Athletic Bilbao close in on 'The New Bielsa' Eduardo Berizzo

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 17 April 2018, 10:06

Ahead of Barcelona’s clash with Athletic Club Bilbao in the 2011/12 season, then-Barca boss Pep Guardiola was asked about their opponents.

His initial response made no reference to the players he would be facing, but to the man in the opposite dugout. “He is the best manager in the world,” the Catalan declared. “For me, he is a tactical inspiration.”

The man in question was the famed Marcelo Bielsa - the high-energy and somewhat eccentric Argentine who was making a name for himself in the Basque Country. That season he guided Athletic to both the final of the Europa League and the Copa del Rey - they did however, lose both - and in just two seasons with the club, became a cult figure among its fanbase.

Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca have described Athletic as ‘closing in’ on appointing ‘The New Bielsa’: Eduardo Berizzo. Out-of-contract since his dismissal from Sevilla in December, it is rumoured the Argentine - who spent three years as assistant to Bielsa with the Chilean national team - is the front-runner to take the San Mames hot seat.

It was less than a year ago that a similar conversation was being held at Sevilla, who were aware that another Argentinian - Jorge Sampaoli - was on the verge of departure to take the job with his national team. Sampaoli, another former Chile boss, was the most high-profile of Bielsa’s many managerial ‘disciplies’ and the Andalusian club moved to appoint Berizzo in his place in what was seen as a continuation, of sorts.

Berizzo’s tenure as Sevilla boss was traumatic in more ways than one. In November he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and just over a month later and while still medically recovering, he was dismissed after a four-game winless run. Many criticised the decision as heartless and lacking empathy but many more critiqued its merit on a sporting scale.

Sevilla were not having a vintage season - they were lying in 5th position - but had garnered a respectable 28 points from 17 matches, had progressed through their Champions League group and through their Copa del Rey fixtures. It was nothing special, but it was fair to say the minimum requirements were being met. Had it not been for Valencia’s outstanding first half of the campaign, they would be sitting in the top four.

Berizzo was replaced by Vincenzo Montella and despite isolated cup victories, only a further 18 points from 15 fixtures suggests his predecessor was not doing so badly after all. The same cannot be said of Athletic Bilbao, who languish in 14th in La Liga and are having a thoroughly forgettable season.

Jose Angel Ziganda was promoted from within to replace the Barca-bound Ernesto Valverde last summer but has failed to make any sort of impression with a squad who many believe should be at least challenging for Europe. Ziganda is set to be dismissed in the summer and, according to Marca, Berizzo is primed to replace him with just a wage packet needing to be agreed.

Tactically, the former Celta boss is more pragmatic than Bielsa - few managers are not - but the intensity within the style and fluidity within systems remains. He guided the Galician club to a memorable Europa League semi-final last season and at a club with more resources, he should be able to emulate such achievements. Athletic need a boost and the Argentine could be just the man to deliver it.

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