There were numerous lists before Maradona’s preliminary squad of 30 was announced yesterday speculating on who might be included, and outlining who the author would include if they were the manager. Well, I thought I’d try something a little different. With the players Diego’s already named, who would I pick for the starting XI and what would my formation look like?
Let’s imagine that Diego Maradona wakes up tomorrow morning and (for whatever reason you care to name) is unable to manage Argentina any more. The AFA look through the applications for the now vacant post and decide that my phenomenal record a few years back on Football Manager 2007 (four Copas Libertadores with two different clubs, twenty league titles spread across Brazil, Argentina and Spain, and eleven European Cups in twelve seasons if you’re interested, as well as domestic cups in Brazil and Spain and two World Cups and two European Championships in charge of England) is good enough to get the job.
The FIFA deadline, of course, passed yesterday evening, and so I’m sadly stuck with the players who are already in the list of 30. Let’s pretend, just to make it more difficult, that my subtle encouragements to get certain players to injure certain others in training don’t come to fruition, and that FIFA don’t fall for the trick of pleading Maradona’s obvious mental illness as a reason to cancel his squad list and file my own. In other words: I can’t replace anyone. I can cull seven players, but I’ve got to pick my squad of 23, and my starting eleven, from within the thirty already named.
In case it’s not already clear enough: the following is not what I think Maradona’s going to do. It’s what I myself would do if for some reason I became Argentina manager tomorrow.
Who doesn’t make the cut?
So first, the players who will be unlucky and will be watching the World Cup from home. I’m all but certain that at least a few of those named yesterday by Maradona are players he has no intention of taking, but has called up now as a ‘well done’ pat on the back for their performance in the Haiti match last week. Juan Mercier, Ariel Garcé and Juan Manuel Insaurralde all fall into this category. Martín Palermo obviously doesn’t, but if I took over he’d be straight out the door as well. So we’ve got to cut three more now. Mario Bolatti is an easy one – he’s played far more for Fiorentina’s reserves than their first team since joining them, and is only in the squad thanks to his late winner against Uruguay in that final qualifying match. The last two to go are Newcastle United duo, Jonás Gutiérrez and Fabricio Coloccini. I’ve said all season that it’s ridiculous calling up players from the second division for a team as ‘big’ as Argentina, and I stand by that.
So that leaves my 23 looking like this:
Juan Sebastián Verón
Ángel Di María
Of those, I’d love to be able to replace one forward (probably Lavezzi) with Esteban Cambiasso, and would of course drop Gabriel Heinze like a shot and get Javier Zanetti in if I could. But I’ve said I won’t allow myself that luxury. Lavezzi is capable of playing a wide role anyway, and as we’ll see I’ve got plans for Carlos Tevez as well. The defence looks very light but, crucially, it is possible to pick a back four who all have experience playing in their positions.
So, the starting XI I would pick for Argentina’s match against Nigeria, on the second day of the 2010 World Cup, would be as follows:
1. Sergio Romero. Only 22 but one of the few positions on which it’s hard to argue with Diego. He’s got a 32-year-old’s view of the world and came agonisingly close, in his second season with AZ Alkmaar, to setting a new Dutch league record of minutes without conceding a goal.
4. Nicolás Burdisso is a natural centre back, but has played right back plenty of times before, and whilst doing so he happens to have become the second most decorated Argentine footballer of all time. In any list, coming second to Alfredo Di Stéfano isn’t any cause for sadness.
2. Walter Samuel. With a triangle of him alongside Demichelis and Mascherano sitting just in front of them, we ought to have the basis for a defence that’s very tough to break down – that at least is something Maradona’s got going for him in the real-life squad list as well.
6. Martín Demichelis. He’s had his injury problems this season but he’s as good as anyone Argentina can call on.
3. Clemente Rodríguez. I’d rather have Zanetti in one of the full back roles, yes, but Clemente’s an able replacement all the same. And he keeps Gabriel Heinze out of the starting lineup.
5. Javier Mascherano, obviously.
7 and 8. Ángel Di María takes one of the wide midfield berths, and depending on performances in training I’d give the other to either Maxi, José Sosa or Jesús Dátolo. For his very impressive performances for Estudiantes in the Copa and the league so far this year, I’m giving José Sosa the benefit of the doubt for now.
10. Carlos Tevez will be pulled slightly deeper than he normally plays, and sit in behind the two strikers. My thinking is twofold: for one thing, he’ll be perfectly positioned to hustle the opposing midfield like mad, and for another when Lionel Messi drops deep to pick up the ball, Tevez can make the run beyond him to fill that space and what have we got? Messi being bought the same few yards of space Andrés Iniesta so frequently earns him for Barcelona. I hope. I’m also giving Tevez the 10 to make the point that Messi, best player in the side though he is, is not the playmaker, and Argentina need to stop thinking of him as such.
9. Gonzalo Higuaín and Diego Milito will be fighting for this one, and solely for the form he’s ending the season on, Milito gets it. The competition in this position is heartening though, given that a few short years ago (inside HEGS lifetime in fact) we were talking about the lack of an obvious target man.
11. Lionel Messi. The pressure of being managed by Diego is off, he’s got a striker running to fill his space if he wants to drop deep himself, and he’s got a midfield behind him in Di María and whoever else who will be looking to get past him when he goes back as well. If the #10 jersey is something he really wants, he can have it, of course, but as I said with Tevez, I’m giving it to him here solely as a way of getting over the obsession with the shirt number going to the best attacking player regardless of his actual role.
So: Argentina starting XI to face Nigeria, 12th June 2010,
4 Burdisso —- 2 Samuel —- 6 Demichelis —- 3 C. Rodríguez
8 Sosa ————————- 7 Di María
11 Messi —— 9 Milito
The defence doesn’t go far beyond the starters, which is a problem, and if anything happens to Javier Mascherano we’d probably be looking at playing a centre back as the cinco – probably Nicolás Otamendi Demichelis with Nicolás Otamendi moved into the vacated centre back position. Should attacking changes need to made, we’ve got them in hand: Lavezzi, Maxi, Dátolo and at a push Blanco can come in for the wide men; Milito is a straight swap for Higuaín and being able to replace Tevez or Messi with Agüero or the aforementioned Lavezzi isn’t a bad change to make if an injection of the unexpected is needed late on in a tight match and the starters are tiring. Oh, and we’ve not even mentioned the impact Javier Pastore, properly nurtured, could be capable of as a relative unknown quantity…
It’s a bit of fun, nothing more – but comments are welcome and if you want to have a go yourself, please do. Just remember: you can’t replace any of the 30!
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