KEIR RADNEDGE in Bucharest: Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa insisted his team’s jolting dismissal by Atletico de Madrid in the Europa League Final in Bucharest was all his fault for picking the wrong game plan.
After a 3-0 defeat to a fellow Argentinian coach in Diego Simeone – who, as a player was an international ‘pupil’ of Bielsa – it was a painful moment at the end of an otherwise bright first season with the Basque traditionalists.
Bilbao, both literally and metaphorically, appeared to be wrong-footed right from the start. They were two goals down in 35 minutes and even a rash of second-half substitutions and tactical readjustments could save the day.
Star striker Fernando Llorente was badly out of touch, decisively outclassed by his striking opposite number, Radamel Falcao.
Bielsa said: “I take full responsibility for how my team played and foer what we did not manage to accomplish. It’s tremendously disappointing.
“Our opponents deserved to win although I don’t think the basic difference between the two teams is as vast as what happened out there on the pitch made it appear. We just played into their hands and let them impose their style of play on the game.
“We didn’t expect this result and the players are devastated. That’s only natural. You can’t get away from it.”
Owning up his own sense of guilt, Bielsa added: “The coach has to take the responsibility for what happens on the pitch and we are far better than we showed here. It’s easy to be a coach when things go well but when things go badly you have to accept your own responsibility.
“When it comes down to it I coach them, I decide how we play and who plays and who does not.”
Atletico coach Simeone, former Argentina midfielder and central to the Beckham red card incident at the 1998 World Cup, has now won three titles as a coach to add to his seven as a player – including this particular competition (with Inter when it was the UEFA Cup).
Simeone had coached his way to Argentinian league titles with Estudiantes and River Plate and now boasts a first European prize with Atletico. Always red and white.
He said: “I supposed I enjoyed winning this more as a player but that’s because when you are a player you can shout and run around and celebrate however you want whereas, when you’re the coach, you know it’s the players’ moment and you have to keep calm.
“But I’m proud of the players and the fans and grateful to the people who trusted me last December.”
That was when Simeone was brought back to the club as coach in place of sacked Gregorio Manzano to sort out a faltering Liga campaign. The manner of his achievement has been spectacular in a ‘calm’ way. Atletico have now won their fourth European trophy and can still qualify for the Champions League next season.
Simeone said: “We knew we had to avoid letting Bilbao impose their pressing game. We knew we might have to concede a lot of possession to them but we thought we could use the space effectively ourselves. Then we ‘interpreted’ the game really well.
“Technically and tactically we played a very good match. We moved the ball accurately and we scored early on. After that we always felt comfortable.”
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