Pegamequemegusta was distraught a few months ago when it transpired Marcelo Bielsa would be leaving his post as Chile manager. A new president was elected and Bielsa declared there was no way he could possibly work with him. Resigning on principle. What a dreamboat.
We must admit that Bielsa’s entire time in charge of the Argentine national team rather passed us by (we were rather more preoccupied by the darkness of Dublin and Duff’s dancing round Juanfran at the time) but though we came to realise his greatness quite late, he was undoubtedly the principal magnet of our affections at the World Cup eight years later, a time at which our pheromones were pumping at a rate not seen since Warren Beatty invented prozac. For he brought life, he brought innovation, he brought spirit to what had been a moribund tournament. Whatever about the Chileans, he brought a modicum of self-respect to feckers like myself who sat shivering in the central-heating-less Argie winter at half-eight in the morning to watch Algeria v Slovenia.
More than anything, he brought balls, he brought class, he brought hope of kind that made Obama’s speech in Berlin in 2008 look like the warblings of demented poetess Eavan Boland, with her pomegranates, magazines and cans of coke. Please. Bielsa made us feel good, we miss him, and although the Copa América is going to be undeniably awesome nonetheless, his absence will be felt.
Here’s a little translation we banged out the other day after his protracted departure was finally confirmed. It’s from some Chilean rag.
And some illustrate the remark with an anecdote. On the 12th of August that same year the members of el Loco‘s backroom staff, Luis Bonini, Eduardo Berizzo, Alfredo Berti and Pablo Quiroga, arrived in order to get the place ready for the imminent the arrival of the rosarino. Five days earlier it had snowed in Santiago for the first time in eight years. A cold wind whipped cruelly round the training ground on Avenida Las Torres and the heating would clank out during the night. Hence, the workers recall that the first night the manager’s assistants slept in their tracksuits and wooly hats. In such conditions was the complex Bielsa had seen the previous month when he had come to see [former Chilean FA president] Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who assured him the new manager would have their complete support in remodelling and modernizing it.
The new place
The work got under way that same year. The first task was to re-do the shoddy players’ quarters, which had single beds, old mattresses, antiquated tvs and showers that often only had cold water.
So began the project that would leave the players’ accommodation in the kind of conditions professionals expect and require: bigger beds, plasma tvs, impeccable bathrooms, air-conditioning, and heating… reliable heating. All this in two floors in the south wing of the complex.
Later they began work on the management team’s offices. The largest offices went to the manager’s assistants and were kitted out with computers (upon their arrival they found an old Olivetti typewriter), editing software, new furniture including space to shelve DVDs of all the Chileans playing worldwide.
But what the players most appreciated in the refurbished complex were the spa and the dressing rooms. For there was a chamber that relieved the effects of jet lag for those who had travelled from Europe. The machine had been spotted by the former president of the Chilean FA at a FIFA event and Bielsa had one brought over. The players would walk in fully clothed for a couple of minutes at a time and the temperature of minus eight degrees centigrade would produce a vasoconstrictor effect, which would help to alleviate the drowsiness caused by the time difference.
For those who got to know the place, however, the most interesting aspect without a doubt is the room where Bielsa lived for the fourty-two months he was in charge of the Chilean national team: a spartan space six-metre squared, with a modest-sized bed, above which hung a crucifix (which fell during the earthquake), a ceiling fan, air conditioning, a plasma tv, a small closet and a WC. A sparse space that summed up the manager’s personality.
That’s where he stayed until Friday the fourth of February, when he announced he was leaving. There’s no-one left in Pinto Durán and the painters are back working on the rosarino‘s modest quarters despite the fact that the new manager won’t be using it as his permanent home. Rather, it will be a place to drop by every now and again. For only Bielsa would live in that place.