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El Loco by name and by nature

Obsessive Argie Bielsa has inspired some of football's top bosses and enthralled long-suffering Leeds fans


Marcelo Bielsa

Marcelo Bielsa


Marcelo Bielsa

SET next to the howling, uncontainable, forked-lightning compulsions of Marcelo Bielsa, a wildfire can seem subdued; a Himalayan avalanche, a mere gentle trickle of snowflakes.

The father of the reanimated Leeds United dances to an entirely different drum: He guided Elland Road out of the shadows without ever compromising on his obsessive, offbeat, engagingly eccentric, no dim-switch personality.

Imagine if the coiled spring that is Davy Fitzgerald (inset) had been born among the neoclassical and Art Deco architecture of the South American city of Rosario.

Bielsa's madcap back catalogue suggests a fugitive from the wards of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and makes his El Loco nickname appear, if anything, understated.

Here is a coach so consumed by the contest that he once earnestly asked a fellow football man if he ever considered killing himself after a defeat. A teenage defender was quizzed on the eve of a match about whether he would cut off one of his fingers if it guaranteed victory the next day.

As insurgent as the wild horses which once roamed the Pampas of his native Argentina, Bielsa is both an unrivalled tactical repository and a tumultuous, ungovernable soul.

When confronted by irate Newell's Old Boys ultras at his home following a six-goal thrashing, he produced a grenade and promised to remove the pin unless the unhappy mob immediately took their leave.

And, yet, generous of spirit, he will welcome Leeds people into his home and happily pose for pictures.

His rage to win, undimmed at 65, can sometimes eat him up, appear unhealthy, push him to the very brink.

When his term as Argentina coach ended in 2004, Bielsa, wracked with guilt at failing to land the World Cup or Copa America, went to live in a monastery without TV or phone for three months as a kind of penance.

Enslaved by his chosen code, he is utterly indifferent to material gain.

He lives frugally, in a one-bedroom flat above a shop in the Yorkshire market town of Wetherby. He walks to training each morning. He sits on a bucket during games. His entire wardrobe appears to consist of club-issue tracksuits.

The very antithesis of a citizen of celebrity culture, Bielsa will never be confused with David Beckham.

He is authentically beloved in Leeds, for his passion and morality, and charisma, the investment of the entirety of his being in ending the grotesque 16-year pantomime of this aristocratic club's sharp fall from grace.

At the old House of Bremner and Giles, there is a conviction that they have found their Fergie, their Klopp.

It is a viewpoint strengthened by a compelling opening to the infant season, one yielding 14 total goals in their first two Premier League contests, Bielsa's fearless, high-octane tactics disconcerting even the super-smooth Virgil van Dijk.

Their approach against Liverpool and Fulham has been anarchic, bold, chaotic, easy on the eye and irrepressible.

If the sample size is admittedly tiny, the fact that their aggregate 7-7 score from those games made them both the EPL's joint most prolific attack and joint worst defence is indicative of the electrifying roller-coaster ride that beckons.

Bielsa's unique football philosophy and the long-awaited renaissance he immediately triggered in Yorkshire, had the white hordes, a tribe who like to refer to their home place as the "Capital of the North", instantly smitten.

Even before Leeds reannounced their presence among the elite, supporters hired a plane to trail the message "Bielsa is God" among the vapour trails above Elland Road.

The South American's evangelical teachings have attracted an entire congregation of high-profile disciples.

His church has almost as many celebrity devotees as that of L. Ron Hubbard.

Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino idolise their countryman. Pep Guardiola flew across the continents for an 11-hour audience before taking the Barcelona job, and has declared his mentor the greatest coach in the world.

Guardiola, custodian of a sizeable ego, closing in on 30 pieces of top-flight silver, while Bielsa still pursues a first major prize in Europe, immediately defers to his elder.

"For world football, his ethics, his behaviour, the way his team plays - he is an authentic manager, his product is always incredible. Nobody can imitate him."

If he is consumed by the pursuit of victory - he infamously enraged then-Derby manager Frank Lampard by deploying covert surveillance to spy on their training session - he is also governed by an innate sense of fairness.

When Leeds played on and scored a goal after an Aston Villa player was injured, he ordered his team to immediately allow their opponents an uncontested equaliser.

While he has a keen sense of fairness and social justice, his fanatical nature narrows the parameters of his world.

Day after day, dawn to dusk, are spent watching hour after hour of video footage (the legend is that he can watch two games simultaneously on adjoining screens), formulating tactics, feeding his infatuation, chasing perfection.

When the Leeds top brass flew to South America to interview him in 2018, they were flabbergasted to find he had spent the previous days watching all 46 of the club's Championship games the previous season in their entirety.

To the point where he was able to detail the tactical formations of every opponent.

Such attention to detail can seem neurotic, but it is the Bielsa way - fiercely committed, burning with ambition, forever in pursuit of one more blinding flash of insight.

Today's noon-time Yorkshire derby opponents Sheffield United offer Leeds a realistic template.

Yet, though it would be an undisputed success, a figure as fervent and ambitious as Bielsa would hardly settle for emulating Chris Wilder's team's impressive ninth-place finish on their return to the Premier League last season.

So consumed by glory is this fascinating figure, that he might just unpin a grenade if he was told mid-table was to be the summit of his achievements.

Sheffield United v Leeds United

Premier League, today 12.0 noon, live on BT Sport