‘Failure forms us’: an imagined video call between Bielsa and Pochettino

Topic: Mauricio Pochettino’s Zoom Meeting
Mon, 13 Jun 2022 01:51 AM (CET)

[Marcelo Bielsa’s iPad has joined the meeting.]

Pochettino: Hello? Hello? Marcelo?

Bielsa: Mauricio? Can you hear me?

Pochettino: Yes, I can hear you now. You were … muted for a while.

Bielsa: Then that makes two of us.

Pochettino: Is this a good time?

Bielsa: Well, St Kitts and Nevis against Saint Martin in the Concacaf Nations League won’t watch itself. But don’t worry, I’m recording it. So, Paris. Is it done? Finished?

Pochettino: Almost. The severance terms have already been agreed. We’re just waiting for Kylian’s people to approve the messaging.

Bielsa: I read about his contract. Is it true he now chooses the initiation song for each new player?

Pochettino: It’s true. Nuno Mendes had to perform a profane French rap. It embarrassed him greatly. But when you have a player like Mbappé …

Bielsa: … you play him as a centre-forward in 72% of your fixtures and as a left-winger in the other 28%. Overall your most common formation is an inverted 4-3-3, but when Neymar is available you switch to a 4-2-3-1. When Icardi plays with Mbappé you prefer a midfield diamond. With Messi and not Mbappé, you go 4-2-2-2 with Di María slightly withdrawn.

Pochettino: What does that tell you?

Bielsa: It tells me nothing. It is useless. But out of respect to you, I wanted to prepare for this call in the correct manner.

Pochettino: I expected nothing less.

Bielsa: Nevertheless, you did not contact me to talk about tactics or French rap. You called out of some ridiculous notion that I would be able to advise you. And you called to ask for forgiveness.

Pochettino: Forgiveness for what?

Bielsa: For forsaking your sporting principles and joining a leisurewear company masquerading as a football team. You don’t need me to tell you what a bad idea that was. You know it already.

Pochettino: Do you judge me for wanting to win?

Bielsa: I judge nobody but myself. Regardless, I suspect you did not make this move with your heart, or even your head, but with – and I apologise for my coarseness – with your balls. You thought you could tame the untameable. You thought you would succeed where Blanc and Emery and Tuchel all failed, and bend this godless sideshow to your will. What did you learn, except for the fact that Messi is worse than useless out of possession and Neymar prefers to enjoy himself?

Pochettino: I went to one of Ney’s parties. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. There was a champagne whirlpool, a glass dancefloor, a laser archery range, miniature drones carrying trays of snacks. One of the guest suites had been turned into a petting zoo. I saw Marco Verratti riding a pig. Neymar himself was wearing a turban studded with emeralds. Eventually I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. There was a Tesla in it.

Bielsa: What about training?

Pochettino: What about training? Once I tried to organise a rondo. But Leo refuses to go in the middle. And if Leo won’t go in the middle, then neither will Ney or Kylian. And then nobody wants to go. Eventually me and Jesús had to go in the middle. We were there for 45 minutes. Another time, I was explaining to Leo the concept of defensive transition. He had to fetch his translator.

Bielsa: I make no boasts about my time at Leeds. It was a failure, just like all the others. But for a time there was cohesion and respect. I won’t say love, because it’s hard to love someone who has just made you vomit on a treadmill. But one morning at breakfast, Luke Ayling brought in a painting that his daughter had made at nursery. A painting of me. “Uncle Marcelo,” she called it.

Pochettino: Aaah.

Bielsa: Overall the painting was not of a high quality. The brushwork was vague and the application of glitter left much to be desired. But over time I have learned it is better not to say these things.

Pochettino: Is this what makes you happy? Building a project? Building a family?

Bielsa: Happiness is the wrong word. There is no happiness in football, only winning and losing. Winning delays the anxiety for a few minutes, maybe more. You tell me. You won more titles in 18 months than I did in 30 years. Did any of it give you the same stimulation you felt at Southampton? At Espanyol? At Newell’s? In the fields, with your friends, when you learned to solve a problem for the first time?

Pochettino: I’m not really detecting any advice here.

Bielsa: That’s because there is nothing useful I can say to you. Certainly nothing I can teach you on a sporting level. What would I know about coaching Juventus or Chelsea or Bayern Munich? Or getting your agent to plant stories in Marca? All I know is that no project is perfect. No job is secure. No club is immune from greed and dishonesty and disrespect. But still we return, because this is the nature of our obsession. And every failure forms us. It builds us. It brings us closer to the truth.

Pochettino: Which is?

Bielsa: I don’t know. But if you ever discover it, tell me.