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SPORTS | 17-05-2023 23:45

New coach Marcelo Bielsa says Uruguay can dare to dream of greatness

Legendary Argentine coach says quality of Uruguayan players helped tempt him to take job.

Uruguay have sufficient quality to allow them to dream of success, new coach Marcelo Bielsa said on Wednesday as he was officially unveiled to the press.

Known as ‘El Loco’ (“the madman”), the 67-year-old Argentine is widely considered as one of football's most influential coaches, even though his trophy cabinet is relatively bare compared to other greats of the game, such as Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti or José Mourinho.

Bielsa's long-expected signature had created great excitement in Uruguay over the past month, following an underwhelming group stage exit at last year's World Cup in Qatar, after which Diego Alonso did not renew his contract.

But despite the international retirements of star attacking duo Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani, Bielsa is convinced the current crop of players from the country of just 3.5 million people can bring back the glory years.

Uruguay fans can feed their dreams of glory on the basis of their "top level players," he told reporters at the Estadio Centenario in central Montevideo.

Bielsa claimed he turned down much more lucrative offers from club sides to take over the reins at the two-time World Cup winners, whose last global triumph was in 1950.

"One of the main things that I took into account was that no club would have been able to offer me a group of players like those that Uruguay have right now," he said.

The new generation of stars includes Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde, forward Darwin Núñez of Liverpool and Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araújo.

Despite his lofty standing in the game, three Argentine titles with Newell's Old Boys (two) and Vélez Sarsfield, Olympic gold with Argentina's under-23 side and a Championship crown with Leeds United are his only trophies.

Yet Guardiola himself has described Bielsa as "the best coach in the world," but the veteran played down that idea.

"I've never coached one of the 20 biggest clubs in the world and they've never approached me," explained Bielsa. "I'm not one of the greats."

 

Acrimonious departures

Bielsa pointed to Uruguay's record under iconic veteran coach Óscar Tabárez, who won the 2011 Copa América a year after reaching the World Cup semi-finals, as superior to his achievements with Argentina and Chile.

But Bielsa's high-tempo attacking style has always proved a hit with fans.

He has signed a contract through to the end of the qualification campaign for the 2026 World Cup, which will be automatically extended to include the tournament if Uruguay qualify.

His first matches in charge will be a pair of friendlies against Nicaragua and Cuba in June before taking on his former employers Chile in Uruguay's opening World Cup qualifier in September.

Born into a bourgeois family in Rosario, Bielsa had a short playing career as a centre-back before retiring at just 25 to take up coaching.

After success with Newell's and Vélez, he took over the national team reins in 1998.

In 2004 he guided Argentina to the Copa América final and won the Olympic Games with the under-23 outfit, which included Carlos Tévez, Javier Mascherano and Gabriel Heinze.

From there he had a successful stint at Athletic Bilbao, guiding the Basques to the Spanish Cup and Europa League finals in 2012, even beating Alex Ferguson's Manchester United home and away in Europe.

After that he made more of a name for himself for his acrimonious departures following highly public disagreements with the hierarchies at his clubs.

He left Marseille one game into his second season, spent just two days in charge of Lazio and lasted only 14 matches with Lille.

His most recent spell was with Leeds United, who Bielsa returned to English top flight after a 16-year absence.

 

Bielsa on World Cup win

During his unveiling, Bielsa was also quizzed about Argentina's successful World Cup 2022 campaign in Qatar and their final victory over France. Lionel Scaloni’s side won the decider 4-2 on penalties after an epic 3-3 draw to claim their third world crown.

The coach offered the opinion that while the Albiceleste were individually inferior to the French, they were collectively far superior.

"There were two things I loved about the final. Before the match I made a comparison and I put every French player compared to every Argentine player in his position and my conclusion is that there were nine French players better than nine Argentine players," he said.

However, "Argentina not only deserved to win but they managed the game for 80 minutes out of 90,” he said, offering great praise for coach Lionel Scaloni. 

Bielsa highlighted another key point: that the side had been able to unite the fans behind the team. 

"For the first time I noticed that the fans were going to support the team even if they didn't win, and that's not typical. It's something that the team had earned,” he declared.

 

– TIMES/AFP

 

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