Speaking during a live presentation as part of Inaki Arechabaleta’s Athletic Club Bilbao presidential election campaign, Bielsa publicly addressed his three-and-a-half year spell at Elland Road for the first time since his February sacking.
He took his time to depart Yorkshire following the board’s decision to part company with him, but has wasted little time in planning his next move. The Argentine will become Athletic Club’s head coach for a second time should Arechabaleta win this week’s election, with the candidate revealing he has an agreement for a two-year contract in place with Bielsa.
Arechabaleta first made contact with Bielsa in March and when it became clear that current boss Marcelino García Toral would be stepping down, the idea properly took hold. Bielsa confirmed in his presentation that he would take the job if Arechabaleta is victorious and compared the Basque outfit with the one he led back to the Premier League.
“Athletic’s profile is very similar to the team I last managed, Leeds United,” he said.
“Leeds was a team with very, very good sprinting numbers – the best in Europe – but Athletic was the best in Spain and also one of the best in Europe.”
The 66-year-old spoke about his 42-year coaching career in order to explain how his philosophy and working methods have evolved and broke it into three sections.
His stint at Newell’s Old Boys as youth team coach and first team manager up to his time at Espanyol in LaLiga he categorized as a period in which he used what he learned in 12 years with Newell’s.
The second stanza of his career came with the Argentine and Chilean national teams and his first spell at Athletic.
“Here, at Athletic, I added variations to my style in terms of tactical, positional and preparation methods,” he said.
Leeds, along with spells at Marseille and Lille, account for the third chapter of his time in football.
“There is a very important change in my methods and style of training because now there is an evaluation and measuring of workload, a resource with a lot of value,” he said.
“Being at Athletic, the first European team I managed, it made me think about the things I could polish and perfect in order to improve the preparation method for the players.”
Bielsa, acknowledging that poor results cost him his job at Elland Road, said little else about his exit from Leeds but used his time in England’s first and second tiers to illustrate his belief that he has changed his modus operandi.
“I worked four years in my last club, Leeds,” he said, before launching into a lengthy and detailed explanation of the team’s physical output, translated for the YEP by Joe Brennan.
Leeds were famous for their intensity in the Championship and when they hit the Premier League they did so running at full tilt.
“They sacked me in February because the team had quite a prolonged series of negative results but there are two important things here: one important thing and one very important thing,” said Bielsa.
“In the 20/21 season we were the team that ran the most in the Premier League and in Europe, in all of the values that are looked at. And in the next season, when we were in the bottom third of the table, we were also the team that ran the most in all measurements except one. But in all measurements related to intensity we were the team that ran the most. We had a high number of players available and a high number of debuts. I mention these performances to certify that physical preparation and control of workload make creating objectives less difficult.
“In order for the data I present about my last team to be valued, these physical performances of the whole season 20/21 were done with 16 players, 95 per cent of the minutes of the season was completed with 16 players. It was the team that used the least number of players, the least number of players needed to make starting XIs in 38 matches, only 20 players were needed to make 38 starting XIs. same starting XI the most throughout the season.I say this because when I show the difference in the way of working after being at Athletic, I am confirming that my change in preparation has generated a process that still, even when the team plays badly, maintains the highest intensity numbers in the top league in the world.
“This is confirmed by the data of the 20/21 season, here are the numbers that are looked at (screenshot at the bottom): intensity, sprint, intensity plus sprints, percentage of intensity and sprints over the total distance, high intensity runs , sprinting runs, number of sprinting runs and high intensity runs combined and the total distance.In total, across 38 games, the team was top.The same goes for the season after, top apart from total distance, where the team was seventh. “
Bielsa will learn his Athletic Club fate on Friday when the presidential election decides who will take charge of club affairs.