He arrives and it takes a little while for his ideas to be accepted. Marseille began the season with a draw against Bastia – having been 3-1 up – and a defeat to Montpellier, just as Bilbao had struggled in their first month under him. Then, abruptly, something clicks. Players speak of becoming aware of another dimension, of somehow grasping the inner workings of football. The football becomes mesmerising: it ended up meaning very little, but Bilbao’s victory over Manchester United in the Europa League remains one of the most thrilling performances of recent years.
But then, a few months in, the trip comes to an end. Players find themselves mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. The Bielsa quirks that seemed charming when things were going well become infuriating. The board begins to find his constant quibbles intolerable. Already Bielsa has denounced the Marseille directors over their summer transfer policy. Magnificently and characteristically, at the press conference after his complaint, he pedantically announced that he had thought about what he had said, and decided that – on reflection – he had been right in every respect. Even this week he has started to suggest that he may not see out his two-year contract. There will come a tipping point – at Bilbao it was frustration at how long rebuilding work on the training ground was taking – after which the path to the exit is clearly marked.
History suggests Bielsa sides have about six months at their peak before fatigue sets in. His complaints over the depth of his squad suggest he has come to fear that process, although a lack of European competition should relieve the pressure a little. So perhaps Marseille fans should simply enjoy what they have as long as it lasts.
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