Chilean football loses their star man as Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa steps down as national manager

By 30 November, 2010

The end of an era has occurred in Chilean football as national icon Marcelo Bielsa walked away from his position as head coach following a friendly match with Uruguay on Wednesday November 16th. The man who led Chile at this summer’s World Cup after a two-tournament absence gained hero status among the Chilean population. During his final game in charge half the television audience of the country joined the 40,000 fans at the Estadio Monumental to see him off.

Not only did “El Loco” (The Madman) take Los Rojos back to the biggest stage in world football he did it with an attacking style and by adding a fresh injection of youth into the squad.

His tenure included many milestones, including wins over his native Argentina for the first time in a competitive match, but also record home defeats in qualifiers.

The highs undoubtedly overshadowed the lows and having taken them into the second round in South Africa, his decision to leave is not the result of on-the-field activities. Battles behind the scenes over who will hold the Presidency of the Chilean Football Board between previous incumbent Harold Maynor-Nicholls and Jorge Segovia have taken on a bitter tone.

Bielsa made it clear he would quit if Segovia were elected and the appointment quickly turned ugly. Challenges and counter challenges were fueled by speculation the country’s President Sebastian Pinera has had his say in favour of Segovia, a claim the President has denied.

His final game in charge saw home fans dressed in black, chanting his name and begging him not to go. A giant national flag was unveiled adorned with a message of thanks.

Marcelo Bielsa has enjoyed the kind of adulation home managers Fabio Capello and Craig Levein can only dream of; he also did it playing football both sets of fans are dreaming of.

His achievements didn’t start with Chile. He played for Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina but retired at the age of just 24. He won domestic trophies, and briefly managed in Spain with Espanyol before being given the post as Argentina’s head coach. A poor World Cup in 2002 was followed by a loss in the final of the Copa America and a first footballing gold medal for a South American country since 1928 with victory in Athens.

He surprisingly spurned the chance for a second shot at the World Cup and resigned in 2004.

What the future holds for Marcelo Bielsa is as yet unclear, rumours about taking charge of Australia have so far remained unfounded and surely there will be no shortage of suitors. But what is clear is that there are some big shoes to fill on the bench of El Equipo de Todos.

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