Eduardo Berizzo Is A Marcelo Bielsa Disciple, But The Differences Stand Out The Most
Marcelo Bielsa will always be a cult figure at Athletic Club. When he took over as manager in 2011, few could have guessed just how far he was going to take the team. By the end of the year the Basques were playing in the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals, although they were unable to win either. Still, the ferocious and passionate style of play drew in fans and made Athletic one of the hardest teams to play against in all of Europe. The following season the squad had to deal with the loss of Javi Martinez and star striker Fernando Llorente refusing to renew his contract which saw the performances suffer which led to “El Loco” not receiving a contract renewal.
His exit was received with understand and sadness, and the arrival of Ernesto Valverde helped the fans turn the page without Bielsa. Still, you could see some scarves at every match at the San Mamés that had Bielsa’s face on them. The incredible football that he inspired has not been forgotten, and it never will. El Loco may have been a taskmaster that demanded perfection and total commitment, but it brought results and that is the most important thing in football.
On Thursday the memories and joy of the Bielsa era where reignited when Athletic Club announced Eduardo Berizzo as the new manager. “Toto”, as he is called, can absolutely be classified as a Bielsa disciple. He played for Bielsa for a few years at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, then became a coaching assistant under his mentor for the Chilean National Team. Bielsa helped to develop Berizzo as a football coach and his fingerprints are all over the style of play that was shown at Celta Vigo and Sevilla over the past few years.
Like Bielsa, Berizzo’s teams play an aggressive, attacking style of football that puts an emphasis on possession and pressing high up the field. Toto wants his players to have the ball and attack as much as possible, but if they lose possession they have to flip a switch and swarm their opponents in order to win it back. Berizzo is demanding and asks his players to work extremely hard and be solely devoted to team. He wants to lead a group that is brave, fearless, committed, and is willing to sacrifice to win. All of this is a shadow of Bielsismo.
If Athletic fans truly want to see Bielsa back at Athletic, Berizzo may be the closest thing there is. His team’s play with the same energy and drive, but they are not the same. There is only one Marcelo Bielsa, and there only ever will be. As Berizzo said in his press conference on Thursday, every manager is unique and has his own way of doing things. Berizzo said “Bielsa played a big role in developing me as a coach and I have been greatly influenced by him, but I am not him and I train my own way” which is an accurate statement and something that Athletic fans must understand.
Berizzo’s coaching career began, in a way, when he was still a player. He grew accustomed to training and playing a certain way under Bielsa in Argentina and when he arrived at Celta Vigo in 2001 he was already showing signs of his future. Teammates said that Toto was a manager on the field because of the way that he would lead the team and shout orders. He could even be seen organizing teammates from the bench when he wasn’t in matches. Bielsa had planted a seed in Berizzo and it was already starting to manifest. After retiring as a player, Berizzo joined Bielsa at Chile as an assistant coach which was an important time in his development.
The two parted ways in 2011 when Bielsa took over at Athletic. In fact, El Loco even spoke with Berizzo about the offer from the Basques and his assistant pushed him to accept. Despite being his mentor, Bielsa was known to regularly ask Berizzo for his thoughts and opinions on things, valuing what his protege had to say. Berizzo became the manager of Estudiantes LP for a short time before really solidifying himself as a manager at O’Higgins where his own personality began to take root.
Over the last few years Berizzo has shown some of the same traits as Bielsa, but it is the differences that are the most notable. Unlike his mentor, Berizzo’s teams play with some opposing nuances that he has used to find his own success. For instance, Bielsa’s way of defending often involved man-on-man marking, whereas Berizzo has almost always opted for team defending through organized pressure. In attack, Toto doesn’t take nearly as many risks as he values possession more than Bielsa has throughout his career. Bielsa’s Athletic often looked like madness and chaos but, while Berizzo’s teams play with the same fire and energy, they are much more conventional and organized. In a way, Toto’s system mirrors Bielsa’s more in spirit than anything else.
Personalities are actually the biggest difference between the two coaches. Everyone knows why Bielsa was called El Loco. He was fiery and, as many said, mad. He demanded absolute perfection from his players which had the tendency to alienate them at times, which caused problems at Athletic in his final season. Berizzo, on the other hand, is much more approachable. He has a more tempered attitude and has always sought to connect with his players on a personal level, within reason. He is still going to put the squad through intense training sessions that will push the players to their limits and he has little patience for failure or those who slack off. But it is this balance of demanding perfection mixed with truly caring for each player that has brought Berizzo so much success.
A few years ago Bielsa called Berizzo “the best person I have ever met in football”. He saw something special in Toto and the two have always been close. Berizzo revealed during his press conference that he had talked with his mentor about becoming the Athletic coach and said that Bielsa told him to accept the offer without a second thought, which is what he did. Berizzo has been preparing for his new job for the past two months. He’s watched every first team and reserve match and has extensive reports on every young star at Lezama. He knows that implementing his system correctly will be the biggest cause of success and that is why he has been meticulously planning the preseason.
Eduardo Berizzo wanted to coach at Athletic; his heart was set on it and now it has come to fruition. Fans are understandably excited to have Bielsa’s disciple at the helm, but they must also understand that things aren’t going to be the same. El Loco’s fingerprints may be all over Berizzo’s system, but Toto has developed his own identity and personality. In a way, Athletic look to be getting all of the good of Bielsa without most of the bad, but that remains to be seen. A new era has begun at Athletic Club and Eduardo Berizzo is ready to step out of the shadows and leave his own mark on the San Mamés.