Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa addressed the Lille Tribunal on Friday via videoconference from the Premier League side’s training ground as he spoke for 45 minutes in a case that sees him suing his former employer, Ligue 1 side Lille, for over €19m for wrongful termination.
Odile Le Van, the individual presiding over Friday afternoon’s proceedings, had made the unusual decision to grant Bielsa a request to give testimony, which rarely ever occurs in this type of proceeding – usually it is only up to the lawyers representing each party to speak in proceedings of this nature.
Bielsa was given 15 minutes speaking time, double that when you include the translator’s interpretations, during the overall time that his lawyer, Benjamin Cabagno, was given to make his case.
Bielsa, after 45 minutes of speaking, was visibly frustrated: “I have waited for 3 years, I haven’t said a word publicly on the matter. I have suffered abuse and you will not allow me to complete my presentation?”
Bielsa wanted to detail “the harassment that [he] suffered in September and October (2017), in an attempt to destablise me to force me to quit, sabotage my management style, to obstruct my work. It degraded my authority.”
Animated, eyes focused on the camera, Bielsa sometimes got lost in his own details. However, it became clear that his relationships with Luis Campos and Gérard Lopez bordered on hatred. On Campos, Bielsa said: “He never wanted to help me. It was impossible to talk football with him, it didn’t interest him.“
Bielsa, who was due to earn €4.5m a year net in his first season and €4m a year net in his second season per the contract that Lille submitted to the LFP, not the side contract he signed with Victory Soccer, also detailed how the transfer window business was conducted in the summer of 2017: “I understood perfectly the future of the project. In reality, the project of creating a team for the top 5 became one of a squad that would only be able to fight in the bottom places of the division.”
“We worked together with Luis Campos on recruitment. He offered me three players for each position, 33 players and we agreed on the choices. We needed to identify a replacement before selling a player who was already at the club. But none of the 33 players I was shown came to Lille. We had to go after the 4th, 5th, or even 8th option.”
The sale of Nicolas de Préville was one that really angered El Loco: “To replace him, Campos offered me a player who was less good and cost 50% more than de Préville. I said to him that it would be better to wait until the January window. Campos says to me: “We cannot wait. The credit that we have been given can only be used now. In December, we will no longer be authorised to sign players by the DNCG (French football’s financial watchdog).”
The side contract with Victory Soccer, agreed in February 2017, stipulated that Bielsa and his assistants would receive the totality of the €8.5m package being offered to them, even if the agreement was terminated, and that Bielsa would receive an Audi 8 and his assistant a DS4 Citroën each.
Bielsa claims that Lille terminated him for financial reasons: “The club needed the cost of my contract off of its balance sheet.”
The situation with Lopez and Campos worsened over time, with the Portuguese operator returning to Lille after 2 months of absence at the beginning of November. Campos decided to arrange a meeting with the Lille player’s behind Bielsa’s back: “He was criticising my management to destablise me and turn the players against me,” Bielsa explained.
A few days later, a meeting was arranged between Marc Ingla, Lille’s Director General, Campos, Bielsa and “El Loco’s” assistant Pablo Quiroga. On this matter, Lille’s lawyer Bertrand Wambeke explained what he understood to occur: “On arrival, Quiroga says hello to Campos. And he is chastised by Bielsa: “How can you greet such a bandit?” Luis Campos gets up and he places his hand on Bielsa’s shoulder and says: “You will respond to what you just said in front of a tribunal.” Quiroga then stops Bielsa from hitting Campos.”
Bielsa insists that it was Campos who wanted to hit him and not the other way around.
On 30th November, Lille lost 3-0 to Amiens and fell to 19th in the Ligue 1 table. 2 days later, November 22nd, Lille formally suspended Bielsa. The problem being that Marcelo Bielsa was never formally made aware of his suspension as he refused to take possession of formal notice brought to his hotel by a bailiff two hours earlier. He was therefore never officially notified of his being laid off.
The four arbiters will now go away and convene in the coming weeks before delivering a final decision on 2nd July 2021.