tory over Hud­der­s­field Town in March, their last match be­fore the lock­down, that cap­tures the man­ager in a rare mo­ment of rap­ture. It is their fifth win in suc­ces­sion and the three points have shot them back to the top of the Cham­pi­onship, re­pair­ing the dam­age in­flicted by four de­feats out of five in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary.

Yet it is not one of his own play­ers who in­spires Bielsa’s de­light. It is Manch­ester City’s Aymeric La­porte, a player given his debut by Bielsa at Ath­letic Bil­bao, on a visit to the dress­ing room.

The two are pho­tographed hold­ing a City shirt La­porte has au­to­graphed and in­scribed with a debt of grat­i­tude to his men­tor. Bielsa beams with pride that bor­ders on the pa­ter­nal. It is an un­com­mon glimpse of what lies be­hind the in­ten­sity: gen­uine joy in his work and the fruits of it.

“They call him El Loco cos he’s crazy,” Leeds fans sing in their main song ded­i­cated to him. It is an­other vari­ant of Bad Moon Ris­ing but also a du­pli­ca­tion of the theme of in­san­ity that has been ap­plied to Bielsa through­out his ca­reer. It is there in the ti­tle of Tim Rich’s fas­ci­nat­ing new bi­og­ra­phy, The Qual­ity of Mad­ness. In­deed Dim­itri Payet, who spent a year un­der Bielsa at Mar­seille, called the sever­ity of his train­ing meth­ods “like a sick­ness, but it worked”.

The ef­fec­tive­ness of it, as Payet says, is the key. The lyric that fol­lows the El Loco line, “but he knows ex­actly what we need” is one of the main rea­sons, along with two sea­sons of mostly thrilling foot­ball, why sup­port­ers have em­braced him so warmly.

There is com­fort in hav­ing a man­ager who has an aura of cer­tainty, even if that in­evitably proves il­lu­sory.

This com­bi­na­tion of ec­cen­tric­ity, rigid­ity of fo­cus, his Spar­tan life­style and be­lief in his sys­tem, which cre­ates a tor­nado of move­ment, pass­ing, press­ing and over­load­ing, has made dis­ci­ples of them all. Bielsa ar­rived to a pub­lic des­per­ate to be charmed and long­ing for a head coach with vi­sion, some­one who could shape a gen­er­a­tion and the cul­ture of the club just as Don Re­vie and Howard Wilkin­son once had.

As jour­nal­ist and au­thor Paul Roger­son, a life­long fan, says: “In his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with process and ut­ter lack of pre­ten­sion, Bielsa re­sem­bles the last Leeds man­ager who raised the club off the floor – Howard Wilkin­son. His­tory was bunk

Pride and joy: Marcelo Bielsa poses with his pro­tege, Aymeric La­porte

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