In the two years since hiring Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has gained a unique perspective on football from one of the game's most enigmatic managers.
“I’m learning about football more with him,” Radrizzani said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And at the same time, I’m happy to share my ideas and to even in some case, advise him when I think it's good, too, for the team.”
Sometimes that requires being blunt with Bielsa.
“All the time," Radrizzani said, “I remind him to try to relax a little bit more.”
That cannot be easy for a coach renowned as much for his volatility and demanding nature as the coaching genius that has just returned Leeds to the Premier League after 16 years of exile in lower divisions.
“He is very meticulous, but I always try to advise him to relax because he brings a lot of stress in his daily life and I think stress is never positive,” Radrizzani said in an interview in Lisbon.
“So I was really surprised ... in a conversation with him about [how] we pay attention about this concept. To differentiate the positive pressure – that is very important and is the drive to success — from negative stress and pressure that could be really a big enemy.”
In his second season in charge of Leeds, the Argentine gained promotion to the world's richest football league as Championship winners before his contract expired last month.
As Leeds discovered on Thursday that the side would open their campaign against Premier League champions Liverpool on the weekend of September 12-13, Bielsa remained without a contract.
Radrizzani doesn't think he is about to lose his manager, but there will not be a long-term contract.
"We like to take it one year at a time,” Radrizzani said. “He is 65 years old, he is from Argentina, he is far away. His wife is often in Argentina, his family too. So we like to take it like this, one year at a time and continue this way. And so far it’s working well.”
Radrizzani has to consider who might eventually succeed Bielsa in the Elland Road dugout.
“We have achieved something important, that I wanted — that was to change the culture of this club,” said Radrizzani, who bought Leeds in 2017 through his Aser group. “Now to continue in the future, even without Marcello, will be much easier than what we’ve done before because we need to identify, and we have already in mind, coaches. Not that we are interested now in them.
“But we have identified coaches that represent the same methodology of work or culture, and it’s easier to continue and keep the legacy with what we have built. It was much more difficult to change from the past.”
Better than many expected when Bielsa arrived in 2018 with the task of reviving a faded second-tier club that had become synonymous with chaos on and off the field, having once been a leading force.
The turbulence didn't quite end with the arrival of the former coach of the Argentina and Chile national teams.
Bielsa was reprimanded by Leeds for sending a member of his staff to spy on rival Derby last year but he has restored a winning mindset at the 1992 English champions and 2001 Champions League semi-finalists, ensuring they did not fall short again in the race for promotion.
The episode highlighted how the intensity that drives the coaching genius of Bielsa can see him overstep the mark.
“When you have done your job well at the training ground, when you know your player is following you, there is no reason to stress the match day,” Radrizzani said, reflecting on conversations with Bielsa.
“So I think it’s like the night before the exam. Obviously, you stress. But when you have done your job well, then you need to go down, relax and enjoy. And that’s what I know it’s difficult, but I’m trying to pass (it) all the time to him as a message."
Bielsa is the longest serving Leeds manager since Simon Grayson's December 2008-February 2012 stint that saw the team promoted from the third tier. He hasn't traditionally stayed in jobs long since spending six years leading Argentina, which included Olympic gold in 2004, and four years with Chile.
By completing two seasons at Leeds, Bielsa has already outlasted his spells between 2014 and 2018 at Athletic Bilbao (21 months), Marseille (one season and one game of the next campaign), Lazio (two days) and Lille (six months).
“He is a very details man, professional, hard worker," said Radrizzani, who also founded the broadcaster Eleven Sports. "He cares about his job a lot. He is very meticulous and I think we have a good respect between each other.”
by Rob Harris, Associated Press