Marcelo Bielsa is considered a trailblazer for managers in the beautiful game. Ranked amongst the most tactically astute coaches on the planet, Bielsa has mentored some of the best players and subsequent managers in the game – including the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Diego Simeone and Marcelo Gallardo. Some of them who played under Bielsa at the Copa America too.
He takes a very hands-on approach when it comes to coaching the players of his team, demanding the very best of them in every training session and he has rightly acquired the nickname ‘El Loco’ Bielsa, that when translated from Spanish means Madman Bielsa.
He is very passionate about the game and studies the details and nitty-gritty of his players and the opposition team with equal enthusiasm and ardour, but he can also be impulsive and rather reckless at times, as when he left Italian club Lazio barely two days after signing as their manager in July 2016 citing the inability of the Eagles to sign the players that he wanted in the team set-up.
He is famous for guiding the Chile national football team during the qualification rounds for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and taking Athletic Bilbao to the 2012 Copa del Rey final and the 2012 Europa League final (both of which Athletic lost).
What many people overlook is that he was also the manager of his national side Argentina during the 1999 and 2004 Copas America where both times the Argentines were outclassed and outwitted by their arch-rivals Brazil. As we await the commencement of yet another Copa America, FootTheBall takes a look at the iconic moments of El Loco at the world’s oldest international tournament.
1999 Copa America
At the 1999 edition of Copa America held in Paraguay Bielsa was at the helm of La Albiceleste as they finished runners-up in Group C behind Colombia. But it was in their second group stage match that El Loco showcased his rather temperamental side – being sent off by the match referee as the Argentines lost to Colombia with Martin Palermo missing three consecutive penalty kicks to condemn La Albiceleste to a defeat that would ultimately see them relinquishing first place in the group to Los Cafeteros.
In the post-match press conference Bielsa initially sat staring into empty space, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room. And at long last, when he did speak to answer a question regarding the red card that he had been shown, he ended up, contrary to popular expectation and belief, backing the match official’s decision in sending him off the pitch. Bielsa said of the decision that “the referee was absolutely correct because I protested in an ill-mannered form”.
His team went on to qualify for the knockout stage, but were ousted on their very first hurdle as the Brazil national football team came from behind in the quarter-final to send the Argentines packing back home from Paraguay. And even though La Albiceleste delivered underwhelming performances in Paraguay, Bielsa didn’t face the axe from the Argentine Football Association
2004 Copa America
It was half a decade later in Peru that Bielsa’s charges shone and lit up the continental tournament as they finished runners-up (yet again losing to Brazil in the title decider). One of the trademarks of Marcelo Bielsa’s teams is that they play entertaining, beautiful football irrespective of the result and La Albiceleste lived up to this billing at Peru 2004.
The Argentines started the tournament in breathtaking fashion by winning 6-1 in their match with Ecuador (Javier Saviola scored a perfect hat-trick), but lost to Mexico in the very next match before triumphing in thier last group stage match with Uruguay.
In the knockout stage, La Albiceleste didn’t concede even a single goal during their quarter-final and semi-final tie with hosts Peru and Colombia and subsequently set-up an utterly mouth-watering clash with Brazil in the final at the Estadio Nacional in Lima.
The Argentines took the lead twice in the match only to see the Selecao equalise every time they went ahead, with the second equaliser coming in the 3rd minute of second half stoppage time.
As extra time followed, neither sides could find the breakthrough and ultimately Argentina had to pay for their mistakes as D’Alessandro and Heinze missed from 12 yards to hand the continental title to Brazil.
Later in August 2004, Bielsa made history as he helped Argentina in securing their first ever Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Courtesy of this triumph, Argentina became the first South American nation to be victorious at the Olympic Games since 1928 ()when Uruguay won and Argentina settled for second place in Amsterdam)