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Christmas Dinner with El Loco & Iker

December 19, 2011

It’s a time just once a year where you can be inebriated and do whatever you want with the great excuse “but it’s Christmas”. All can be forgiven with just that phrase. So please bear that in mind with this short Christmas story, starring an Argentinean tactician, a talented Basque winger and you. Yes, you are at the heart of this story.

It’s been a last minute job. You had appropriately prepared for the Christmas dinner. Your plan has been hijacked. It was an offer you just couldn’t refuse. Granny Bielsa as he’s affectionately dubbed in the household has promised to serve the Christmas day meal. Not that you’d ever call him Granny to his face. I wouldn’t either. It is his own fault though. He will persist with that style of eyewear.

Yes, Marcelo Bielsa is in your kitchen. He asks you what you would like for your Christmas meal. You answer “Beef please”. His response: “That’s not good for you. It’s not what I want. I’ll do something different for you”. You’ve now learnt a valuable lesson. Never tell El Loco what you want, tell him what you don’t want. With his granny specs now back in his eye-line he meticulously plots and plans the meal. Precise details. Sprouts not correct shade of green. Bin rattles. You get the feeling it’ll be the first of many times you hear the clatter of the swinging bin lid. He turns in your direction. Like a kid waiting for a stern word from a teaching, you brace yourself for anger. It’s not there.

“I ask you, what do you believe to be the ideal vegetables for the meal of Christmas?”. Inclusion. His words were softly spoken. No underlying tone of immediate comeback detected. Granny Bielsa is including you in the decision. Or is he? Scepticism is the best approach given the initial verbal exchange.

“Well, carrots are usually there or thereabouts aren’t they?”

He stares through his granny specs, leaning forward as if he just might be paying attention. Perhaps he was just testing the water. Still, trepidation is the key.

“Sprouts are always there whether you like them or not”. Yes, humour him. It might work.

“I like sprouts… they’re quick to eat, are different and can cause adversity to those who eat them… yes I like them”. Breakthrough moment. Now the question is how to approach the subject of roast potatoes.

“And there are always potatoes…”

“Potatoes….i like….. new potatoes are good, you can shape them and mould them to the ideals of the meal”.

Damn, how to change his mind, maybe ask him if he would perhaps mash them or use roast potatoes as well.

“Mash needs many components to work well. It requires great preparation…butter…and milk”.

He bolts to the fridge door and upon opening it, he breathes a sigh of relief.

“If we were milk-less, we’d have nothing”.

You’re baffled. Don’t worry I am too but this is Marcelo Bielsa. Forget your Cantona-isms when you can have wise words from a former Argentine international defender and much-celebrated coach. You sit down in the lounge to contemplate what Christmas is all about but your mind wanders to thoughts of a simile & metaphor contest between Bielsa and Cantona.

A few seconds pass and with you imagining Bielsa directing Cantona around a kitchen, the bin rattles. You are back to reality with a clatter. You’re not sure what it was. Given the minor seeping from the bin, it looks like a failed attempt at bread sauce.

“Iker! Bin”.

Bielsa’s shout is met by a scurrying sound, progressing in volume quickly. You feel something brush your leg. The whippet-like Basque Iker Muniain, with a single piece of kitchen roll, gets to work on cleaning the insignificant spillage on the floor. You smile at the sight of this little Basque fervently working away. Within seconds the mess is no more, the kitchen roll piece deposited in the bin and little Iker scurries away and out of sight. SMASH! But not out of earshot. You get up and look around to see that in Iker’s mad dash he’s slipped over and crashed into the bookcase. Dusting himself off before checking if there’s anything damaged, Iker briefly looks at you, eyes locked for a short moment. You wanted to go over and comfort the little mite. He nods and before you’ve opted to follow through with that thought, he’s gone. Don’t be embarrassed, you’re not the only one.

Returning to the kitchen and it appears that Bielsa is making the stuffing. His gaze is stead-fast on the job at hand. With that you return to the lounge and opt to take a little nap. Why not it is Christmas after all?

A couple of hours have passed. The pigs-in-blankets you prepared two days ago enter your mind.

Will Bielsa know? Would he approve of these additions to the meal? You go to the kitchen and see him crouched with his gaze fixed on the contents of the oven. It’s fascinating to see. He does not require a seat. He crouches patiently looking into the oven. A few moments pass. You still don’t know how to broach the subject of those sausages wrapped in bacon. Why did you do that?

