Argentina’s new boss: who will it be?

Is there anything going on in there?
Is there anything going on in there?

Julio Grondona returns, on Monday, from a FIFA congress in Zurich. When he flew out to Switzerland last week he told the press that the 27th, when he returned, would be the day on which he would be announcing the new manager of the Argentine senior men’s national team. The commonly held view is that it will be one of four men. Or, in the style of an Adidas advert, one of Maradona +4. But El Diego surely doesn’t stand a chance. The others in the running are Miguel Angel Russo, Diego Simeone, Carlos Bianchi and Sergio Batista. How, then, might each of these men do, if given the job? What have they done previously to merit consideration? And who will it be? It’s an utterly pointless exercise to try and speculate of course, but it might make for a story worth reading. So here we go…

Before we start, for any readers who are new to HEGS, or even those who are already familiar with my writings but have never been quite sure on this issue: I am not, of course, Argentine. Nor do I support the selección to a great degree of fanaticism. If Argentina were to play my own country – unlike one or two of this website’s readers who’ve contacted me in the past – I’d be cheering wholeheartedly for England. When England aren’t involved, though, I want to see Argentina win, and win well.

This preference is helped a hell of a lot recently by the kind of football the side are capable of. An Argentina side playing to their strengths are capable of becoming the best in the world – or at least of giving any tournament its most memorable moments, as we saw in the 2006 World Cup and the following year’s Copa América. This article is about whether the men in the running can bring that kind of football back. It’s entirely subjective, of course. It’s also going – if Grondona really is able to make his announcement already – to be out-of-date within a few hours of going online (and I won’t be able to update the site with news of Basile’s successor until the evening). But what the hell. The competitors are (drumroll please)…

Miguel Angel Russo (currently boss of San Lorenzo):

Listed first in this list because, according to Mundo Albiceleste, he could well be the man who’s set to be unveiled today. Russo is currently managing the Torneo Apertura leaders, having stepped into the breach left by Ramón Díaz after San Lorenzo’s Copa Libertadores elimination. Those are some very big boots to fill, but Russo, so far, has been up to the task. After losing their inspirational previous manager, Russo led El Cuervo to a 4th place finish in the Clausura, to add to the 2005 Torneo Clausura title won with Vélez Sársfield, and the 2007 Copa Libertadores with Boca Juniors.

If Russo’s named as Argentina boss, there’s some good news which, all the same, gives rise to an important question: in the 2007 Copa Libertadores win he got the best form out of Juan Román Riquelme that the playmaker had shown since Villarreal’s run to the semi-final of the 2006 European Cup. That, of course, given the issues that surrounded Basile before he quit, raises the question of whether Russo’s Argentina too would be built around the Boca man. Perhaps so – but there’s also the fact that for the majority of his career, Russo has worked with teams who don’t feature Riquelme, and to good effect. This is a man who’ll have a Plan B at the very least – and quite possibly Plans C, D and E as well.

How happy he’ll be with making it public knowledge that he’ll leave at the end of the season is another matter. If the announcement is indeed on Monday the 27th, Russo has surely already been consulted and given his blessing – and the remaining question in that case is how it will affect San Lorenzo’s title run-in.

Diego Simeone (currently boss of River Plate):

Simeone is the most troublesome of the nominees. On the one hand, he’s Argentina’s third most capped player of all time (Roberto Ayala overtook him during the 2006 World Cup, and was overtaken in turn by Javier Zanetti), a figure the current team would surely look up to for his achievements and already a proven title-winner in a fledgling managerial career. Since he became a manager, Simeone’s had four attempts at a league title (we can’t include his brief spell in charge of Racing, because no-one could have done anything with them in the state they were when he retired as a player to take the manager’s job), and has been successful on two ocassions – both at the first time of asking with the club in question, taking the 2006 Apertura with Estudiantes, and the 2008 Clausura with River.

The question marks hanging over Simeone are his lack of experience, and his current predicament. He’s a winner, that much is clear, but can a manager who’s only been doing the job for two-and-a-half years really be trusted with a position in charge of his country? River’s current position at the foot of the Apertura also surely precludes him from being offered the job – although ironically it would make it a lot easier to prise him away from his current employers. Even in winning the Clausura, though, River never totally impressed; Juan Pablo Carrizo in goal was one of their most important players.

Ariel Ortega, so key to the triumph, has been farmed out to Independiente Rivadavia de Mendoza. In part that’s because Simeone’s a disciplinarian, which isn’t in itself a bad thing, although a lack of flexibility can be. But he’s been unable to find a system that works without El Burrito, even with a wealth of attacking options. Subtitute the name of River’s main playmaker for that of their great rivals Boca Juniors, and the predicament sounds very similar to the one I’ve been levelling at Alfio Basile for the last year, doesn’t it?

