Almost certainly the finest South American coach there has ever been, Carlos Bianchi was first a successful player before embarking upon his glittering managerial career. A prolific striker (and an uncanny Larry David look-a-like) for Vélez Sársfield, Stade de Reims, Strasbourg and Paris Saint-Germain, Bianchi is recognised by FIFA as the highest scoring Argentinian in the history of top-flight football, topping a list populated by famous names such as Alfredo Di Stefano, Angel Labruna, Diego Maradona and Martin Palermo.
In 1985, Bianchi, having concluded his playing career in France, took his first managerial job with Stade de Reims, also coaching at Nice and Paris FC with limited success before returning to Argentina in 1993 to take charge of his boyhood club, Vélez. It was back in Buenos Aires that Bianchi was to win his first major titles as a coach, guiding Vélez to the 1993 Clausura title – the club’s first major honour since 1968 – and re-establishing El Fortín as a significant force in Argentinian football.
The following year was to be one of the most successful of Bianchi’s career and undoubtedly the most glorious season in this history of Vélez Sársfield.
Despite not repeating their domestic success of the previous campaign, Bianchi led his team to an historic Copa Libertadores triumph as they overcame the likes of Palmeiras, Cruzeiro, Boca Juniors and São Paulo (the latter on penalties in the final) to claim the biggest prize in South American football.
Just four months later Vélez were back on the big stage, facing Fabio Capello’s AC Milan in the Intercontinental Cup final and beating the Italians 2-1 in Tokyo with goals from Roberto Trotta and Omar Asad. The victory sealed a glorious double for the club and sealed Bianchi’s growing reputation as one of the most astute managers in the South American game.
Two more domestic titles and a Copa Interamericana followed before Bianchi left Vélez to first join Roma for a brief spell in 1996 before being handed the reins at Boca Juniors in 1998, the club where he would go on to oversee an unprecedented run of domestic and continental success.
Coaching a team filled with blossoming talents such as Walter Samuel, Juan Román Riquelme, Sebastián Battaglia and the aforementioned Palermo, Bianchi restored Boca to what many fans see as their rightful place as the kings of South American football. One Clausura and two Apertura titles came in Bianchi’s first two years in charge, the first of three Libertadores titles arriving in 2000 with a 4-2 aggregate win over Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Palmeiras in the final.
Bianchi’s second Intercontinental Cup success came in the same year, Boca overcoming Vicente Del Bosque’s Real Madrid courtesy of a double-salvo from Palermo within the first five minutes of the game. Indeed, Boca’s victory over the Spanish giants at the peak of the galáctico era served to drive the Argentinian club on to even bigger and better things as Bianchi’s charges, by now at the peak of their powers, stormed to the 2001 Libertadores in impressive fashion, Riquelme pulling the strings in midfield with Guillermo Schelotto prolific in front of goal.
A one-season hiatus in the procession of silverware was to follow when Bianchi left the club for a short time in 2001, only to return in 2003 and deliver an historic treble consisting of the Apertura, Libertadores – incidentally the continental campaign Tim Vickery describes as the best he’s witnessed – and Intercontinental Cup. The Apertura was won by a margin of three points over the nearest challengers, San Lorenzo, with Carlos Tévez firing the team to success and transferring his excellent league form over into the Libertadores.
With the goals of Marcelo Delgado (who scored two in the final against Santos) and Schelotto having seen Bianchi claim the fourth continental title of his distinguished career and prove his ability to build teams anew every few seasons, Boca travelled to Yokohama to take on Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan in an attempt to claim the third Intercontinental title in the club’s history.
Again demonstrating his immense tactical capabilities, Bianchi stunted the creativity of a Milan team at the peak of their powers, setting Boca out in a compact 4-4-1-1 which largely negated the creativity of Kaka and Andrea Pirlo in the Italians’ midfield.
The combative performances of Battaglia and Matias Donnet were a particular highlight and prevented the Rossoneri from finding their usual rhythm, Boca coming back from a goal behind to draw 1-1 and win the tie on penalties.
After leaving La Bombonera for a second time in 2004, Bianchi – by this point widely considered the greatest South American manager of all time – spent a brief and relatively unhappy time at Atlético Madrid where he was sacked just a few months into a three-year contract after a poor run of results.
However, his stock in his native continent remains as high as ever and, although Bianchi has been out of the game since 2006, he would be a popular selection to replace Diego Maradona at the helm of the Argentine national team, something the man himself has not ruled out.
For his consistent success, uncanny ability to revive the fortunes of slumbering giants and his outsmarting of Del Bosque’s Madrid and Ancelotti’s Milan (arguably the two finest European sides of the 2000s) in respective Intercontinental finals, Bianchi undoubtedly deserves to go down as one of history’s great coaches. And he may not be finished just yet…