Will the form of Leeds United implode - or "Bielsa burnout" is just a myth? An investigation

In short

  • Marcelo Bielsa has a reputation for overloading his players
  • Seasons in Newell's Old Boys and Athletic Bilbao are cause for concern
  • I feel from physiotherapists, players and from the man himself to find the truth
  • The idea of ​​& # 39; Bielsa burnout & # 39; it's not as simple as it seems

Ask most football fans if there are certainties in the beautiful game and they will all be happy to provide you with suggestions: Harry Kane will not score in August; Jürgen Klopp can not win the finals; José Mourinho goes through a "third season syndrome" in any club he manages; Romelu Lukaku will not be able to score against the best teams … and Marcelo Bielsa's teams will suffer from exhaustion.

That this kind of ideas have entered the public consciousness is certainly not surprising. As psychologist Steven Pinker explains: "Cognitive psychology has shown that the mind better understands the facts when they are woven into a conceptual fabric, such as a narrative, a mental map or an intuitive theory.The disconnected facts in the mind are like linked pages on the Web: they may not exist. "Narratives exist as a scaffold on which we can hang our facts, giving some kind of meaning to a series of otherwise arbitrary details.

Of course, this goes both ways. Where the stories we tell can allow us to impose order in the chaotic world in which we find ourselves, they can equally introduce wrong ideas into the conversation. What else do you think we ended up with Mohamed Salah, the player who "was not good enough for Liverpool" when he signed, the player who was "going to challenge Messi" at the end of last season or the player who is now being advertised as a "wonder of a season" all in the space of a year? When we try to narrate football, we often find ourselves walking the narrow path between the arbitrary fact and the mythological fiction.

Take Bielsa. While Leeds United goes to the Midlands to play the next promising promoter Bromwich Albion, he finds himself at the head of a team at the top of the championship, winning the championship with a style of play rarely seen in the second level of football English.

At this point, it is assumed that the inclination to automatic promotion is on the cards or, at the very least, a chance of glory for the play-off. However, in the back of everyone's mind there remains the apprehension of three decades: the Bielsa teams always fall at the end of a season, right?

Origins of the narrative of the "burnout of Bielsa"

Marcelo Bielsa greets the fans as she arrives at Elland Road before the match between Leeds United and Brentford (Getty Images)

Narratives are not born from nothing. A series of events or details emerge that strike someone as strange. These are investigated more closely. A story is told.

In the case of Bielsa and the narrative of burnout, there is solid evidence to suggest that the phenomenon occurred at points in his career. During his first season as coach of Newell's Old Boys in 1990-91, the Bielsa team went from securing the title to the opening – the opening half of the season – to win only six games in the enclosure – the second half of the season.

Inevitably, questions were asked about his ability to regulate the intensity of his approach to management. However, there are mitigating factors that should be taken into consideration here. On the one hand, the seclusion in 1990-91 an even more disastrous one ensued Opening the following season. Winning only three games, Newell ended the calendar year with only nine wins in the league. The summer break had done little to support the claim that fatigue could be the only explanation for the collapse.

On top of this, the structure of the Argentine Primera División at that moment rattled off the winner of the Opening against the winner of the seclusion in a season-run play-off to determine the absolute champion. Played as a two-legged tie at the start of July, Newell beat Boca Juniors, winning 3-1 on penalties. Where the Bielsa team was not so tired to lose for the opponents in the playoffs, one could make a case where they fell into the seclusion as a result of their qualification for the play-offs at the end of Opening.

What's the problem?

Marcelo Bielsa looks at Argentina during the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Peru played at Estadio River Plate (Getty Images)

A quick reading through the managerial curriculum of Bielsa from this point on makes it difficult to understand how the narrative of the burnout has taken such a firm hold in the collective consciousness of the football world.