Carlos Bianchi (currently a columnist for ESPN):

This is one appointment that surely very few Argentines would argue with. Bianchi’s playing career took in Vélez Sársfield and three French clubs (Stade Reims, PSG and Racing Strasbourg) as well as seven goals in eleven caps for Argentina. He’s scored more top flight goals (across a whole career, across all countries) than any other Argentine in history – including Alfredo Di Stéfano – and is thirteenth in the world list. He’s also Vélez’s all-time top scorer, with 206 (more, it’s worth point out, than Martín Palermo has for Boca). Yet all of his goalscoring achievements barely get a mention when put alongside his phenomenal success as a manager.

After taking charge of Stade Reims on his retirement as a player in 1984, and also spending time at OGC Nice and Paris FC, Bianchi returned to Vélez in 1993. In the next three years, he won three league titles, a Copa Libertadores, a Copa Interamericana, and beat the great Milan side in the 1994 Intercontinental Cup. In 1996-1997 he spent an unlucky season in charge of Roma in Italy, before taking time out to commentate. Then, in 1998, it was back to Argentina, this time to Boca Juniors, for more trophies. He had two spells there, from 1998 until 2001, and then again for a season in 2003-2004. Over both periods at the club, Bianchi took the Xeneize to four league titles, three Copas Libertadores (the first ending a spell of 22 years without a continental championship for the club) and two Intercontinental Cups, as well as losing the 2004 Copa Libertadores final to Once Caldas on penalties.

In short, Bianchi is terrifyingly bloody successful as a manager. His spell at Vélez was marked by his team’s lack of an enganche, which demonstrates his ability to make different systems work from that which is expected of him. If Simeone is inexperienced, Bianchi is anything but. If Russo won a Copa with Boca, it was thanks to the foundations laid at the turn of the century by Bianchi himself. Club success doesn’t always translate to the international scene, it’s true. But it’s almost the only criteria we can go by, so Bianchi surely deserves a shot at the top job at some point.

Sergio Batista (currently coach of Argentina’s various youth teams):

Batista led the Under 23s (plus Riquelme and Mascherano) to Olympic gold in Beijing a couple of months ago, and the AFA have already said he’ll be taking charge for Argentina’s friendly away to Scotland in November. Having worked with the youth sides, Batista’s appointment would be similar to that of José Pekerman when the latter took over from Marcelo Bielsa, and the former world champion (he played all seven matches for the selección in Mexico ’86) would surely command respect from the older members of the side as well as the younger players he’s already worked directly with.

Batista’s potential system for the national side isn’t quite as clear. Argentina rarely shone as brightly in the 2008 Olympics as they had in 2004. A bonus, however, is that El Checho seems geared towards the future of the side. Lionel Messi has made comments since Basile’s resignation which suggest he favours Batista for the role, and the admiration is clearly mutual. Whilst it would be dangerous to go from a Riquelme-dependence to a Messi-dependence, of course, Batista also surely wouldn’t ignore the good performance, during the Olympics, of Angel Di María. Another point is that under his tutelage, Messi and Sergio Agüero produced some flashes of fantastic football.

An appointment from within would provide some continuity, and it’s clear the AFA already trust Batista, but would it be a little too soon? Pekerman took charge of the seniors after a few years with the youth setup – Batista only started working for the AFA earlier this year. All the same, he might not be a name many outside the country would recognise immediately, but he’d hardly be an unpopular choice with the fans.

The HEGS verdict, then?

Whoever gets the job will have changes to make and their own style to impose. Simeone will be a name for the future, but surely not for the present, given River’s position at present and his conspicuous failure to find a style of play for them since taking charge. Russo would seem to be the safest option for the AFA to present to the press – he’s currently in the game and is neither old enough to have become stuck in his ways, nor young and inexperienced as a manager. The heart, perhaps affected by memories of the last appointment from within, is pulled towards Batista.

The sensible option though, were it not for his recent inactivity, would surely be Bianchi. Outside Argentina, he’s had unspectacular managerial reigns in France, Spain and Italy, it’s true. His success in his own country, though, is completely unparalleled – four Copas Libertadores, three world championships and seven league titles speaks for itself – and would ensure his reception from the players would be a good one. Argentina have problems at present, but it’s not as if they’re lacking good players – only a coherent scheme and a guiding hand. Either Russo, Batista or Bianchi would be a good choice, in my opinion, but on past record, there’s only one man in the mix.

