Marcelo Bielsa: Chile's Innovative Football Manager

Esteban SabbatassoCorrespondent IMay 29, 2010

CHIBA, JAPAN - MAY 29:  Head Coach Marcelo Bielsa of Chile watches his players prior to the Kirin Cup soccer between Belgium and Chile at Fukuda Denshi Arena on May 29, 2009 in Chiba, Japan.  (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)
Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Marcelo Bielsa  has undoubtedly become one of South America's more recognized and innovative football managers in recent times.

Although, he may not be amongst the big names on the global scene (perhaps because he's never really coached in Europe,) he has certainly made his mark in South America, and could very well carry his success into the World Cup this year.

"El loco" (the mad-man,) as he's known, is probably one of the hardest working men in football.

Known for his enormous collection of video-tapes which he studies carefully for hours on end, he's a man obsessed with and entirely devoted to the game.

In Chile, they say he's revolutionized their countries football, and although in Argentina he's not as recognized as he deserves, he's had a similarly profound effect there as well.

Bielsa is a true professional, and his work is all-pervasive; the clarity of his ideas and his example of tireless devotion, reach far into the youth divisions, and even into the club sides themselves.

At the core of his philosophy is practice and hard work.

On the pitch his players are expected to both attack and defend throughout, switching between the two roles in an instant and with perfect synchronization.

This, coupled with the fast pace he expects of his teams, call for a high level of fitness.

Thus, extreme fitness training is usually a central part of his programme.

Known for fielding attacking, hard-pressing teams, Marcelo Bielsa most often plays his signature 3-3-1-3, and 3-4-1-2 formations. He's known for being tactically stubborn, and never speculating.

As coach of the Argentine National Team, Bielsa put together what seemed like an invincible side, topping the CONMEBOL qualifiers and going into the 2002 World Cup as favorites.

However, that team crashed out miserably in round one, after losing to England and tying with Sweden.

The Argentine public never forgave him for that, despite his leading Argentina to gold-medal success in the 2004 Olympic Games.

The widely held view was that he was too inflexible in his tactics and showed no variations against teams who had clearly done their homework, and were very solid defensively.

The Argentine football purists also complained that his team was too fast-paced and structured, not allowing for the kind of individual skills Argentine players are known for.

In retrospect, it seems quite clear that what really took place in 2002, was that the Argentine squad had simply peaked physically during the qualifiers. 

As often happens, many of the players arrived at the World Cup battling injuries, or simply just exhausted due to their club engagements.

Unfortunately for Bielsa, his chosen style of play is demanding on players physically and requires them to be in optimal conditions, which is rarely the case at a World Cup.

It has also been said that in 2002 the Argentine players were over-worked through-out the preparatory weeks, which only worsened their physical state.

So, a couple of key factors to bear in mind for Chile are

a) Many of these players will need to recuperate physically. Go easy on them.

b) The World Cup doesn't really give you any second chances, so based on past experience, it's good to have few alternate plans in mind. This doesn't mean abandoning your brand of football (which the world looks forward to watching), it just means being open to modifications if things aren't turning out quite as expected.

I certainly wish Chile the best, and I expect them to do quite well in South Africa.

The country could certainly use it, after all that they've suffered this year.