Bielsa signs new Athletic contract
Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa has agreed a contract extension which will keep him with the Primera Division club until June 2013.
The 56-year-old Argentinian won a legion of admirers over the 2011/12 season for guiding the Basque team to the finals of both the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, as well as a 10th-placed finish in La Liga.
A statement on the club’s website read: "Athletic Club and coach Marcelo Bielsa have agreed to extend the contractual relationship that unites both parties until June 30, 2013."
Bielsa was immediately installed by media and bookmakers as favourite to take over at Barcelona when reports started emerging in late April that Pep Guardiola was about to resign.
Barca promoted from within by appointing Tito Vilanova as Guardiola’s successor, but Bielsa’s future was again in doubt when Athletic endured a disappointing end to the campaign, with speculation also linking him with a move to Champions League winners Chelsea before today’s news put paid to such talk.
Bielsa took over at San Mames last summer, returning to Spain having gained himself hero status in his previous post as Chile boss, when Athletic decided not to renew the contract of long-serving coach
Joaquin Caparros following the election of new president Josu Urrutia.
Caparros took over a side that had avoided relegation by just one point in 2007 and during his four years in the hotseat helped the Basque club reach their first Copa del Rey final since 1985 before in 2010/11 guiding them to their first top-six finish in eight years.
And in turning to Bielsa, Athletic were appointing a man whose only previous coaching experience in European football was a six-match spell with Espanyol in 1998, and who had spent much of the last dozen years in charge of national teams, first with Argentina and then with Chile.
However, the decision to appoint the wily tactician proved a masterstroke.
The run to the Europa League showpiece – the club’s first European final in 35 years – included victories over Manchester United, Schalke and Sporting Lisbon. All were completed in hugely entertaining fashion and earned Bielsa praise from Red Devils counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson.
Speaking before Athletic completed a 5-3 aggregate quarter-final win over his team, Ferguson said: "They are very determined and organised, with a great belief in themselves. That is the hallmark of their coach. He has instilled these qualities in his team."