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Chile--And Its Crazy Coach--Will Win Your Heart

I am a big fan of the site Zonal Marking. The good folks over there have an excellent study of Chile. Now, I plan on rooting for Chile on feel-good humanitarian grounds. But I also intend to root for them because of their coach, Marcelo Bielsa.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time already discussing the eccentricities of Diego Maradona. You might ask, how on earth did the Argentine football federation select such an obviously unstable man? Well, Maradona probably looked sane in comparison to Bielsa, one of his predecessors as the national coach. Bielsa is widely known as El Loco and many of his eccentricities have been on display in his current campaign. This is from a small study of El Loco in When Saturday Comes:

One recurrent story in the Chilean press is that he has chosen to live by himself in a few rooms at an FA training ground instead of renting a house, while his family live in Argentina. The Chilean FA pays US$1.5 million a year to cover the salaries of his coaching team and himself, a huge amount by Chilean standards. Yet Bielsa only picked up his pay for the first time in June 2009. In the meantime, he lived off bonuses paid for points won. Other quirks catch the eye: Bielsa visits a zoo in search of inspiration for coaching ideas, he refuses to own a car, and is more than willing to stop and chat with kids on the street but won't give interviews to the press (although he does conduct long press conferences).

Bielsa is an obsessive and relentlessly introspective. He has described his many hours spent in psychoanalysis. In the course of his preparation for the World Cup, he recently had Chile play two friendlies on the same day!  He took 1800 videos to the 2002 World Cup and then ordered 200 more sent.

But I am entirely appreciative of these characteristics, which are commonly depicted as battiness. In fact, I prefer to think of it as romanticism and the excusable consequence of his highly intellectual approach. He plays his teams in a 3-3-1-3 attacking formation. Because it resembles an improvised fast break, its hard to believe that the intricate patterns of attack are painstakingly practiced. When it works, the results are glorious. This is how Zonal Marking describes the tactic:

Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 is an inherently attacking formation that aims to take the game to Chile’s opponents, press and defend high up the pitch, and stretch the play as wide as possible when in possession. His back three and the holding midfielder are essentially the four defensive-minded players, whilst the two wing-backs surge forward whenever possible, trying to create overloads against opposition full-backs, and also venturing into more central attacking positions to provide a goal threat.

I urge you to spend some time enjoying Bielsa's men on YouTube. Watch Chile spin around the field. This is football to win your heart. I’m saddened that Humberto Suazo, Chile’s great forward, is injured. I desperately hope that he plays against Honduras on the 16th. He is very much the essential element that makes Bielsa’s mad machine run.