Marcelo Bielsa could be “exactly what Everton need” in terms of changing the culture at the ailing Blues but the former Leeds United manager would have to be given full control of the running of the club in order to make it work.
That’s the verdict of Conor McGilligan, sport social media editor at the Manchester Evening News and a lifelong Leeds United fan.
Bielsa is currently the bookmakers’ favourite to become the next Everton manager following Frank Lampard’s sacking on Monday with claims the Argentinian is their number one choice and he fancies a Premier League return, but there are also reports that there would be several obstacles to overcome in order to convince the 67-year-old to come to Goodison Park. While McGilligan remains an enthusiastic supporter of Bielsa’s work, he believes certain strict criteria would have to be adhered to in order to make his potential appointment work.
He told the ECHO: “Bielsa was huge, I think it was still 70-30 that people didn’t want to let him go when he left. He changed the culture having come into Leeds United when they were a neglected, Championship side, whose whole ethos altered and Everton probably need that.
“The only thing I’d say though is that he needed the reins fully. In that respect, the owner did a really good job in terms of backing him but also letting him change the sporting facilities with bringing a brand new swimming pool in and a running track.
“Basically, Bielsa had specifications for everything he wanted or he’d walk. He just ran the club and that’s why it was such a massive thing when he left because all the Leeds fans were panicking over what would happen next.
“It’s interesting to wonder whether Farhad Moshiri would do that and maybe that’s why it wouldn’t work for him at Everton but who knows? When he hasn’t been given that full control like at Lazio (he infamously quit after just two days) or towards the end at Athletic Bilbao, that’s where it starting going downhill.
“The culture was changed within just six weeks at Leeds though. He came in during the summer of 2018 and only got a couple of bodies in but then played Stoke City who had just been relegated from the Premier League and battered them 3-1. It was the best football I’d ever seen so if Everton were to get him in and it were to work, it would be pretty insane I would think.”
McGilligan added: “Bielsa didn’t have long to get his message into place but he did have a pre-season behind him. You have to be so intense with his methods, it’s scary.
“In terms of body fat percentage, all the Leeds players came back and they looked like sticks. They’d always been fit players but after Bielsa came in they were less than nine percent body fat.
“He was measuring them every day because his approach is all about running every day – run, run, run – as that’s how he’d win games because the other team are fatigued. I do wonder whether putting that into an Everton side who are bottom of the table is a project that Bielsa would take on because it’s a hell of a lot of pressure.”
From a football point of view, Bielsa’s distinctive high-tempo and cavalier approach of playing is in sharp contrast to the way Everton have been operating so far this season. The Blues have netted just 15 goals in 20 Premier League games to date this term with Lampard having focused on tightening up at the back.
That’s a world away from Bielsa’s way of working and McGilligan said: “He was all about being as expansive as possible. The wingers would be on the touchlines and Leeds would make the pitch as wide as they could and always worked well on the bigger pitch.
“There would be a high press which would be initiated almost instantaneously so any time the opposition centre-backs got the ball, a press would be ignited and he also loved an overlap so Leeds’ trademark was almost the right central midfielder going in a trident with the right-back and the striker and they’d play in triangles, utilising overlaps on the right wing with the same process on the left. He’d just throw bodies forward with no caution to the wind.
“In theory it would be easy for opponents to break Leeds down but they were worried about throwing too many men forwards themselves because Bielsa’s side were so wide and dangerous on the counter attack, they’d defend in attack if that makes sense. It was a 4-1-4-1 formation with Kalvin Phillips the pivot who absolutely flourished as the ‘quarterback’, spraying balls left and right.
“In terms of set-pieces, Leeds were always vulnerable as Bielsa pretty much actively said they never worked on it in training. There was never really any emphasis on defence but it was pretty frightening when going forward to be honest.”
While the coach from Rosario – the same home city as World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi – has long had a reputation for being something of a firebrand, McGilligan believes he has mellowed with age and is actually one of the game’s great gentlemen. He said: “Bielsa was always tagged ‘El Loco’ – the crazy guy – in Spanish but he was never really like that when he was at Leeds, I think that goes back to his very early years in coaching back in Argentina at Newell’s Old Boys. With us he always had a calm, almost grandfather-like demeanour.
“There was the Aston Villa game when we let them through to score (Mateusz Klich had controversially netted for Leeds despite Villa players wanting the ball to be kicked out of play because of Jonathan Kodjia’s head injury) because Bielsa’s morals were such and it felt like Leeds were the envy of many other clubs because of their beautiful football. Bielsa was the head of this organisation and he’d never bad mouth anybody.
“He was a very smooth operator who didn’t get involved in the politics of football and you’d never hear him slagging off another manager or club or putting excuses out there. He’d say we weren’t good enough on the day and they’d move on.
“His press conferences were always entertaining and his translator Andres (Clavijo) would come in as Bielsa would spend an hour talking about this, that and the other. You’d sit there trying to transcribe it all, it would be fun but your hands would hurt.”