Where resignation leaves Bielsa, Athletic Club

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After a quick reading of today’s news out of Basque Country, there are three major (if obvious) implications of Marcelo Bielsa’s resignation at Athletic Bilbao.

1. Marcelo Bielsa’s on the open market

Going into last season, the big question surrounding Bielsa was whether his style would work at club-level. Bielsa’s philosophies demand a lot of his players. Whether those demands would hold up over the course of nine months was the question. Could the philosophy would survive a league season without be “found out?” That was the follow-up.

True, Bielsa had club-level success in Argentina, but Spain’s was a different level. It’s one things to play a feverishly pressing game when you’re Barcelona. When you don’t have that talent? It may prove foolhardy.

Bielsa’s 2011-12 success at Athletic made us forget those questions were ever whispered. It would have been nice to see how Athletic held up during a second season (with higher expectations), but that’s a minor qualm. Coming off a stint with the Chilean national team that helped embolden a burgeoning legend, Bielsa’s time in Bilbao only calcified his place as an elite, top-level head coach.

Now he’s on the open market, something that may elicit a collective argh from Spurs’ fans. Tottenham had been tenuously linked with Bielsa, a link that seemed strange considering Bielsa had just signed a new contract at Athletic. Regardless, there’s probably a small percentage of Spurs nation that wish André Villas-Boas’s contract talks had been drawn out a little longer.

But the Spurs situation highlights Bielsa’s problem: Most jobs are filled, right now. I suppose he could go to Marseille, and Juventus may have a job opening up (depending on how Conte fares in investigations). And who knows: Maybe some directors see Bielsa’s availability and ask how much they really love the man they have.

My gut feeling: Bielsa spent three years out of the game after he left Argentina in 2004. While I doubt he’ll be out of the game that long, we might not see him again until this time next year.

2. Reasonably-sized job now available

I’ll give you one guess as to what Rafa Benítez’s agent is doing right now.

Athletic Bilbao’s job is available, and while one year ago it may have been a niche club defined as much by the romance of its self-imposed limitations as the product it put on the field, now it’s a Europa League finalist. It’s a Copa del Ray finalist. And, despite Malaga and Valencia probably being favored for Spains’ last two Champions League spots, La Liga does afford Athletic a route into UEFA’s biggest competition.

Oh, yeah: the club also has Javi Martínez, Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain leading a talented, skilled, versatile and reasonably young group.

The only reason a coach wouldn’t be interested in Athletic: He’s got a bigger job in mind. Even then, Athletic’s a great place for a big name to get back in the game. The club should have its pick of unaffiliated bosses.

3. What now for the players?

With Bielsa gone, will the big ticket players follow? It’s hard to see them having that much loyalty for a one-year coach, but as is often the case with elite athletes, the issue may be winning. How does the departure of Bielsa affect the players’ perception of Athletic’s 2012-13 prospects? It can’t help.

Martínez is being linked with a move to Bayern Munich. Fernando Llorente’s skill set would fit with almost anybody. Iker Muniain is young and raw enough that he can be imagined as a wide man or supporting striker. Either way, he can be fit into most clubs’ fancies.

Is Bielsa’s departure the first in an exodus from Bilbao? It seems an unlikely ignitor, but if Martínez and Llorente were already looking beyond Bilbao, Bielsa’s departure could prove a convenient excuse.