Pep Guardiola once described him as “the best manager in the world” but if Swansea do, as has been heavily speculated this week, appoint Marcelo Bielsa as their new manager, they will be taking a massive risk.
Whether or not Swansea were right to dispense with previous incumbent Garry Monk is a moot point at this stage.
What happened between Monk and his players is a similar type of disconnect to that which is happening with José Mourinho at Chelsea. Generally when the players stop responding to a manager’s methods, the boss will soon find himself out the door – irrespective of whose fault it actually is – as it is seen as the quickest route to fixing the problem.
It may have been a bit of a panic move by chairman Huw Jenkins but, to play devil’s advocate, the new £5 billion TV deal kicks in next year and the club has to do all it can to be part of that. Morality, unfortunately, doesn’t come into it.
This is no worse a move than when Leicester fired Nigel Pearson in the summer, or Southampton dispensing with Nigel Adkins in 2013.
Both clubs took huge gambles in appointing Claudio Ranieri and Mauricio Pochettino and both decisions were vindicated. Huw Jenkins has generally got most of his appointments right, even as far back as Kenny Jackett in 2004, so the fans should have every faith in the right man succeeding Monk.
And so it seems Jenkins has turned to the man they call ‘El Loco’ to save the Swans’ season.
On the surface Bielsa could be a good fit for Swansea. At 60, he would (by some distance) be the oldest manager Swansea have had in nearly fifteen years, but he brings with him an exciting style of the sort of continental playing that the team have been trying to adopt since they appointed Michael Laudrup in 2012.
Bielsa would certainly make more sense than David Moyes or Gus Poyet, for example.
As much as the phrase “tactical genius” can be thrown around with scant regard for its prestige, Bielsa truly deserves that title. The 3-3-1-3/3-3-3-1 formation he adopted at Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao (and at times in Marseille) earned him a lot of positive attention, leading to the aforementioned Guardiola gushing back in 2012.
His style of play at these clubs was aggressive – not quite the same as the gegenpressing approach of Jürgen Klopp but no less intense. It’s fast, it’s pleasing on the eye and it’s exactly what Swansea fans have been crying out for since their transformation from Championship playoff winners to arguably becoming the average European hipster’s English club of choice.
He has been one of the game’s true visionaries; despite his relatively low trophy count he has paved the way for the likes of Guardiola, Pochettino and Diego Simeone – all of whom will have watched and learned from him – to make their mark in the game in their own way.
His meticulousness and attention to detail seemingly know no bounds and there is no question that he will know everything there is to know about the entire Swansea squad from the second the club even contacts him.
That said, there is no guarantee that the move would work out.
Swansea find themselves outside of the relegation purely by having a slightly better goal difference than Norwich. Bielsa would undoubtedly have his own ideas of how this team should line up and it’s debatable whether this team, with the perilous position they find themselves in, have the time to adapt to a whole new way of playing.
Bielsa might find that he has neither the time nor the right personnel to lay down his own tactical marker, at least not while the threat of relegation hangs over the club.
There’s also the fact that Bielsa is, to put it lightly, eccentric. It’s endearing when it’s yielding results but can come off as slightly unhinged when the team is not performing.
One of his former players at Athletic Bilbao, Iker Muniain, was once asked if Bielsa was as mad as they say he is. “No,” came the reply, “he’s madder.”
His inflexibility is another issue. He might have created a dynamic and highly intensive way of playing but it is one that he is dogmatically attached to. Considering the fans in England are among the game’s least patient, tactical rigidity in the face of setbacks is not the kind of the thing that tends to go down too well.
The Premier League is particularly good at destroying reputations – if he is not a success at Swansea (should he even take the job) then he can kiss goodbye to his legacy being respected in England.
If Marcelo Bielsa does end up at the Liberty Stadium, the partnership between manager and club is destined not to be a long one. His methods will storm through the team (and the league itself) like a rampant hurricane but history suggests that the hurricane will have moved on within a couple of years.
But for fans and neutrals alike, it will be fun while it lasts.