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14 thoughts on “Argentina’s new boss: who will it be?

  1. It is the first time that I can say I 100% agree with a “gallina” (River Plate fan). Your comprenhensive analysis of each option is truly impresive and not easy to argue against.
    The only thing you didn’t do was to analyse Maradona as an option. Although I don’t think he stand a chance, it would be interesting to see what your point are. Or you don’t dare to give it a shot? ;)

  2. Don’t forget about Roma aswell, lateral izquierdo.

    Bianchi wanted to drop a certain player that goes by the name of Francesco Totti. The tifosi wanted to kill Bianchi.

    What if he wants to drop one from Messi or Aguero to introduce his favourite centre-forward Martin Palermo?

    One would think he won’t drop Riquelme (his talisman when Bianchi was at Boca) and question marks will be all over Carlitos Tevez. He had him at Boca but I don’t know if he’ll give him a place in his national side.

    I’m scared of Bianchi taking over. As I said before, I’ll support him and I’ll want his team to win the World Cup. Problem is…I don’t think he’ll do it the Argentine way.

  3. Regarding the version from a very reliable source (that could quickly start being regarded by me as not-so-reliable) and the reports in Clarin (the best-selling newspaper in Argentina) about Russo taking over, I have to say that the situation has changed a little bit.

    Especially with Bianchi abandoning his initial “I-will-never-talk-to-Grondona” attitude. He is the fan favourite and so now he stands a chance.

    Plus…Grondona said: “Everyone from the main candidates has a chance”.

    I wouldn’t rule Maradona out and I would get rid of Simeone from that list. Not as a personal opinion but because no rumours, versions or reports have Simeone as a candidate.

    He is more of a candidate to succeed Javier Aguirre at Atletico Madrid and he is a lock for the future. Just not now.

    Batista also has a chance because of the Gold medal he has won and the manner in which he did so (playing Messi and Riquelme together, earning every player’s respect and affection, etc.).

    It’s a mystery, to be honest. I can’t wait for it to be solved.

  4. Apologies, Lateral, for not quite getting the date of El Presidente’s return correct…

    Gabriel, I gave Maradona as much coverage as I think he merits. Even considering his status in Argentine football, I can’t see him being offered the job unless the senior figures at the AFA have been ingesting some very powerful intoxicants indeed in the last couple of weeks. He’s told us Mascherano is the selección’s most important player – well, any idiot can see Masche is one of the best players on the team – and that Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero are rather good. But aside from an initial injection of inspiration, I can’t see how he’d be anything but an unmitigated disaster. At least when Brazil appointed Dunga, he hadn’t got a previous track record to go on – Maradona does have a managerial CV, and it’s a terrible one.

    I’m inclined to agree with Seba. Batista would be the best option with regards the style he plays. But as you can see this is a very long article (1,800 words in fact) and through the course of writing at last night I realised it really would be a bit of a shame in some ways if Bianchi never even got a shot at the national job.

    Still, we’ll see. Grondona, unsurprisingly, has stated today that he won’t be making the announcement for a while yet. And Simeone is, predictably, out of the running.

  5. Maradona? Not really. They’ve basically re-appointed Bilardo, who will be ‘assisting’ Diego. RIP the beautiful game, Germany 06 and Venezuela 07 will be just beautiful memories. South Africa 10 looks like being the worst WC since Italia 90.

    But it’s really impossible for non-Argentines looking from outside, to feel quite the same way as Argentines. There will be an upswell of national pride. But in football terms, a disastrous decision, Grondona surely has lost it.

  6. I have to say I’m happy with the decision.

    I think Diego deserves a chance and after hearing him in several interviews lately, I think he’s reach a point in his life when everything is in order.

    Having a responsibility such as managing Argentina will give him a reason to stay fresh, to wake up every morning, to feel better in every aspect.

    On footballing terms…he’ll be surrounded by Batista and Brown (probably Troglio will join the staff as well) and Bilardo will be overviewing everything from the back seat.

    Bilardo himself has said he won’t be on the bench and that Diego will be the absolute number 1 and the reference in front of the players. Diego will pick the team and will be in charge of tactics and formations.

    If (and this could be a big IF) Bilardo don’t interfere with players call-ups and tactics and all that, then I’m confident Argentina will play beautifully and one thing is for sure: the players attitude will be impossible to match by other nations’ players.

    Having their childhood hero giving them instructions and motivating them and passing them his experience will be the biggest asset Diego will bring along.

    I’m 100% behind Diego in this.

  7. I hope you’re right Seba, I hope Diego has progressed in coaching terms from his mainly disastrous spell at Racing (although the side played nice football occasionally, Fleitas scored a brilliant goal that very much had a Diego seal of approval, I recall).

