Brilliant, bombastic Bielsa can cap career with Copa América triumph

MArcelo Bielsa and Uruguay feel like the perfect match. An idiosyncratic manager for a talent-laden team. Both are strange and definitely outliers, but in an endearing and captivating way that makes them loved by football hipsters.

With just over 3 million inhabitants, Uruguay shouldn’t be that good. Sitting on a cooler during a match or actually calling a fan after promising him he’d check to see if security allowed him to open one of Uruguay’s Copa América trainingBielsa really shouldn’t be working as a manager.

There’s something else Bielsa and Uruguay have in common: even their biggest backers have to admit it’s been too long since they’ve actually lifted a trophy. Now Uruguayan side Bielsa will be hoping for a first Copa América title since they lifted the trophy on Argentine soil in 2011 – a feat that would break the deadlock with La Albiceleste for the most titles at the tournament.

While Bielsa enjoys enormous respect in Latin America and beyond, everything that is popular is coming under pressure. The easy thing for Bielsa’s critics is a lack of silverware at the highest level. Before winning the English Championship and gaining promotion from Leeds in the 2019-2020 season, the last time he won a match was in 2004. While that Olympic gold was a triumph, Argentinians will probably remember Bielsa’s team at the finished second place. to Brazil during the 2004 Copa América, a month earlier in Lima.

What Uruguay hopes will be a six-match tour of the US started on Sunday night with the South Americans coming out of the gate looking like the best team in the tournament – ​​albeit one that was wasteful with its scoring chances. Los Charrúas eventually defeated Panama 3-1 in Miami, a scoreline that more or less reflected how Bielsa and his team were able to dominate.

With a host of players at Europe’s top clubs, including Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez, PSG’s Manuel Ugarte and Barcelona’s Ronald Araújo, plus players from Latin America who perfectly suit the style Bielsa wants to play, including Sunday’s opening scorer Maximiliano Araújo of Toluca and Flamengo duo Giorgian de Arrascaeta and Nicolás de la Cruz, the team appears to be a favorite for the tournament. Luis Suárez is also in the squad and will cause problems when he comes off the bench.

Darwin Núñez was at his chaotic peak in Uruguay’s opening match against Panama. Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images

In addition to personnel, Uruguay has already proven that it can achieve results under Bielsa. They defeated Brazil in Montevideo to conclude October’s World Cup qualifiers and kicked off the November matches with a stunning 2-0 win over Argentina at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.

Yet Bielsa has pushed back against the idea that his side could be favorites in this tournament. Whether it’s a mind game or simply his honest opinion, he says Argentina are clearly a contender thanks to their status as world champions (and a certain striker who can still make a difference at major tournaments), while his own team each of them must prove. game that they deserve to be in the conversation.

“I always feel that it is much better to go along and show what you aspire to, than to anticipate it and say it in advance,” he said before the match in Panama. After the match he complained about a 15-minute period when Panama, he respectfully said, was clearly inferior but controlled the match and had the better scoring opportunities.

On the one hand, it was just a blip in a dominant performance to open the tournament. On the other hand, they are the kind of details that Bielsa knows will have to be sorted out if he ever wants to win the Copa América.

Known for his intensity, it’s hard to imagine the 68-year-old truly at rest. However, no one coaches forever, and this could be Bielsa’s last chance to lift a trophy.

Don’t be misled. If Bielsa’s thoughts are on his legacy, he certainly doesn’t show it. When a reporter in Miami asked if this could be a Last Dance situation, Bielsa simply replied: “I can’t imagine the future.”

But while Bielsa refuses to think ahead, it is not difficult for outsiders to imagine what July 14 could look like if all goes well. Bielsa will have to balance his ideas about play, about intense pressing, about demanding more running from his players, with the reality that many of them have arrived in the US after a long club season and will play in three outdoor locations in the group stage . where highs will hit at least 90F (32C).

Still, the coming together of two odd ducks could end with Bielsa actually smiling and celebrating with his coaching staff as his players lift the trophy.

  • This is an excerpt from Soccer with Jonathan Wilson, the Guardian US’s weekly look at the game in Europe and beyond. While Jonathan is in Germany enjoying Euro 2024, he has entrusted a series of guest writers to guide you through the Copa América. He returns on July 15 to look back on both tournaments.