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by Simon King



Loose tapes were strewn all over the room. The television set had been perched above the desk; its adjacent cables were a tangled mess. It was switched on, but it had no signal. Indeed, a small caption that read ‘no signal’ floated across the screen, which made a buzzing sound. Otherwise, the room was pristine and orderly. The wallpaper had not been besmirched by any stains, the floor had recently been hoovered and the desk did not contain any soot. Apart from the preponderance of tapes on the floor, this was an ordinary hotel room in Tokyo.

There were hundreds of tapes. One tape stuck out of the video player, which documented a friendly between England and Hungary in 1999. It preceded the Sven-Goran Erikson era and it was a relatively unimportant match, but it still included star players like Beckham, Scholes and Seaman. Videos of Sweden and Nigeria were also scattered across the room. Videos of Argentina’s potential opponents in the second round also abounded. Its most likely opponent would be Denmark, but one could not discount the possibility of facing France or even Uruguay and Senegal.

Several of the tapes documented players. For instance, ten tapes specifically documented games played by Sweden’s star striker Erikson. Fifteen tapes of Michael Owen were burrowed underneath the pile on the floor. There were two tapes on Zinedine Zidane, as one could not discount the possibility of facing France in the second round. Either France or Argentina could finish second – indeed, they had been placed in tough groups.

Bielsa crashed into the room and crushed an obscure match between France and Chile. He clutched a styrofoam cup containing Nescafe espresso, which he sipped. He wiped the sweat off his brow, as he prepared to skilfully navigate his way through the abundance of tapes. He ignored his vibrating phone, as he knew that his assistant Bonini would start to hassle him. His assistant was an amiable, albeit short-tempered, fellow. He had good attention to detail and would probably be about to point out a minor dieting issue, but the whole issue was redundant as Bielsa was already aware of it.

The weight of expectation was enormous. The Argentinean banks had just crashed, thousands of people had lost their savings and the economy had entered a chronic recession. The whole nation hoped for some respite and joy in the world cup, as the team had obliterated its opponents during qualifying in scintillating fashion. It boasted star players like Verón, Crespo, Ortega and Batistuta, alongside rising stars like Saviola and Riquelme. The Argentinean economy had boiled over, but its citizens hoped that El ‘Loco’ Bielsa would steer his high-pressing, attacking, fast team into World Cup glory. Menem might have trashed the nation’s economy; Bielsa would heal its nation’s wounds.

The team had just finished training preparations at the local complex. There had been complaints that training had been exhausting and relentless. The players had complained of fatigue, but Bielsa took no notice. The whole team would rise at six in the morning, go through the tactics and proceed to train. As a result of these assiduous preparations, Verón had started to limp.

Indeed, some of its senior members had began to complain about the strenuous preparations. Bielsa’s tactics were too one-dimensional; it was vertigo with no plan B. Indeed, many of the players complained that Bielsa was too autocratic. Zanetti’s calls for defensive solidity were constantly parried by Bielsa. The whole team thought that Bielsa three-man defence was no way to win a world cup. It might have worked in crushing a weak Brazilian side, the altitude in Bolivia, Uruguay and a dire Chilean side, but would it work against the likes of France, Italy and Germany? Bielsa made the whole team vote on it and 90% of the team voted for a four-man defence. Bielsa acknowledged that democracy had spoken, but still stuck to his three-manned defence.

Bielsa had a little free time now, so he would spend it by watching one of his videos. He had transferred thousands of videos over to Japan. It had been exceedingly cumbersome, and expensive, to pack the videos and fly them over to the other side of the world. Bielsa had a considerable library of videos in Rosario, but he would rue them like a missing limb in Japan.

He was particularly concerned by the threat of Nigeria, so he decided to watch one of their qualifying games against Sudan. The game appeared on the screen and Bielsa proceeded to take notes about each player. Granted, they were playing against a weak opposition, but it was still of the utmost importance to ascertain – once more – their qualities. Aghahowa was a particularly nimble and skilful player, but other players like Ojigwe and Okocha posed a threat. Bielsa proceeded to scrutinise the screen and take notes. The game was languid and uneventful, but Bielsa thought that it was of the utmost importance to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. After all, as the rest of his team slept, he had to think of ways of beating the opponent.

Bielsa watched the game for ten minutes – Nigeria had predictably taken the lead – but he suddenly had a thought. How should he utilise Crespo against a seemingly frail Nigerian defence? He knew that he had a videotape that specifically chronicled Crespo’s games for Lazio.

But where was it? Bielsa swerved around and burrowed into his mountain of tapes, but could not find the tape entitled CRESPO. He threw several tapes across the room, but he could not find the one that he sought. He had dug deep into the bottom of the pile, but no such tape surfaced.

Bielsa panicked and despaired. Had he misplaced the tape? Was it somewhere in the room? Or, worse still, had it not made its way to Tokyo? He paused the video and scurried all over the room, but could not find it. Several videos had been crushed, their supply reel protruding out of their damaged cases. Bielsa became more and more agitated and started to prance across the room in despair.

He would instead speak to Crespo about his games in Lazio. He would continue to scrutinise his movements in training. Whatever happened, that video had disappeared and there was nothing that he could do about it. As the rest of the squad slept, Bielsa crushed his styrofoam cup. More sleepless nights awaited him.




The above story is fiction and doesn't claim to be a true representation of the facts.


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