Marcelo Bielsa, The Enigma - Part One
At 62, Marcelo Bielsa is a managerial veteran and yet he remains an enigma, one of the most mysterious and intriguing figures in football...
The start of a new season, and the journalists have turned up in numbers at Lille's training ground. But the new manager is doing his best to avoid the prying eyes. Marcelo Bielsa takes a detour to try to get on to the training pitch without walking past the cameras. But there is only one entrance. The Argentine had arrived and the fun and games were just beginning.
"Trying to describe Bielsa's personality is an incredibly complex task. I don't even think he could do it," Lille's technical advisor Charles Biétry tells The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports.
What is sure is that speaking to the man in person is nigh on impossible - Bielsa has not given a one-on-one interview for 19 years now.
"When he joined Marseille he told us he wouldn't be doing any interviews. That's the way he works and we accepted it," says Elodie Malatrait, the head of communications at OM.
'Shyness and power'
In Marseille, the ghost of Marcelo Bielsa lives on. His face can be spotted in various guises outside the Orange Vélodrome, but these days Malatrait sits next to a different coach in press conferences with Rudi Garcia - formerly of LOSC - now in charge there.
But Marseille's media chief knows Bielsa well, having worked alongside the eccentric, unpredictable Argentine for 15 months.
"He doesn't look at the journalists when he talks. That became a hot topic for the journalists to discuss. They saw that as a lack of respect or a lack of courage. But that's not Bielsa. Bielsa was a mixture of shyness and power," she says.
"We knew it would shock people here in France. You just don't see people act like that elsewhere. He did it with us a bit as well, a bit less," says OM's former Lille playmaker Dimitri Payet. "He had a habit of avoiding eye contact, not looking you in the eye. But we knew very well that we shouldn't do anything to annoy him."
Malatrait continues: "He infuriated us at times with his attitude, but at the same time you just wanted to give him a hug. He had a likeable side."
August 8, 2015 and Marseille is in a state of shock. Bielsa had just announced his resignation at a press conference in the wake of a season-opening home defeat to SM Caen.
"We didn't know, we got the news at the same time as you," said Florian Thauvin, while Steve Mandanda admitted he was "very surprised."
Remembering that tumultuous episode, Malatrait says: "At first it was just like any other home match. After the game I went to find him to bring him to the press conference. I knock at his office, put my head round the door. I see him deep in thought, walking in circles. He could be like that after a defeat. But I became alarmed when I saw that his interpreter who was there next to him was totally white. I understood something was up."
Mathieu Gregoire, a journalist who covers the daily goings-on at OM for the leading sports daily L'Equipe, recalls: "The way he did it, he managed to catch everybody out. He came into the press conference and spoke to us about the game against Caen for 15 minutes.
"Then he starts reading his letter and we realised he was resigning, and were left in a state of total shock. It was pure theatre."
In June, two years after leaving Marseille, Bielsa arrived at Lille full of good intentions.
"My wife has told me that I have to smile more and look journalists in the eye. I think that's a big step forward for me in terms of my PR," he said after arriving.
But just weeks later, the tantrums replaced the smiles and Bielsa was looking at his shoes more and more.
Malatrait says: "He was calm at first and it felt like he'd changed, but the true Bielsa quickly returned."
"He has no notion of modern communication. look at how he struggles in his press conferences. He likes to talk football, but with three or four people he's chosen," adds Biétry, while Gérard Lopez admits the ex-Athletic Bilbao coach is not like anyone else in the industry.
"He doesn't fit in the traditional mould. Top coaches tend to be top communicators too. If he was a professor you wouldn't say he's mad, you'd just say that is what he is like," says the LOSC president.