Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Marcelo Bielsa's attention to detail is so impressive, says Pep Clotet
Birmingham City host Leeds United this Saturday
Last Updated: 05/04/19 11:18am
Marcelo Bielsa recently caused a spying stir but former Leeds United assistant manager Pep Clotet has no complaints as he prepares Birmingham City to face the Argentine this Saturday. He is a long-time admirer of Bielsa. In fact, as he tells Adam Bate in an exclusive interview for Sky Sports, he’s even done some spying of his own in the past…
Leeds manager Bielsa sparked uproar in January when one of his minions was caught spying on a Derby training session. The Rams were among 11 Championship clubs to write to the EFL to complain. But while Birmingham's Garry Monk, a former Leeds boss himself, did describe Bielsa's activities as "unethical" his club's name was not on that list.
Perhaps that decision was shaped in part by the attitude of his assistant manager Pep Clotet. The Spaniard worked with Monk at both Swansea and Leeds prior to linking up again in the second city but, when speaking to him about Bielsa, he has a very different take.
"I have seen it all before," Clotet tells Sky Sports. There is a knowing chuckle. "He did something very similar when he was at Athletic Bilbao."
The overriding emotion that Clotet feels when Bielsa's name comes up is not anger but admiration. Indeed, the Argentine was his inspiration long before the pair are set to meet up again in the respective dugouts when Birmingham host Leeds this Saturday.
"The first time I saw him and he really impressed me was before the 2002 World Cup. He was holding a camp with the Argentina team near Barcelona where we have the Pro Licence school. I remember he was there for two and a half weeks. We had lessons every day, five times a week. I always managed to go early and stay late so I could see all of his sessions.
"I was so impressed with the attention to detail.
"He was preparing his pressing. For example, the ball that goes from the goalkeeper to the full-back, he was working in great detail on how to press that ball.
"It was the first time that I saw that level of detail at a really high level. I watched first-hand how he led the group through that and you could see it in the games too. It was similar at Bilbao and with Chile. Now we are seeing it with Leeds."
Clotet, 41, is a student of the game, quite literally. Born in Barcelona, he was at university in the city when Louis van Gaal's Barca did the domestic double back in 1998. Clotet even indulged in a little bit of spying of his own to find out more about how Van Gaal did it.
"He was one of the first coaches in Spain who wouldn't let anyone see the training," he recalls. "I remember I tried to change my classes from the morning to the afternoon so that I could see as many training sessions as I could. I had to climb a fence so I could see the training but I was not the only one. You end up getting to know people.
"I was there with my notebook and writing down the sessions that he was doing. His attention to detail was terrific. I was interested because I was working with the youth team of my hometown club. It was a very different level but I wanted to understand Van Gaal's football and you can do that if you are there day after day."
It was the celebrated Uruguayan writer and poet Eduardo Galeano who famously described himself as a beggar for good football. "I go about the world, hand outstretched," he claimed. "And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it."
Clotet appears to have a similar passion for the game, his travels have taken him halfway around the world and back. But with him there is a twist. He is a beggar for good coaching.
"I decided it would be good for me to go around Europe and watch coaches like Marcelo," he says of his younger days.
"I went to Germany and spent three months there. I did Holland, France, Italy, Scandinavia and Japan. I have been to Japan nine times to learn from them. People don't think of them as a great power in football but they are really developing the young players there. Japan did well at the 2012 Olympics and that was as a result of their good work.
"Then there is Russia and Ukraine. Instead of me going there, I was lucky because I was the director of the Pro Licence in Catalonia so 40 coaches from clubs over there came over to do a study on Barcelona. I learned a lot from them. That helped me to shape my knowledge."
Clotet is now putting that knowledge to good effect at Birmingham with the Midlands side having outperformed expectations for much of this season only for a points deduction to scupper their progress. On Saturday, he and Monk will pit their wits against the man who helped inspire him on his journey. No need for spies. Clotet knows all about Bielsa already.