Bielsa: Media ‘perverts’ the truth based on wins and defeats
Written by Simon Austin — February 11, 2019
REWIND to mid November and you'll find plenty of articles extolling the virtues of ‘Sarriball’.
Chelsea were unbeaten in 12 Premier League games and Maurizio Sarri’s possession-based, high-pressing style - using Jorginho as a creative pivot - was something to behold.
Fast forward three months to the aftermath of a 6-0 humbling at the Etihad and those strengths have morphed into weaknesses. N’Golo Kante should be at the base of midfield, the Blues lack a cutting edge and Sarri is too intransigent to be successful in English football.
The turnaround brings to mind a brilliant interview by Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa in May 2017. Speaking at an event hosted by the Brazilian Football Federation, the Argentine said: “The same argument that is used to amplify a behaviour in victory is used to condemn behaviour in defeat”.
He went on: “If the coach manages to get Neymar to retrieve the ball chasing the rival winger, we counter-attack and make a goal and win eight matches in a row, everyone will say, 'how wonderful, the coach domesticated Neymar, he achieved that Neymar is collective instead of individual'.
“But the day he loses, they will say, ‘this donkey, instead of making him play Neymar 20 metres from the rival goal, he does it to chase the rival winger'. That is the speciality of media corporations.
“They specialise in perverting human beings according to victories or defeats. How do we allow it? What makes you important when you win is the same thing that makes you useless when you lose.
"Media corporations influence more than family and schools, which were the genuine places of education. It is a shame that the media corporations educate people, because they have specific interests, contrary to those of education.”
This phenomenon, where the same characteristic can be used as both a garland and a stick to beat you with, has also been known among owners. After being sacked as Chelsea manager in 2011, Carlo Ancelotti said: "What they hire me for is my ability to calm the situation by building relationships with the players, which is one of my biggest strengths.
"But then at the first sign of trouble that's the very characteristic they point to as the problem. I know if I'm winning it is because I am calm; equally, if I am losing, it is because I am calm."
As the Leeds manager knows, anything that is worth building takes time. The greatest clubs and managers have a philosophy, an identity, which transcends the inconvenience of a defeat. When he spoke at Harvard University in 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson - probably the greatest British manager of them all - alluded to this.
“The first thought of 99% of newly-appointed managers is to make sure they win - to survive,” the Scot said. “So they bring experienced players in. That’s simply because we’re in a results-driven industry. When I arrived (at Manchester United), only one player on the first team was under 24.
“Can you imagine that - for a club like Manchester United?! I knew that a focus on youth would fit the club’s history, and my earlier coaching experience told me that winning with young players could be done and that I was good at working with them.
“So I had the confidence and conviction that if United was going to mean anything again, rebuilding the youth structure was crucial. You could say it was brave, but fortune favours the brave.”
This all happened in the days before social media and radio phone-ins and 24-hour coverage though. Would the Scot have survived today, when media serves to exaggerate and over-simplify based on one result?
This is why Stuart Webber, Norwich City’s Sporting Director, said: ”I have a sign up here in my office - ignore the noise. Don’t read Twitter, because they don’t know.”
When he arrived at Carrow Road in April 2017, one of the first things the Welshman did was to implement a philosophy.
“We came back to three things - employ someone who can implement a certain style of play, be open-minded in the transfer market and promote young players from within.”
Norwich finished 14th in Daniel Farke’s first season in charge, in 2017/18, leading some to call for the German's head, but Webber was playing the long game.
“Our criteria wasn’t just win, win, win,” he said. “If that was the case, Daniel wouldn’t still be here after last season.”
Now Norwich are top of the Championship with 15 games to go and eased past local rivals Ipswich 3-0 last weekend. Have others learned to ignore the noise?
When Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri talks about “we want young players to develop,” while in the same breath adding, “I look at the table and it is just not good enough” you have to doubt whether this is the case.
Caution should also be added when assessing Manchester United's amazing resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Everything the Norwegian does is now heralded as an act of genius - from giving the receptionist at Carrington a chocolate bar to choosing to attend the staff Christmas party - when the truth is likely to be more nuanced.
The real tests lie ahead and this is where Solskjaer's core philosophies will come to the fore.