IF coaches were not always using referees as scapegoats, then maybe
VAR would never have been introduced and football would not be going through its current crisis with the hand ball law.
But the Premier League can now count on one coach who is unlikely
to spend much time moaning about the officials. Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentine in charge of Leeds United, is far happier blaming himself.
He did it again after the weekend’s 1-0 win over Sheffield United.
“The game was in its closing stages,” he explained after the match, “and I had to take off either Rodrigo or Partick Bamford. And Bamford is a player who is very useful helping us defend against opposing set pieces.”
And so Rodrigo left the field. “But this change was not the right decision,” Bielsa continued, “because Bamford was tired and I should have kept Rodrigo on the field.”
Where many in football are insecure and reluctant to own up to any
error, Bielsa appears to relish blaming himself.
Still well remembered in Argentina is one of his first games in charge
of the national team, a 1-1 draw with Holland back in 1999.
He made a change at half time, taking off Ariel Ortega and introducing Milan midfielder Andres Guglielminpietro for his international debut. It was not a happy occasion.
Thirty five minutes later, Guly was himself hauled off and replaced by Hernan Crespo. Bielsa blamed himself, accepting that his tactical thinking had not been sound.
And Guglielminpietro is also happy to blame Bielsa, as he made clear when he spoke to an Argentine radio station last year.
“I suffered at the time and it still hurts me now,” he said.
“I wouldn’t do it as a coach. I think [in a polite translation]that I should have told Bielsa where to go. If our paths cross now I believe I would tell him. But I should have done it twenty years ago.”
A few months later, Bielsa brought Guglielminpietro off the bench
once more in a Copa America match against Colombia. It was a fiery occasion.
Bielsa had to watch his centre forward Martin Palermo miss three penalties. Right back Javier Zanetti was sent off – and Bielsa, too, was given the red card.
I was at the game, and vividly recall the post match press conference.
It was the first time I had seen Bielsa, with his strange manner of not making eye contact, of staring at a point in space while he expressed himself in his own ornate brand of Spanish.
One of the opening questions probed for his thoughts on the referee.
“One doesn’t have the custom of discussing the match day officials,” he began, “but in respect to today’s referee…”
At this point the whole room was imagining that Bielsa would condemn
the Paraguayan Ubaldo Aquino as a clown who should not be let anywhere near a field again.
Instead he went on with “…. in respect to my expulsion the referee
was absolutely correct, because I protested in an ill mannered form.”
It was instantly obvious that this man was a one-off, and that his
career would be well worth following – all the way to the Premier League.