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Bilbao bail will harm Bielsa

Athletic Bilbao’s 3-2 win over Manchester United on Thursday night proved something many Spanish footballing fans already knew; there is life outside of the big two in La Liga. The fluidity in their movement, the slick style of passing and the resolute defensive capabilities coupled with the attacking intent saw the Basque side come away from Old Trafford with the upper hand heading into the second leg of the Europa League encounter at San Mamés next week.

With the powerhouse, and long-term target for Tottenham Hotspur, Fernando Llorente leading the front line emphatically after levelling terms on the evening following Wayne Rooney’s opener for the Red Devil’s, Oscar de Marcos’ Barcelona-esc goal saw Bilbao take a, surprisingly, not-so-shocking lead against United before Iker Muniain doubled their advantage late on. Rooney may have netted a second for the home side in the dying embers of the enthralling encounter giving Sir Alex Ferguson’s men a fighting chance in the second leg next week, but credit must go to Los Leones for a superb team performance that raised eyebrows from football fans across Europe.

And much of the credit must go down to manager Marcelo Bielsa, who has guided the club to fifth spot in La Liga, just a solitary point off Levante and a spot in the Champions League places, while seeing them through to the final of the Copa Del Rey against the Blaugrana in May. The Argentine has continued to bolster his impressive portfolio at club level after a 13-year hiatus to take charge of Argentina and Chile national sides between 1998 and 2011.

His first full season under Bilbao has seen the club really bolster their credentials across the continent and it is hardly surprising to see the club performing so well, both domestically and in Europe. However, it is these impressive performances that the players have been churning out that has seen a number of the game’s big hitters’ stand up and take notice. Most recently, Chelsea are believed to have taken a strong interest in the progression Loco Bielsa, as he is so aptly nicknamed, has made during his stint with the club.

As many football fans know, the Blues recently sacked manager Andre Villas-Boas due to poor results and performances by the club. The 56-year-old has since been heavily linked as the Portuguese tactician’s successor with owner Roman Abramovich keen to see similar performances like that of Thursday night at Stamford Bridge from the players.

“It will be hell for whoever succeeds him [Villas-Boas],” former manager Luis Felipe Scolari recently proclaimed, and many feel compelled to agree with him. Bielsa, despite his excellent repertoire at club level management, would be foolish to take over the deserted reins at Stamford Bridge, especially with Abramovich at the helm of the club. Only recently has his name really began to emerge from the shadows once more, despite leading Chile to an impressive campaign during the 2010 World Cup, but away from the International scene, has begun once again to showcase his capabilities and he should continue to bolster his portfolio with the Copa Del Rey finalists.

His career could be tarnished in football should he opt to take over the vacant managerial spot with Chelsea, much in the same way Juande Ramos’ was following an unsuccessful stint with Spurs. If things don’t go right for him from the off, should he be approached and, in fact, take over, he will have the media and, more significantly, the trigger happy oligarch breathing down his neck. And for a manager who isn’t afraid to axe a player at the drop of a hat, the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard will possibly begin throwing their toys out of the pram at the first sign of trouble.

The same could be said for England. The Football Association may end up approaching the Bilbao boss following his excellent work with the Lions as Fabio Capello’s replacement. Naturally, Harry Redknapp remains the overwhelming favourite to succeed the Italian and is more likely to accept the position at the end of the season. However, by some sheer stroke of luck chairman Daniel Levy manages to convince the veteran manager to remain at White Hart Lane, it has been speculated David Bernstein and his minions will cast a watchful eye to Spain, with Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola of Barcelona thought to be high on the shortlist.

Bilbao’s performance against the Red Devils in the Europa League would have caught the interest of the four-man contingent charged with replacing Capello and it could well see them cast an eye of the San Mamés over the next few weeks. Again, Bielsa would be foolish to take over the position with his reputation likely to be at stake from the off. The best the Argentine could do is stick with Bilbao for the foreseeable future, especially with Guardiola and World Player of the Year Lionel Messi singing his praises and willing to accept him should the former Barca captain stand down from his position with the Catalan giants.

A chance to take over, arguably, the game’s greatest team at the moment would be too hard an opportunity to turn down and after working wonders for his current club, the prospect of reinforcing Barca’s status as the world’s best could be a positive step for Bielsa. Staying in Spain, and more importantly with Bilbao, is the best move he could make right now.

Ben McAleer