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Better than Bielsa? Firebrand Sampaoli looking to restore reputation at crisis-hit Marseille

24-Feb-2021, 10:10 pm

Jorge Sampaoli Marcelo Bielsa GFX

Old habits, it would seem, die hard for Jorge Sampaoli.

On Sunday, in his last game pitchside with Brazil's Atletico Mineiro, Sampaoli once more found himself in trouble with officials after seeing Sport Recife awarded a late penalty with the Galo defending a tense 2-1 lead.

The Argentine was banished from the touchline after calling the referee a “f*cking thief” and “coward”–and saw the last five or so minutes hanging from a security fence in the stands.

Sampaoli–who a day later confirmed his expected resignation following Thursday's Serie A finale against Palmeiras with a heartfelt open letter to the Mineiro fanbase ("I love you a great deal and hope you keep walking on with your hearts as your guide")–is no shrinking violet when it comes to putting his opinions across, a trait that has sometimes made him a difficult figure to warm to throughout his coaching career.

But it has also helped him achieve consistent success both at club and international level, and it is safe to say he will not be toning down his prickly attitude when he takes the reins of the equally combustible Marseille in the coming days.

L'OM, of course, have fond memories of another Argentine who graced their bench, with Marcelo Bielsa spending a single season in the south of France before moving on following a conflict with the club management.

There is plenty the pair share in common, from their upbringing in Santa Fe province to their love of fast, dynamic football and even many of the same jobs, including both the Argentina and Chile posts.

Notably, El Loco stated prior to Sampaoli's ill-fated Albiceleste stint that his compatriotwas the superior coach.

“I don't think Jorge is a disciple of mine,” the current Leeds boss told reporters. “First, because I am not comfortable with that word, and second, because I have actually noticed he is better than me, and I don't say that out of false modesty.

“One of a coach's best virtues is flexibility, not falling in love with their own ideas...I don't relent with my ideas and that's not a virtue–it's a flaw. Sampaoli does compromise because he has the power to adapt, unlike me. That definitely makes him better than me.”

When it comes to messy departures, though, Marseille's next boss outstrips even his predecessor.

Sampaoli's 12-month stint at Santos in Serie A ended with the coach filing a lawsuit against the club in order to break his contract without paying a release clause, while in April Peixe president Jose Carlos Peres accused him of contacting several players directly in order to convince them to join his new employers, Atletico Mineiro.

At Mineiro, meanwhile, the 60-year-old has threatened more than once to walk away, on one occasion in protest at the Galo's failure to pay his wages on time, and most recently after a group of fans descended on the club training ground to vocally criticise his methods and demand victory in a crunch game against Santos.

Now, once more, he is preparing to walk out on a job midway through his contract (which expires in December)–a recurring theme throughout his time on the bench.

While Sampaoli may not be the most congenial of fellows, though, he rarely fails to deliver. Aside from thatabortive, chaotic run with Argentina, whichended atRussia 2018 with a last-16 loss to France, he has a sterling track record.

There was Copa America glory and World Cup qualification with Chile, a Copa Sudamericana prior to that at the helm of Universidad de Chile, and afourth-place finish in La Liga with Sevilla.

Even in Brazil, where the post of head coach is among football's most unstable professions, Sampaoli balanced the conflicts with no little success.

Santos clinched second place in Serie A in 2019, laying the groundwork for their Copa Libertadores run the following year, while Mineiro, who mounted a decent title challenge before falling away in the final stages of this Covid-interrupted season, are guaranteed at least fourth place and a Libertadores spot for the coming campaign.

Little Santos wizard Yeferson Soteldo is among his admirers. “Sampaoli is the best coach I have ever had,” the Venezuela international revealed during an interview posted on Instagram. “He realised I was not a player who liked to mark. He said: 'You won't play for me until you learn.' I have learned a lot.”

Still, Marseille, Sampaoli's first European postsince leaving Sevilla in 2017, will pose a considerable challenge.

After leading l'OM to an impressive second place prior to Ligue 1's early finish in 2020, Andre Villas-Boas struggled hugely with the task of juggling league and Champions League commitments with a squad cut back to the bare bones.

Marseille bombed out of Europe with five defeats in six matches and currently languish in seventh place domestically, 16 points shy of Paris Saint-Germain in the final Champions League qualification place.

In the past month, events have taken on a farcical nature: Villas-Boas publicly stated his intention to step down at the end of the season and then threatened to resign over the signing of a player, an act that led to his suspension and later dismissal.

Even more seriously, a group of Marseille heavies descended on the club training ground and raised hell, even striking defender Alvaro Gonzalez with a missile, in supposed protest against the running of the side.

Steeled by his ample experience with the barra brava hooligans of Argentina, Chile and Peru and Brazil's own torcida ultras, Sampaoli will not flinch from such confrontations.

But as he gears up to say farewell to Atletico Mineiro from the stands of the Mineirao, he will be aware that setting the troubled Ligue 1 club back on track will be a daunting task.

However, a successful stint at the Velodrome wouldgo a long way towards mendinghis reputation in Europe after falling flat in Russia with Messi and Argentina.


Source : goal.com

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