Two months ago, Marcelo Bielsa had Athletic Bilbao in two major competition finals, and although Athletic lost each, the club’s profile had gone from “adorably eccentric” to “maybe this exclusionist-thing can work.” (Located in Spanish Basque Country Athletic only sign players of Basque heritage.)
So it was that one month ago, Bielsa happily signed a new, one-year contract with Athletic and set about on a small break before beginning preparations for the new season.
Now, the revered former Argentina and Chile head coach is walking away from this La Liga job, a departure that’s proving as bizarre as it is sudden:
Short story: Bielsa was involved in a training ground altercation with the club’s site manager, and after a public flogging from Athletic Bilbao (via a statement condemning his actions), he’s handed in his resignation.
Long story: Two days ago, everything seemed fine, but then ielsa confirmed rumors of a training ground altercation between him and the site manager at Lezama, the team’s training ground. Those facilities are undergoing construction, and with preseason fast approaching, Bielsa was apparently irate at the grounds’ conditions. And irate may be an understatement.
On Thursday, Bielsa admitted he physically attacked the site manager, though he would not go farther than a vague confirmation that an altercation had ensued. However, the club (per Bielsa) had to convince the other man not to press charges, making it seem like Bielsa may have assaulted the construction worker.
His words (yanked from here):
“The condition of Lezama is an insult to the players and I am responsible for them. I was indignant because that was not recognized and began to say offensive things. I don’t respect him because he did a bad job.”
“I behaved badly and I admit that. I offended the person but he also said some bad things.”
“He made no police report and that, I believe, is because of pressure from his company or Athletic, who wanted to avoid [any publicity over] what I’m reporting here.”
“Doing our preseason in these conditions at Lezama discredits me as a coach.”
So what, exactly, was in the club’s statement? It must have gone pretty far over the line to elicit a resignation.
“Athletic Club do not share the personal and subjective opinions expressed by Marcelo Bielsa in [Thursday’s] press conference with regards to the development work, the extent to which the contract has been honored and the professionalism of the people involved in the construction project.”
“Athletic Club wishes to make clear the correct execution of the work contract to date, so we would like to publicly apologize for the comments of a club employee that may have caused damage to the construction company and its workers.”
I’ll be back later in the day to talk about the three major implications of this move (edit: now up), but for now, let’s just let the shock sink in. The marriage between Marcelo Bielsa and Athletic Bilbao was seemingly arranged in a soccer romantic’s Eden. Bielsa, however, has apparently bitten an apple. It seems he gave the club no choice but to publicly apologize for his behavior, then he saw the apology as grounds for resignation.
My lingering question: Why did the sides let two days define their summer, season, and relationship?