We should’ve known that this is how it would end between Marcelo Bielsa and Olympique Marseille. A manager who is the antithesis of sanity combined with a club such as Marseille, with its frenzied, checkered history, had all the ingredients for a ripe disaster, and it happened in as crazy a way as anyone could’ve predicted. After losing the opener versus Caen yesterday, Bielsa resigned as manager of Marseille in a move that was extreme to say the least, even by his standards.
It’s important to know that Bielsa and the higher-ups in Marseille have had problems ever since he was hired last summer. He hinted that there was an opt-out clause in the contract he signed that summer, and criticized president Vincent Labrune for signings he wasn’t involved in. The relationship between Marseille and Bielsa at the best of times was tenuous, and at the worst of times it was chaotic.
Perhaps the peak Bielsa moment of all this was that he didn’t even inform the players first of this decision; he informed the press instead. He also wrote a letter to Labrune giving his reasons for his resignation. Using Google Translate, I translated it into English. Of course with Google, it’s not the most accurate of translations but you can probably get the gist of what the letter was saying:
If Bielsa truly left solely because of the way his contract was being screwed around, Marseille have no one to blame but themselves for how this turned out. Of course we probably won’t ever know the true story of what happened. Perhaps this was just the breaking point for the Bielsa/Marseille relationship and the resignation was just the culmination of a whirlwind year together. Perhaps it really was Marseille trying to go back on Bielsa’s contract. Or maybe Bielsa just wanted to get out of Marseille to get the Mexico job and he used this as a way to leave.
As for the club on the field, it will be very interesting to see what happens to the morale in the changing room. For all the qualms people (including me) have made about the stubbornness of Bielsa’s tactics late last season, he was still probably a net positive as a manager and did a considerable amount of good things for the club last year even if it didn’t end with them finishing in one of the three Champions League spots.
Marseille played the most attractive and expansive style of football in Ligue 1 last season, with the famous pressing tempo that is the staple of a Bielsa-managed team. Marseille improved in almost every underlying statistical category, whether it be expected goal ratio, expected points or team rating. He helped continue the progress of LB Benjamin Mendy’s young career (particularly going forward), coaxed Andre-Pierre Gignac to his best goal scoring season since 2008-09 and moved Dimitri Payet into a quasi #10 position that turned him into arguably the best attacking midfielder in Ligue 1 last season.
We still don’t truly know what the real value of a manager in football is, but going from Bielsa to an interim manager can probably be classified as a step down for Marseille and with the league and European football to deal with this season, it’ll be hard for an interim manager to instill any type of calmness in the squad.
Coming into this season, Marseille still had real hopes of making it into the top three in France despite the mass exodus of last season’s squad (even if I was skeptical of that actually happening). Those hopes have taken a serious blow with this fiasco and it’s up to the club to pick up the pieces and salvage this.
For Bielsa, this continues the trend of staying one or two years with a club, doing very well in the beginning and leaving said club in a state of disorder. Nobody expected Marseille to be any different, but very, very few expected the divorce to have happened this early into his second season in France.
Ligue 1 is also a loser in this, as it says goodbye to one of its most eccentric personalities in quite some time. The quality of football played at the Stade Vélodrome could go down considerably this season, and that’s a damn shame to the fans of Ligue 1/Marseille and the stereotype that Ligue 1 is a dull, defensive league full of 0-0/1-1 draws (a stereotype, mind you, that does have some basis of truth).
Goodbye Marcelo, you crazy, crazy bastard.