All change at Lille with the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa

Over the summer transfer window, French club Lille brought in a host of new players, but no new addition to the club was as headline worthy as the manager.

Marcelo Bielsa, the 62-year-old Argentine manager known as El Loco – The Crazy One – became the manager of Les Dogues in late May.

Despite the fact that Lille Olympique Sporting Club (LOSC) won Ligue 1 as recently as 2011 and regularly contest for the European spots, the acquisition of Marcelo Bielsa is still seen as something of a coup.

Bielsa rose to prominence mainly through his work in national teams, firstly at the helm of his native Argentina. His tenure got off to a shaky start, reaching only the quarterfinals of the Copa América in 1999 and then failing to guide his team past the group stage of the 2002 World Cup.

However, Bielsa’s next international tournament was far more successful, making the final of the Copa América in 2004 only to lose out to rivals Brazil on penalties and later that same year he claimed the gold medal in the Athens Olympic Games.

El Loco then moved to South American rivals Chile after a three year hiatus where he set records galore both good and bad, including a first ever win against Argentina in an official match and a first home loss in 50 years against Brazil.

His European club work at Athletic Club de Bilbao and Olympique de Marseille have earned him cult status at both clubs despite spending barely three years combined with them.

A real hallmark of Bielsa teams is their up and down nature. Not only are results typically tough to predict, but the Argentine’s squad selection can also change drastically when things do not go as planned.

On arrival in Lille, he overhauled the first team, telling long serving Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to find a new club and letting another two other Lille veterans, Marko Basa and Rio Mavuba leave the club for free.

Defensive midfielder Mavuba was one of the key players for the club since his arrival in 2008, making over 282 appearances for Les Dogues and starting every game of their title winning season, but Bielsa had no hesitation in letting the Frenchman move on.

Following the exodus of experienced players from Lille, younger players have come in to fill the void: £58 million was spent over the summer to bring in new talent and not a single one of the footballers to arrive in the Stade Pierre Mauroy is over 25 years old.

The decision from Bielsa to neglect experience in his squad in favour of a younger team is certainly a bold move, and it is not paying early dividends.

LOSC may have won their first game 3-0 at home to Nantes, but this was followed by defeats to Strasbourg and Caen, two sides that they would have expected to beat.

Without the older heads in the squad to calm the nerves, a few losses could easily develop into a poor run of form. Bielsa earned his nickname mostly from his notorious dressing room hairdryer treatment and he is not someone who is afraid to be honest when speaking to press.

Bielsa took full responsibility for the defeat in his post match interview; if there’s a lack of experience in the squad, maybe the manager can be the one to make up for it.

Bielsa’s style of play and obsession with the game is something which has earned him countless plaudits over the year.

On his recent transfer to Manchester City, Benjamin Mendy cited him as the best coach he’s ever worked with. And although the formation with three central defenders seems to be taking off in the last year in the Premier League, Bielsa has been using principally his trademark 3-3-3-1 formation for decades.

This tactic puts a lot of stress on movement as a team to win the ball back once it is lost but it can take a long time for a team to gel properly and it is very work intensive.

The rigorous training and playstyle paid dividends in the first half of the season at Marseille for Bielsa in 2014/15, but the squad ran out of steam come March and faltered from the top two to a fourth placed finish.

Although Marseille took to his tactics quickly, Lille may be a different proposition as there has been such a large turnover of players.

One thing is for sure, he is devoted to his work. Bielsa is said to have watched every game of the previous season before joining both Athletic Club de Bilbao and Marseille, and this enthusiasm will rub off on Lille, who have a strong following in France.

And although the season has got off to a rocky start, expect a strong middle of the season from Les Dogues once Bielsa’s influence takes effect.

Author Details

Conor Ketley

A football lover living and working in London, half Irish, half English. Graduate from University of Bath in French and Spanish. In my spare time I'm most likely to be chasing a football round a field if I'm not writing about it.

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