Things are not going particularly well for Athletic Bilbao. Languishing in 16th in La Liga and having been thumped by Sparta Prague in the Europa League, the sensation that Marcelo Bielsa has lost the locker room is growing. The release of some of the eccentric Argentinean's team talks in the media has hardly helped to quell speculation that the erratic tenure of "El Loco" is in real danger of drawing to a close.
Last season, Athletic was showered with plaudits for its attacking style of play, which carried it to two cup finals during a run of famous victories that reached its height when Manchester United was humbled in the quarterfinals of the Europa League. However, the team's display in the final of that competition and its abject defeat by Barcelona in the King's Cup sowed the seeds of Bielsa's discontent. Last week, Basque sports daily El Desmarque Bizkaia published extracts of an extraordinary rant by Bielsa after the Europe League final loss to Atlético, during which the coach accused his players of "allowing yourselves to laugh" in defeat. The Argentinean signed off his talk by saying he had no idea why Athletic had been unable to win the two matches and warned his players that it would be "a very long time" before they came that close to glory again. "Well, that's it, boys. I give you my regards in case we don't see each other again."
On Wednesday, Bizkaia news daily Deia released a new transcript of Bielsa's reaction to the 3-0 King's Cup final loss to Barcelona. "You have disappointed an entire people, you were not up to it. You are premature millionaires, you don't have to worry about anything," the coach said.
"I think it is unforgivable, boys, to mobilize a people, to then disappoint them, to fail to live up to the dreams you created. \[The fans\] are extraordinary, so naive, so naive, that 3-0 down with an open wound they applaud you in the 80th minute for making a minimally positive move."
Bielsa went on to blame himself for Athletic's failure. "I am responsible and therefore I am sorry," he said. "I am ashamed, ashamed because after the way we played against Sporting Lisbon \[in the semifinal\]... How can I feel responsible myself? It was a season that ended very badly, it really did end very badly. We cannot ignore how it ended. It would be deceptive to value how we got here because the finish was awful, honestly, it was awful. I hold myself entirely responsible for the way we finished. To lose two finals like that! It's a scar, a wound. Yesterday I heard people in the squad talking, laughing."
Bielsa made headlines in the summer when he took it upon himself to take the foreman of the company carrying out renovation work at the club's Lezama training facility to task — physically ejecting him from the installation — before rounding on Athletic's board of directors and the media in a bizarre press conference that ended with Bielsa denying he had asked to live at Lezama and called for 50 pine trees to be felled to create a running track. "The trees were diseased," he exclaimed. "They accuse me of despotic acts!"
On Wednesday, Athletic's players expressed their surprise at the leaked information. "It would be good when there are leaks to the press if we knew who spoke, what was said and in what context," said defender Carlos Gurpegui. "We hope that this situation doesn't grow. The team talk was very long and we don't know up to what point it was recorded. We hope nothing else comes to light for the good of everybody."
"Locker room matters should stay in the locker room," said Jon Aurtenetxe. "We have spoken to each other and it is impossible that it will happen again."