LONDON. — Marcelo Bielsa and Frank Lampard bring a touch of star quality to the English Championship but face a stiff task to restore the lustre of fallen English soccer giants Leeds United and Derby County. Both men also have something to prove on a personal level — Argentine veteran Bielsa will want to show he can still cut it at the sharp end while Lampard is embarking on his first job in management after a glittering playing career.
And the two men will not have to wait long to pit their wits against each other — their sides meet on August 11 in Derby. Fans may allow both men a honeymoon period but supporters of both clubs — who have been champions of England five times between them — ultimately believe they belong in the Premier League.
Despite the pressure, the much-travelled Bielsa (63) refuses to be a hostage to fortune.
“The history of this club, everyone knows how to measure success or failure at the end of the season,” he said. “If you try to predict the future you’re almost becoming a demi-god rather than a football coach.”
While the Championship lacks the superstar names of the Premier League, it is notoriously competitive and Bielsa and Lampard begin at a disadvantage as the clubs relegated from the top flight have the benefit of generous “parachute” payments.
Stoke City, who dropped out of the English Premier League in May, are early favourites to bounce straight back up, with West Brom also tipped to do well.
Lampard’s first match comes today, away to Reading. The former England midfielder played under Reading’s manager Paul Clement at Chelsea, when Clement was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti. Lampard, who enjoyed huge success as a player at Chelsea, is a phlegmatic character while Bielsa is renowned for his fiery temperament, leaving Lazio after just two days and parting ways with Lille last year after only a few months at the helm.
Club owner Andrea Radrizzani has staked a lot on making him the highest-paid Leeds manager and will hope to see the Bielsa that delivered the 2004 Olympic title for Argentina and guided Athletic Bilbao to two cup finals in the 2011-12 season.
Bielsa, whose team host Stoke on Sunday, needed little convincing when given the opportunity to revive the club, who were English league champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was born.
“Nobody had to convince me. I was convinced by the strength of Leeds United as a club and an institution,” he said.
“I looked at things from a sporting, football point of view and those things together helped me make my choice.”
Lampard (40), whose uncle is the former West Ham and Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, pledged to confront his new challenge head on.
“I don’t have a management CV and don’t proclaim to,” he told the BBC. “Any job has its risk elements but you take them on and you do so with a positive nature.