Marseille midfielder Mario Lemina says that the hard work under renowned perfectionist Marcelo Bielsa is paying dividends, but notes that it's not all blood, sweat and tears with 'El Loco'.
Lemina admits that, like many of his teammates, he had no idea who Bielsa was before he was announced as the successor to José Anigo on the Olympique de Marseille bench, but the 20-year-old midfielder has come to appreciate the Argentine boss's perfectionism as he whips the OM squad into a brand-new shape.
"I've had a chance to see how he works and I like it a lot," the midfielder explained. "When you know the man and his objectives, it really gives you the desire to give your all. It has given us a certain freshness and breathed new life into the squad."
That said, Lemina made it clear that it's no walk in the park following Bielsa's orders, even though the former Lorient midfielder is enjoying the added responsibility of a holding midfield role after being a bit-part player with just 12 starts (no goals) last season under Elie Baup and then Anigo.
"The coach is a perfectionist and he likes things to be just so, and I'm one of the midfielders to whom he has been paying a lot of attention," Lemina continued. "I'm kind of a key player in his formation and so when I get slack with my marking, the coach quickly pulls me up on it. I take it well, because it shows he's keeping an eye on me and it helps me to make progress. It's important for me to feel useful, even though we're just playing friendlies at the moment and everything can change once the season begins. I'm just trying to show my best side."
'An intelligent strategy'
While Lemina feels he is making progress on a personal level, he is also seeing an improvement in the way the team plays a unit, praising Bielsa's tactical approach.
"The coach doesn't leave anything to chance. His methods use up a lot of energy, because his philosophy is based on a pressing game and winning the ball back high up the pitch," Lemina explained. "We defend well and let the forwards be creative. The coach allows the midfielders and attackers to be free in their choices, but we're no longer just running around.
"We know at which moment we should press, so that we're not wasting our energy. It's an intelligent strategy. Before, we would press the ball holder one after the other and it was really hard to win back possession. Now, we press effectively because everyone does it at the same time. We win the ball back high up the pitch and save our energy for attacking moves. When I return to the dressing room or go home, I feel like I've really worked, like I've learned things that will hold me in good stead for the future. Bielsa wants to put his mark on the side. It involves a lot of work, but that's what it takes."
The lighter side
But it's not all nose to the grindstone at the new-look OM, Lemina explained.
"He's just a man, like anyone else," said the midfielder. "He can also joke around, even though most of us don't really understand much of what he says in Spanish! Sometimes he teases us a bit. He knows how to be the hard man, but at the end of the final session each day, he cracks a few jokes."
Bielsa's formula looks to be paying dividends, too, with friendly wins over Bayer Leverkusen (4-1), Benfica (2-1) and Willem II (5-0) already notched. OM will now take on Italian sides Bari (July 30) and Chievo Verona (August 2) to round out their pre-season preparations ahead of their Ligue 1 season opener away to SC Bastia.