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What's happening to Marcelo Bielsa's new Lille?

Thursday 31st August 2017
Four games into the French Ligue 1 season, Lille find themselves in far worse position than prior to Marcelo Bielsa's arrival.

The Mad Scientist's latest experiment is turning to an epic failure.

LOSC hasn't been the same since they won that famous double in 2011. Led by charismatic Rudi Garcia, the club clinched their third-ever league title by almost a 10-point margin, and lorded it over Paris Saint-Germain in the Coup de France. Flaunting a well-structured system, vibrant coaching staff, and talented young prospects, they became the blueprint for other clubs. Ironically, Monaco, now similarly respected, was languishing in the fringes of French football.

Fast forward six years later, the table has turned. Monaco is back among the elite. Les Dogues are playing fetch, or is it catch-up? Lille's previously adored youth setup, which produced the likes of Eden Hazard, has suddenly gone dormant. The club's identity has been lost through a steady stream of coaches and presidents.
However, a drastic change in fortune was predicted when former Argentina and Chile coach, Marcelo Bielsa, took over the reigns in May. Not the most-decorated, or constant, manager in the world, the 62-year-old has nevertheless built a cult following due to his profound impact on modern football. Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pochettino and Jorge Sampaoli are just a few of his current acolytes. Even Pep Guardiola sought his advice upon starting his managerial career.

My admiration for Marcelo Bielsa is huge because he makes the players much, much better. Still, I didn't meet one guy, a former player from Marcelo Bielsa who speaks no good about him. They are grateful for his influence on their careers in football. He helped me a lot with his advice. Whenever I speak with him I always feel like he wants to help me.

For all that, Bielsa is famous for leaving appointments before the door has swung closed from his arrival. He did so at Marseille, and with Chile. Still, his return to Ligue 1 was expected to lighten up the gloomy Stade Pierre-Mauroy. It did. As soon as the 62-year-old arrived, everything changed. He brought a positive and exciting vibe to the club.

His famously obsessive use of video to prepare for matches wasn't left behind. Bielsa's first objective was to alter the club's training methods, putting greater emphasis on tactical analytical sessions. Typically 'El loco', he overhauled the team's squad. He replaced almost the entire starting eleven players. Nigerian World Cup goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and former club captain Rio Mavuba gave way to new, younger players. Paris Saint-Germain man Mike Maignan, ex-Angers player Nicolas Pepé, Brazilian Thiago Mendes, and Paraguayan Junior Alonso moved into the squad. Bielsa was concocting an entirely new team with little or no funding.
After an intensive but impressive pre-season, fans began to dream again. The first match of the season against Claudio Ranieri's Nantes gave them further grounds for optimism. Les Dogues took the match by the scruff of the neck, displaying an incredible appetite to attack, winning 3-0.

Yet, the joy didn't last. Bielsa's team has struggled in subsequent games. They crashed to newly promoted Strasbourg and Caen before forcing a point at Angers SCO. This leaves the ambitious side in 13th place, with four points from four games.

Recent results raise questions regarding Bielsa's coaching style and man-management skills. How his unpredictable system and personality may affect a new team is, well, unpredictable. He walked away from Marseille after the first game of the season and did the same at Lazio after just 48 hours. One thing is certain, if Marcelo Bielsa finds he can't create high drama on the pitch, he'll do it with an abrupt exit.
Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 


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