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 Argentinas 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
Several of the tapes
documented players. For instance, ten tapes specifically documented games
played by Swedens 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 nations economy; Bielsa would heal its nations 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.
Bielsas tactics were too one-dimensional; it was vertigo with no plan B.
Indeed, many of the players complained that Bielsa was too autocratic.
Zanettis 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
Crespos 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.