What's on Bielsa's bucket list... and did Ipswich release a promise or a threat?
In his weekly column, CHRIS LAKEY ponders the belittling of Championship clubs by Marcelo Bielsa... and the double-edged sword that is Ipswich Town's 'come what may' statement
Confucius said, don’t trust man who sits on bucket to watch football.
And then he added: And don’t trust coach who stands behind fence either.
Frankly, I would probably have more joy trying to understand the Chinese philosopher’s deeper stuff than what Marcelo Bielsa was trying to achieve when he explained, at a bizarre press conference this week, how he researches his opponents before games.
That research includes, as the world now knows, ‘spying’. It’s not cloak and dagger, more pliers and binoculars. Which, despite his show of innocence, makes it unpleasant.
The Leeds manager, whose love of a bit of subterfuge was exposed a week ago ahead of a Friday night clash against Derby when a member of his staff was caught snooping on Frank Lampard’s training session, called the media to Leeds’ training ground to explain all.
What he proceeded to do was wow a bunch of people, many of a ‘Leeds leaning’ anyway, that he was English football’s coaching supremo, a man who had just ‘owned’ the game in this country because of the extensive and wide-ranging approach to match preparation, an attention to detail which no other manager came close to achieving. All he was doing was his job. The message was: This is normal for me.
Best make one thing clear here: I doubt there is a journalist or fan in the land who knows the full extent of their club manager’s work. If Daniel Farke invited me to watch how he prepares for a game I guarantee I would be gobsmacked.
Every manager in the country could do it and the reaction would be the same. Except to fellow managers.
Bielsa was simply revealing to the media what other managers would undoubtedly regard as the norm. As Alex Neil, once of these parts, said: “It does amaze me that everyone’s saying it’s a masterclass. Every single team in this division will be doing analysis. Every single team will have watched the opposition, every single team will have dossiers drawn up on players, fixtures, team line-ups. That’s pretty par for the course.
“What’s happened is that the general public, and some of the media, think we turn up and play five-a-side and go home and then when they do get a wee taster of what we actually do day-to-day and get exposed to it, it’s ground-breaking.”
Bielsa has just baffled people with the smelly stuff.’ Bielsa prepares for a game’ shock. If he didn’t he wouldn’t be managing a top club like Leeds United. The ones who don’t prepare are the ones who don’t succeed.
Bielsa was trying to worm himself out of a tight hole with a mixture of ignorance and arrogance.
The other thing about Bielsa’s media briefing is that it stunk of belittling the other Championship clubs. He admitted he had spied on them all, he doesn’t apologise for it, and the inference was “if you worked as hard as we do, you’d probably be as good as us”.
He showed fellow managers little respect. That’s not against the rules – it goes on every day in out footballing calendar – but he shouldn’t preach to everyone else in a holier than thou manner.
I like watching Bielsa’s Leeds side, I tipped them for the play-offs and I hope they are promoted, because I think they deserve to be. But I can do without their manager trying to flash his Coaching Mastercard in our faces.
Leeds fans, I am sure, will hear nothing against him. If Daniel Farke had come out and said he too had spied on rivals, I suspect Norwich fans would have been understanding and rather quieter than some are about Bielsa.
The Football League are investigating what happened - they’ve asked Leeds for comments – but how will they resolve it? Bielsa broke no rules, so do they need to update their rule book?
Should we be treating this as the workings of a slightly odd man? Should we be taking it with a pinch of salt? Is it harmless? Did it work?
I suspect we won’t get definitive answers and that the case will end up gathering dust in a filing cabinet at Football League HQ. If it does, I know a man who’d be able to liberate it...
Town and out...
I know Ipswich Town fans are desperate for something to cheer about – that’s a fact, not a jibe from across the border.
Times are tough when your team is bottom of the table: been there, seen it, got the T-shirt.
And when it’s like that some fans want something positive to brighten up their lives and give them renewed hope. Others, of courser, like to wallow in self pity...
Anyway, Ipswich have released a joint statement this week from owner and manager saying the latter will stay on, whatever position they find themselves in at the end of the season.
That might be the sort of thing that fires your loins, but not mine...
Town are four points adrift at the bottom of the Championship. The new (ish) manager has had 12 league games in charge. He won the seventh game and the 12th game (a week after losing at Accrington in the FA Cup), but has also lost seven league games. Winning your last game after three league defeats in a row is not a sign he has turned things around.
They may be currying favour with the fans by sending an open letter telling them how wonderful they are, but that won’t keep Town in the Championship. Form, not popularity, counts.
At this rate, Town will go down. Another manager might save them. Another manager might do better in League One, should they be there.
Releasing a statement – in the name of an unpopular owner and a manager with two wins in 12 – saying, come what may, it will be the same people in charge next season, may be a fillip to some, but it is arguably a curse to others. It’s not exactly a pick-me-up is it?
The derby is three weeks away and I suspect Ipswich will milk this one for everything they can: expect the management to call on Town’s travelling supporters to lift the team and make this a massive one-off game. Win it and even if they go down they will go down shouting the odds.
I have no doubt whatsoever Town fans will shout the roof down at their end of the stand, because that’s what they do. But that management policy is just shifting responsibility. I’ve seen it before.