When they appointed the mercurial Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa as their manager at the start of the 2018-19 season, Championship side Leeds United stunned the football world. A coach who is hugely admired amongst his peers had rocked up in Yorkshire, ready to turn around the ailing fortunes of a club that had been outside the English elite for too long.
When someone as respected as Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says that Bielsa is their idol, you can just imagine how delighted fans were at the Argentine enigma landing at Elland Road. They were even more impressed when he brought entertaining football that didn’t just look good, it brought excellent results and but for a disappointing run towards the end of the campaign, almost returned them to the Premier League.
Of course, that final run last season was an exercise in frustration and for many, few eyebrows would have been raised if Bielsa had simply packed his bags and left. Despite having walked away from other high-profile jobs and with much less time in the dugout, the 64-year-old decided he was staying put. He was determined to fulfil the Championship betting predictions for Leeds United this season, aiming to secure automatic promotion at the second attempt.
During his time at Leeds United, however, there’s often been debate about how Bielsa handles the media and interviews. Whether it’s a pre-match press conference or a televised post-match flash interview, it’s almost become expected that he’ll arrive with an interpreter to translate his thoughts and words to the viewing audience.
Seemingly unwilling to put even the most basic English language skills to the test in public appearances, this has inevitably brought criticism for Bielsa from numerous football pundits. Some have even pointed at Spanish coach Unai Emery as an example because even though he struggled to pronounce words and phrases, the former Arsenal boss at least made the attempt during his ill-fated spell with the Gunners.
“Emery’s English isn’t the best but he has the courtesy to speak in English.”
“You should try to learn the language.”
“Credit to Emery as he is trying… Bielsa should try more.”
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) November 27, 2019
Such comments have been a bone of contention for Leeds fans, with some in agreement. That said, the vast majority could honestly care less what language Bielsa speaks in public, so long as he continues getting positive results from the team, keeps them on course for promotion, and provides them with plenty of entertainment on the pitch at Elland Road. He has also earned great admiration for a personal level of communication directly with fans themselves.
Bielsa has spoken a few times about a desire to improve his English, although the biggest problem appears to be time. This is a coach who dedicates countless hours of his day to preparation, carefully studying each and every rival to find any weakness his team can exploit, watching video footage of matches to glean even the slightest detail that might help, while also working to perfect the performances and efficiency of his own team.
This is a man with little time to spend on studying anything other than football, although there have been hints that Bielsa can actually communicate better in English than he’s letting on. Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips recently revealed that when talking with his players, Bielsa actually speaks better English than many would imagine, able to communicate his tactics and ideas without any problems whatsoever.
Just like anyone attempting to learn or speak a second language, it’s all about practice and confidence. As someone in such a high-profile job and in the glare of the media, perhaps it’s simply the case that when communicating to a wider audience, Bielsa prefers to get his thoughts across with the help of a translator, rather struggle to be understood as clearly as he wants to be. Arguably, that’s the better option considering how probing football interviews can be these days.