You carry on observing El Loco. He springs up. You were so transfixed and in line with his sudden movement, you step back aghast at his pace. He paces from left to right, gaze still intact on the contents of the oven. You’d think he’d be mellow with a Christmas meal. No, silly thought. Slap yourself. This is Marcelo Bielsa here. El Loco himself.

It’s time to tell him. Before you utter anything to get his attention, he has turned and is looking at you. Not the intense glare that you would expect but it is one of purpose.

“Do you have something to say? You look as if you have a burden on your shoulders. Like a Brazilian youth product who has just enough talent to make people dream of Pele”.

Was that? Was that humour from him? Was that an El Loco joke? Anyway, answer quick, now is your chance.

“There’s…there’s some sausages…wrapped in bacon in the fridge. I thought they’d go well with the meal”.

Bielsa is unmoved. He wants more explanation. That or he has actually spontaneously frozen himself to the spot.

“You know…pigs in blankets”. You chuckle. You chuckle? Why the hell did you chuckle?

“Pigs in blankets?!” His gaze is steadfast. He leans forwards. “Pigs in blankets??!!”. Oh dear. He’s going red.

“Very well.” With that, he turns back around and crouches returning to stare into the oven. You need to sit down. That was intense. You close your eyes. Breathe. Relax. It has dawned on you that this day has barely begun hasn’t it?.

Time has moved on. You return to the kitchen but given the environment, you peer around the corner first just to see where he is. He has taken a turkey out of the oven. Turkey? You’re surprised at his choice. You were obviously expecting something a little different given just who this man is and what he appears to stand for. Turkey is like a 4-4-2. You just wouldn’t expect that from El Loco. And when did he get that? The only meat in the house is beef.

The vegetables would appear to be done. No sign of potatoes though. He’s just made gravy. He’s sampling it straight from the boat.
“No! No! Weakness will not be tolerated”. It’s not strong enough. In a flash, the whole boat is airborne and the bin rattles once more. You’re shocked yet you rightly admire the quite excellent throw until it dawns on you that he’s used the gravy boat you were given by your Uncle Michael on his deathbed. He was a weird man. He was always calling you “Creamcakes” even before the dementia set in.

You would try and get the boat but now is not the time. You remember what you did last night. You prepared gravy! Well done! Why? Who cares why you did and that’s that. Will Bielsa accept this?

“There’s some already made in the fridge….you just need to warm it up”. Your words are met by a quick turn and a stunned expression across the Argentinean’s face.

“I can allow such self-expression”. Bielsa turns away. Success!

“Iker! Drinks!” he bellows. You can hear that scurrying sound. You can feel a presence next to you. Look down.

“What would you like to drink, sir?” asks the little Basque. He’s so cute kit out in an Athletic Bilbao away shirt over the top of what would appear to be an elf costume. And his voice. His voice is exactly as you thought it would be. Little squeak but light. The thought crosses your mind that he’s simply putting it on for effect. In which case, bravo. Anyway, answer him. The pause is passing into the time zone of rudeness.

“I’ll just have some red wine please, Iker. Thank you”. You can’t help but smile. With your words, Iker nods and turns before sprinting off. It would appear he’s ran off in an outward direction. Which is frankly odd considering the wine is barely two metres away from where he stood.

“I recommend you go to the table and seat yourself. I will be there shortly”. There was a lot of warmth from those words of Bielsa. You nod and walk into the dining area. The table is immaculate. This was obviously what little Iker was doing last night when you heard all that scratching and quick, little footsteps.

The meal is served. Bielsa brings the plate over your head and his arms are briefly around you as he sets the dish down in front of you. There’s warmth. “There you are”. His voice is tinged with affection. There are roast potatoes on the plate. He kept that on the sly. Before you have chance to thank El Loco, there’s a crash. Both you and Bielsa turn to see that Muniain’s over exuberance has resulted in him clipping the wall, resulting in him losing his balance and dropping the wine. The majority of it has covered him. Bielsa walks over, sighs and crouches down, before playfully ruffling the scamp’s hair.

After all, whether Catalan, Basque or any other available variant: a diminutive Spaniard is for life not just for Christmas.

A Personal Note: Sincere compliments of the festive season to you.

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