The Argentine is certainly a non-standard career path and includes a long period of work with two national teams and a certain number of interrupted tasks due to various issues outside the field. After leaving Newell's Old Boys after losing in the Copa Libertadores final in 1992, there was nothing of his time in Argentine football to suspect that exhaustion at the end of the season was a problem going on .

Moving to Espanyol in 1998, Bielsa left early to take up the position of coach of the national team of Argentina before moving on to a South American national team for another when Chile knocked. Understandably, fatigue has never been a problem for Bielsa during this period. But it was not a problem either in Marseille, who won four consecutive games at the end of the 2014-15 season before Bielsa left early the following season. Beyond that, Lazio went and left within 48 hours and a disastrous spell in Lille lasted just 13 games.

In fact, the only other period of his career that gives credit to a story at the end of the season is the first season of Bielsa at the Athletic Club, which saw the team lose three of their last four games in the league and a Copa del Rey final and a Europa League final.

& # 39; We could not even move & # 39;

Ander Herrera makes gestures during the Copa del Rey final match between Athletic Club and Barcelona in 2012 (Getty Images)

When asked about that season, Ander Herrera expressed his opinion on the underlying cause: "I can not lie to you, we have not even managed to move in the last few months, we played five league games and we were in two cup finals and I think we lost everyone. [They lost three in the league, drew one and won one]".

"Our legs said 'stop'," he continued. "We always played with the same players and we were not in the finals, we were a completely different team than before because, to be honest, we were physically fucked".

There can be little doubt that the Athletic Club players have experienced a breakdown in those last weeks of the season. Again, however, there were mitigating factors.

First, regardless of the three out of five losses in the Liga, the final position of Athletic's 10th in the league was not indicative of a crash at the end of the season. The team had spent almost the entire campaign in the midtable and even dropped to 19th at a certain point. They also lost three games out of five at the opening of the La Liga season.

It was also a long season – the team ended up playing 65 games in all competitions – and, despite the defeat in the Copa del Rey and Europa League finals, falling into the hands of a Barcelona in second position Atletico Madrid in fifth place was hardly indicative of a complete collapse.

No problem

Kemar Roofe watches during the Sky Bet Championship between Leeds United and Nottingham Forest (Getty Images) Speaking to Leeds manager after winning 2-1 against Wigan Athletic last weekend, I He asked for the wounds that were forming on his team and whether or not he feared that they could be caused by his famous intense training.

"In fact, we are the team that has the slightest injury in the league & # 39;

Marcelo Bielsa

The Argentine was adamant: Leeds is not an outlier in the league. "In reality, we are the team that has the least injury in the championship," he said. "If we take some parameters, we are the team with the fewest injuries: if we consider the number of players used, the type of injury, the muscular injuries".

Seen from this perspective, suggested Bielsa, the question of the intensity of training becomes a non-problem. "Muscle injuries are related to excessive stress," he continued, "but [muscular injury] this is not the case with Gaetano Berardi, this is not the case [Luke] Ayling, this is not the case [Patrick] Bamford, it was not the case [Liam] Cooper. Actually I would say that the high percentage of injured players did not have muscle injuries ".

So does the idea of ​​a season end run out of worry? Not for the manager, anyway. Once again, he reiterated the idea that his team was not unusual in the injury record: "On average, each team when the team plays twice a week, there are four players missing from each team. this average. "

If Leeds was about to fall at the end of the season, so it seemed like its logic was, then so were many other teams.

A question of quality

Marcelo Bielsa with Ander Iturraspe during a training session on the eve of the Europa League final in 2012 (Getty Images)

But what do the experts say? Looking for a view from outside the club, I spoke with Jed Davies, Ottawa Fury's first assistant coach team and author of The philosophy of football: In Shadows of Marcelo Bielsa.

