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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
A man of morals
By Tim Vickery

Marcelo Bielsa
Bielsa blamed the rigours of the job for quitting Argentina

He may be known as "El Loco", but there is none of the traditional flamboyant Latin madness about Marcelo Bielsa.

Instead, the man whose controversial reign as Argentina coach came to an end on Tuesday is from the brooding intellectual school of eccentricity.

There is not a populist bone in his body. He is man for rigorous analysis and intense commitment, not crowd pleasing gestures or statements.

It made him a hard man for the Buenos Aires crowd to take to.

Even as his team sailed through qualification for the last World Cup the fans took their time to give him their support.

Then, he appeared to have lost it forever with Argentina's shock first-round elimination in Japan.

It was a surprise when Bielsa was re-appointed, and he was well aware that he would have to walk through fire.

I was in the stadium for Argentina's opening three home games of the current World Cup qualifiers - the first time they had played in Buenos Aires since the 2002 flop.

Argentina won gold at the Athens Olympics
Argentina won gold at the Athens Olympics

The atmosphere was vicious, and Bielsa was the principal target for hot contempt and cold scorn.

I was very much looking forward to witnessing the crowd's reaction in next month's game against Uruguay.

Bielsa's rebuilt team have had a splendid few months, playing some wonderful football in the Copa America, the Olympics and earlier this month against Peru in World Cup qualification.

Meanwhile Bielsa's integrity and dignity under pressure was winning the press over.

How would the Buenos Aires fans react? Now we will never know.

Looking further ahead, it would have been fascinating to see how Bielsa's side fared in the next World Cup.

The current side is more artistic than the more direct outfit which went to Japan.

But they share the same commitment to attack, the same "up and at 'em" approach that makes them so rare in contemporary football.

As Brazilian great Tostão commented recently, Argentina start the game as if they are losing.

Marcelo Bielsa
Bielsa's side lost to Brazil in the final of the Copa America

Could they maintain this approach in a World Cup, or was Bielsa's new side too lightweight for the supreme challenge? Now we will never know.

But we do know why Bielsa chose to leave. He is too honest for lies.

If he says that he simply ran out of energy, then that is undoubtedly the case.

It is no coincidence that Bielsa has resigned at the very moment when his position was strongest.

For months he was facing the sack. He made it clear in his resignation press conference that he came to thrive on the pressure.

If Argentina were badly placed in the World Cup qualifiers he would have stayed, he said.

Losing to Peru would have sent his side scuttling down the table. The 3-1 win consolidated them in second place.

It removed the threat of the sack. It made his job safe - and deprived him of the energy to carry on.

Bielsa grew so accustomed to fighting with his back to the wall that when he charged his way into the middle of the room he fell over backwards. His manner of leaving is certainly unusual.

Normally coaches have to be prized out of such high prestige positions.

But there is nothing mediocre about Marcelo Bielsa, or the teams he has selected. It has been a pleasure to watch his Argentina side over the last six years.


SEE ALSO
Bielsa quits Argentina
15 Sep 04  |  Football



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