    If the coaching staff is driven by Batista and Troglio, with Maradona in charge of selecting the players and motivating them, then it could work. But the very name Bilardo just conjures up the horrible images of that final in Italia 90, and I feel a Bilardo influenced Maradona would bring tactics and formations that are twenty years out of date.

    I suppose the ideal arrangement could be Batista as coach and Maradona as his assistant, but the two are contemporaries, and DM was always regarded as the leader of that 80s team, so that would be hugely difficult for Batista.

    I just hope Diego Maradona doesn’t turn out to be the Argentine Kevin Keegan – there are too many parallels, (not that I’m comparing the two as players!).

    What is beyond doubt is that it will be wonderful for national pride, and Argentines will back their side with even more vigour than usual. Good luck, and I hope to see some more beautiful football.

    I think one thing that non Argentines and Argentines have to understand is each other’s view of the man. Too many English people underestimate Argentina’s love for him… some English people wonder why Argentines are not *embarrassed* by him and his activities. But Argentines love him unconditionally, he gave wonderful things to a country that had gone through a terrible time in the preceding years. Unless someone had lived through 1980s Argentina, it would be difficult for any of us to see him in quite the same way.

    Likewise, I think Argentines are confused and possibly offended that the outside world doesn’t see him in quite the same way. Yes, he was the most talented player of his and possibly any other generation. Football lovers can see past ‘the Hand of God’ and appreciate the beauty he brought to the game. But his subsequent decline attracted little sympathy in Europe. I think the attitude was ‘he took drugs’ (both performance enhancing and recreational), so he brought everything on himself. The only thing most Europeans saw of him for many years were those pictures of him bloated and huge like a sumo wrestler, and sadly, for many, he became a figure of fun. He has a lot of work to do if he wants to repair his image in the outside world. But maybe he doesn’t want to. Maybe he cares only about what his fellow countrymen think of him… and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    So if people outside of Argentina – who none the less enjoy the beautiful style of play your country has come to symbolise in recent years – are disappointed with this appointment, then we are not looking at it with quite the same eyes as you…

    But at the end of the day, it’s not really our place to be disappointed. We can be Racing fans, River fans, whatever – we *chose* our club side, but you can’t choose your nationality, so if the appointment makes Argentines happy, then that’s the most important thing.

  8. Nice job Matthew. I hope everything goes well for Diego and the seleccion. If not, it will be a situation that may prove very difficult for not only the AFA, but for Maradona, and especially for all the Argentina public that adores him.

  9. Excellent post, Matt! One can tell that you really REALLY understand Maradona and everything that he triggers, both in and out of Argentina.

    I have said this many times. I think Maradona harmed him more than anyone else with his drug-taking and off-the-pitch antics. And he paid for it. He suffered a big deal because of it.

    Now it seems that he is back from hell and I think he deserves a shot at glory from whichever position he is taking.

    The Bilardo name really scares me as well. He has a lot of support from a lot of people that only care about results and the way of getting them is not relevant. Even if it involves bending the rules or playing on the edge of them.

    But I’m confident he didn’t lie tonight when he spoke on the television and said he will not take any part in the team selection and tactics. He said he won’t be sitting on the bench and that he wants to the players to have Diego as the one and only reference and commanding figure.

    Diego said the same. He said he will be the one in charge of tactics, formations and lineups and I have to believe him.

    All I’m sure of is that whoever pulls on the Albiceleste from now on, will jump to the field and will be 100% committed and fired up, completely aware of the meaning of playing for Argentina.

    I honestly believe with the sort of players we’ve got, the most important aspect to work with is the psychological one. As long as they are in the right state of mind, the beautiful football and the goals will come a plenty. And the wins will too.

  10. First the come back of Alfio Basile (the one and only that made Argentina play against Australia to get to USA 94, and the same that allow Diego and Caniggia to do a circus out of the concentration for that world cup, and allow Diego to take “uncontrolled” medicines, etc, etc, etc) and now the debut of Maradona (can we count those 23 games as something as previous experience?)

    What is wrong with Grondona… he always say “Todo Pasa” (everything moves on) but obviously he is not very much on moving on from his own choices from the past!!! I’m trully disapointed!!!

    But as somebody else said before… I can’t chose nationality and I will always support Argentina… doesn’t matter what or who!!!

  11. I assume a lot of Diego’s critics wanted Bianchi at the helm.

    Well…apparently Grondona never thought of Bianchi. After all…Bianchi already said “NO” to the chance of becoming our national team manager and Grondona didn’t want him to say “NO” a fourth time.

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