Chile: Bielsa and Piñera, When Football Meets Politics

Marcelo Bielsa –also known as “el loco” (the crazy one)– is the coach of the Chilean national football team, but for many Chileans he is much more than that. In the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) qualifying stage for the 2010 World Cup, Bielsa made history by taking his boys to the second spot with only one point less than the leader, Brazil. He is also known for his statements, often making headlines for his wordy, yet usually admired opinions. But these days the talk around Bielsa has more to do with his actions than with his words, and Twitter has become one of the main stages for Chileans to voice their opinions.

Image of Marcelo Bielsa with Chilean flag on the background. Text reads: "In the hands of El Loco Bielsa." Image by Javier Araneda, Flickr user javier_araneda_v used under a Creative Commons license.

Before leaving for South Africa, the Chilean football team was bid farewell by President Sebastian Piñera. In that instance, Marcelo Bielsa approached the president, shook his hand and quickly walked off. A video of the incident soon spread on the web and mixed comments on the coach's actions spread online; some considered Bielsa to be cold and rude, and others (especially those who don't like the president) defended Bielsa and thought it was not a big deal. On July 1, Sebastian Piñera received the national team in the presidential palace, welcoming them back to their country after they were eliminated from the World Cup in a game against Brazil. Once again, Bielsa's handshake (or almost lack of it) caused an uproar on the web. A video of today's event was quickly uploaded to YouTube.

“Bielsa” soon became a trending topic on Twitter, as Chileans used 140 characters or less to publish their thoughts on the incident:

@cristinalili: Qué fea la actitud del “Loco” Bielsa con el Presidente Piñera poco más y lo deja con la mano colgando. Hay algo que se llama EDUCACIÓN.

Such an ugly attitude of the “Loco” Bielsa with President Piñera he almost left him with his hand in the air. There is something called EDUCATION/ [manners].

@mayoquiroga: @ucvtvnoticias No fue mal educado, Por lo menos le tiro la mano,yo no le hubiese dado la mano al pdte, Bielsa no es hipocrita como el pdte

He [Bielsa] was not rude, At least he offered him [the president] his hand, I wouldn't have shaken hands with the president, Bielsa is not a hypocrite like the president.

@claudiosalass: nuevamente no me gusto la actitud de Bielsa más allá de las diferencias q puedan existir, el no saludar no habla bien de el..

once again i did not like Bielsa's attitude, beyond the differences there might be [between them], not greeting [the president] doesn't speak well of him [Bielsa].

@joran60: Bielsa 2 – Piñera 0

@marcelocaridi: Una cosa es el color político y otra cosa es la educación. Existirá algún DT que entrene a Marcelo Bielsa con buenos modales ???

One thing is political color [opinion] and another thing is education. Is there a coach that can train Marcelo Bielsa in good manners?

@guillefly: bielsa es un roto y piñera es un aprovechador y se acabó la cuestión

bielsa is rude and piñera is a profiteer and that's the end of it

@anitaguzmanp: @sesnaola La descortesía de Bielsa no anula el buen trabajo que ha realizado, pero un minimo de respeto con el presidente de Chile o no??

Bielsa's lack of courtesy does not annul the good job he has done, but [show] minimum respect to the president of Chile, no???

@Oscar_7_: @radiosago esta claro q a bielsa no le agrada sebastian piñera y en vez de pasar como sinico hace estos desaires y esta en todo su derecho.

Clearly bielsa doesn't like sebastian piñera and instead of being cynical he acts like that and he has every right to do so

@dcasanga: Sr Bielsa no sea mal educado. El presidente Piñera no merece su falta de respeto ¿es su ejemplo a nuestra juventud ?… ¡UBIQUESE!

Mr. Bielsa don't be rude. President Piñera doesn't deserve your disrespect, is that your example to our youth? …BEHAVE!

@mfloresperez: Me gusta el bajo perfil de Bielsa.. lo saludo a su manera y punto, que esperaban un abrazo???

I like the low profile Bielsa keeps… he greeted him in his own way, what where you waiting for? a hug??

@davidguaman: paremos el chaqueteo con bielsa… no nos denigremos como país discutiendo cómo saludar o no saludar a un presidente

let's stop the criticism with bielsa… let's not lower ourselves as a country arguing over how to greet a president

Many draw political conclusions to the incident because Bielsa's treatment of former left-leaning president Michelle Bachelet is very different to his treatment of right-leaning president Sebastian Piñera. On a video on YouTube, in a gathering similar to the good-bye by President Piñera, Michelle Bachelet visits the team and Bielsa dedicates a few words to her publicly; the two are then seen walking, talking and similing. Michelle Bachelet also accompanied the team to South Africa, staying in the same hotel, as reported by La Tercera [es].

Chilean comedian Stefan Kramer recently released a sketch where he makes a parody out of the two encounters; although the dialog is in Spanish, as in real life –and as many critics would say– in this case actions speak louder than words.


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