En español | Four coaches whose teams made it to the World Cup in South Africa are already winners regardless of their ultimate fortunes on the field: They are back at the top of their game after having been ousted—even ostracized—by previous teams. For Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, 55, Colombian Reinaldo Rueda, 53, Mexican Javier Aguirre, 52, and Spaniard Vicente Del Bosque, 60, this World Cup is truly a second chance at redemption.
For Bielsa and Rueda in particular, making it to South Africa is a bittersweet victory, having come to the Chilean and Honduran national teams, respectively, as exiles unwelcome in their own homes. Each, one might say, has already achieved redemption, reinventing their careers as well as their personal lives. So much so that the Honduran Parliament resolved to grant Rueda citizenship in that nation, whatever the outcome of the tournament in South Africa. Similarly in Chile, Bielsa is loved and revered even after his team failed to make the quarterfinals.
Reinaldo Rueda – His Nine Lives
Popular wisdom holds that soccer coaches have more lives than a cat, and Reinaldo Rueda is a case in point. Born in Cali, in southeastern Colombia, Rueda never excelled as a player and seemed destined for the junior leagues. He then decided to refocus on academics. He earned a degree in Physical Education, became a soccer coach, and left for Germany to pursue graduate studies in Cologne.
While in charge of Colombian soccer's junior divisions, Rueda earned recognition for his perseverance, leading his country to third place in the 2003 Junior World Cup. Fame and success followed, and he coached all rungs of Colombian soccer, from the Under 17 to the Under 23 teams, finally assuming direction of the adult national team. But a bad showing left the team out of the 2006 World Cup, and Rueda's luck did an about-face.
Fired despite coming within one point of the championship, in January 2007 he was presented with an opportunity to vindicate himself at the helm of the Honduran team. But Rueda would still make good use of his remaining lives on the road to the 2010 World Cup. He used one up on a highway in Annecy, France, on December 11, 2009, while scouting locations for the team before heading to South Africa: in a major accident, a car smashed into the back of the truck he was riding. "We were going along without incident in the truck and, all of a sudden, we felt a crash and panic took over," Rueda would later say to reporters. "God and the Virgin saved our lives," he told the Colombian daily El Tiempo.
Marcelo Bielsa – A Perfect Love Affair
Honduras's head coach was safe and sound, but Colombia mourned the loss of a master. In a similar vein, Argentina would rue the loss of Marcelo Bielsa, nicknamed "El Loco," or "The Madman" because he demands work, discipline, respect, and sportsmanship. Bielsa has showed his unwillingness to compromise on those values since winning his first title as coach of Newell's Old Boys, his hometown team in Rosario, north of Buenos Aires.
It was 1991 and Bielsa, 35, was having the time of his life coaching his beloved team following an unsuccessful stint as a player in the same club. After securing the championship, Bielsa convened the team at the local church to give thanks. Half the roster didn't show, and the coach quit the next day, unfortunately for Newell's and the city. From then on, he was known as "Bielsa the Madman."
The anecdote paints a perfect picture of the man: methodical, obsessive, and strict, Bielsa trained with such legends as Jorge Griffa and César Luis Menotti. A man of few words with the press who keeps his distance with the public, Bielsa opts for wearing track suits and is not wont to celebrate victories or lament defeats. Soccer, for him, is measured by effort: "In his work Bielsa is relentless: he collects videos, obsessively watching plays over and over, and holds to the conviction that the team is more than any one individual," says journalist Nibaldo Mosciatti, press director of Bío-Bío, one of the most listened-to radio stations in the Chilean capital of Santiago. "Bielsa brought audacity to Chilean football: in other words, [he instilled the idea of] playing to win by the team's own merits rather than by the failures of its rival," says Mosciatti.
In his country, Argentina, people thought otherwise. Criticized by the Argentine press after a disastrous World Cup effort in 2002—when his team was eliminated in the first round—and in constant conflict with the Argentine soccer leadership, Bielsa retreated in 2004 to a family ranch in Rosario. There his wife and two daughters visited him and often found him analyzing videos and studying plays. His exile lasted until the Chilean Federation paid him a discreet visit in March 2007 to offer him a job. Bielsa left his family in Argentina and moved alone to the Federation's headquarters in August 2007. Resisted at first, partly because of the classic Argentine-Chilean rivalry, Bielsa salvaged a team in free fall and delivered a remarkable season capped by a victory over Argentina, a victory seen on the other side of the Andes as payback for offenses received.