As Davies sees it, part of the explanation for the popularity of the burnout narrative stems from the perception emitted by the way the Bielsa teams play. "The teams of Marcelo Bielsa are famous for their intense intensity of octane in the moments of pressing and for the movements out of the ball (see video below), in particular for the volume of the races behind. he observes this combative energy and concludes that the training week must represent something similar. "

This, he argues, is not a completely accurate picture. "Since much of Marcelo Bielsa's methodology is unassailable and linked to the style of play, the idea must be to avoid contact injuries with [his] training idea. "Increasing the intensity of the training sessions, therefore, does not necessarily mean that the result is an overall increase in physical intensity.

In fact, the intensity that is often talked about when discussing Bielsa's methods could be misleading. Davies explains: "What Bielsa requires is an all-in, player-oriented," all-in "commitment to stay highly focused and present for longer periods during the training week."

"In many clubs, it's normal to work for three or four hours as a professional player.By Bielsa, we often expect players to work for several days and appreciate the hours invested to improve performance, so of course it could take some time because the players accept and maintain their quality of work ".

So we come to the idea that any burnout that occurs in the Bielsa teams is so much the product of an emotional intensity as the physical one.

Living La Vida Loca

Marcelo Bielsa observes the action during the pre-season friendly match between Marseille and Juventus at the Stade Velodrome in 2015 (Getty Images)

The idea that the cause of the so-called "burnout Bielsa" could be the result of an emotional rather than physical intensity is compelling.

The manager of Leeds readily admits his obsessive tendencies and these, married with his evident passion for the game, have led to the deterioration of some of his managerial positions. The most famous thing is that Bielsa left the Italian club Lazio after just 48 hours of play, citing a failure to "sign one of the seven additions in the work program expressly approved by the President" and "the departure of 18 players involved in the previous season."

In his previous club, Marseille, the Argentine had left after playing only one game of his second season, giving his resignation after announcing his displeasure for the club's "moving position" during the negotiations for a new agreement proposed.

Beyond that, Bielsa has the habit of abandoning the ever more ubiquitous directors of football who operate behind the scenes in many clubs. The disastrous period of 13 games in Lille that directly preceded his stay in Leeds led to a slow disagreement with Gérard Lopez and his time at the Athletic Club was punctuated by repercussions on purchases and contracts of players, among such as the case of Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez.

Emotional toll

These off-field events, together with the need for a total commitment by its players in the field of training, have contributed to the nonconformist character that has become associated with Marcelo Bielsa. Given the nickname "El Loco", an epithet that makes it understandably understandable and refuses to repeat in the press conferences, Bielsa has been widely incorporated into popular culture as a kind of crazy football, imposing its eccentric ideals to its teams at the search for perfection.

Regardless of the correctness or the inability of these characterizations, however, there is clearly an emotional cost that comes from playing for him. When Juan Manuel Llop talked about his time playing with Bielsa from Newell, he mentioned this. "We have had two unfavorable seasons due to the level required by us to fight for the title.

"We also had a small team, and all the players on the team came from the youth system, so Marcelo was extremely demanding and, together with the pressure of the title challenge, he made sure some loosening was inevitable.

Yes, fatigue has contributed to the decline. But it was as emotional as it was physical.

Rewrite the narrative

So the Leeds Bielsa will suffer a breakdown while the season takes place? Maybe. Is it a data? Certainly not.

Narratives exist for a reason. The first seasons of Bielsa at Newell & # 39; s and Athletic Club are clearly examples of some sort of end-of-season fade. However, they are also two events in a career that covers nearly thirty years.

Whatever happens, the end of the year's Championship campaign comes, Bielsa and Leeds United are clearly aware of the burnout's plot and are taking steps to prevent it from becoming a reality.

But, as we have seen, these burnouts have much to do with external factors as internal factors. If the emotional intensity becomes excessive, in case of disagreement with the cardinal players or the blackboard, if physical fatigue actually occurs, then the entire building may collapse.

One thing is certain: if Leeds United can resist and return to the Premier League after years of wandering in the desert, Bielsa will have written a new narrative for himself.

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