The Argentine national team: where to now?

This piece is the first of a new ‘round table’ feature which will be appearing here on HEGS and other Argentine football blogs across the internet. Every now and then (probably roughly every two weeks) someone will propose a bunch of questions, and we’ll all do our best to answer them on our own blogs. So here on HEGS, of course, you can read my answers. Also participating are fellow Hand Of Pod stars Seba and Australian Dan, on Mundo Albiceleste and Argentina Football World respectively, and Ajay and Vicky over at Argentina Fans. Vicky has set this week’s questions, and they tie in very well as we wait for the announcement, tomorrow, of Alejandro Sabella’s first squad as Argentina manager. So without further ado…

1. After a tumultuous four-year ride, which began with an ageing Basile, a sliding-in-the-puddle-of-water Diego, and a clueless Batista, we finally seem to have a real manager in Sabella. Was he your first choice as a manager? If not, who did you have in mind and why?

At the start of the four-year period in question he certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice! That would have been to bring back José Pekerman, who I don’t think should ever have been asked to step down. This time round though, Sabella was my first choice, as he was this time last year when Maradona left and Sergio Batista was brought in as caretaker initially, and later given the role permanently. He’s a manager, which neither Maradona nor Batista were, and he knows the selección already, having worked with them before as an assistant. I think he was the best candidate, although it’s sad in a way that we might never know how well Carlos Bianchi could do in charge of Argentina…

2. Onto the Sabella topic, there’s enough information out there which highlights his approach, and the positive results. Let’s turn that up a bit. Is there any aspect to Sabella’s methodology/tactical approach so far that you fear might happen and are not looking forward to?

I can’t say I know much about his ‘methodology’ as I’d understand the word; I’ve never watched him take a training session, or give a team talk. Tactically I have no problems with him, though. Argentina won’t be as hell-for-leather attack-minded under him as they have been under the previous two managers, but frankly that’s a good thing, as balance is exactly the thing they’ve been missing from the tactical point of view – and it’s exactly what Sabella will bring them. Also worth noting is that Sabella’s Estudiantes were fantastic when transitioning from defence to attack, and that’s a crucial part of winning matches at the top level.

3. Imagine you are Sabella now, and you have three top action points for the national team. Highlight these 3 points and describe why!

First of all the defence has to be sorted. Argentina have several young centre backs who until now haven’t been given the chance to break into the team, I’m guessing because Maradona and Batista were afraid to risk playing less experienced players. Ezequiel Garay, Federico Fazio, Nicolás Otamendi and Mateo Musacchio have to be given their chance soon, and given time during the qualifiers, if they’re going to be ready for the 2014 World Cup. Defenders like Martín Demichelis, Walter Samuel, Nicolás Burdisso et al will either be too slow or not good enough by then, I suspect. At full back there’s a bit less urgency (although not exactly a surfeit of brilliant options), but I’d still want to talk to Internazionale’s physio team, and find out from them just how likely it is that the evergreen Javier Zanetti will really still be going strong in three years’ time. If he’s in good shape, I say keep him, but if this season he starts to finally show signs of slowing down, Sabella needs to consider his options in Zanetti’s position too.

Secondly, sticking with the defence but moving away from personnel choice, their training needs to change. This goes for the goalkeepers as well as outfield defenders. I’ve no idea what Maradona and Batista did with the defence in their training sessions, but coaching them on how they wanted them to defend high balls into the box, free kicks and corners clearly wasn’t something they gave much time to. Sabella has to change that (and I think he will). Fewer goals are scored in international football than in the club game, because it’s easier to set up a team to defend at short notice than to attack slickly. The fact that fewer goals are scored means that set pieces are more important – and that any goals the team concedes from set pieces hurt more. A clear system of defending in the air and in each defender’s zone of responsibility needs to be outlined, and defenders also need to be advised what the manager expects them to do when the ball’s at the other end of the pitch with the attackers.

Thirdly, I would ensure that everyone – especially some of the attackers, with Ángel Di María, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero springing most readily to mind – has it impressed upon them that they have to play for the team, rather than just giving lip service to the idea. Gonzalo Higuaín (who worked tirelessly up front when called upon to open up space for Lionel Messi behind him, even when he himself was as aware as anyone that he was out of form in front of goal) and Lionel Messi are the only two forwards who remember at all times that they’re playing for the team and not for themselves. And Messi, the one player this team actually does – and should – revolve around, is the one who plays the least like he thinks the team revolves around him. The other short-arse attackers (and Di María) need to be told to follow his example.

4. Name one under-the-radar player who you think could and should be part of Sabella’s future plans, how he may contribute and which position he may inherit going forward!

I almost want to cry about the fact that he’s slipped under the radar, but Lucho González. I simply don’t understand how he ever dropped out of the spotlight with the national team. He’s absolutely brilliant, and would be a superb extra option in what looked at times like a slightly one-dimensional midfield during Batista’s reign. I don’t think he’d fit directly into my preferred starting lineup, which would be something like the 4-2-3-1 Batista sent out against Uruguay, though he could fill one of the wide attacking roles, but if the circumstances demand a change of tactics and more drive from a deeper position, I think he’d be ideal. Of course, Javier Pastore also badly needs to be given starts for Argentina, if Sabella can work out a formation that allows him to have those without compromising the space Messi operates in.

5. Quick Hits (really short answers):
a. Messi vs Agüero – who gets more goals this season?
Messi. A better player, playing for a better (and far more attack-minded) team, in a less competitive league. In the last three seasons, Kun has never scored more than twenty-seven goals. In the same time, Messi’s scored 38, 47 and 53.
b. Lamela vs Ricky: the more impactful Serie A Argentine? I think they’ll both be hits in Italy (even though I think Álvarez was overrated at Vélez). But Lamela will be better.
c. Imagine you’re Don Julio (I know , it hurts): What’s the one thing you’d say to the Argentine public? I’d just sit there laughing at them out of my fat, bloated, stupid face. Because you can tell that’s what he’s doing in private all the time anyway.

You can follow the latest news from the selección and Argentina’s foreign legion of players, as well as the domestic championship, River Plate’s first second division campaign in over a century and the ever entertaining/tragic/infuriating capers of Julio Grondona & chums direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here. And remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.

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3 thoughts on “The Argentine national team: where to now?

  1. Interesting answers Sam.

    I find your point about conceding from set-pieces too very interesting, something I overlooked in recent times!
    Great pick on Lucho. A terrific player who could in fact not only be a good strategic option , but also has displayed leadership skills at club level often in the past.

  2. I agree with most of your points, but I think Martin Demichelis, and Walter Samuel should also be given a chance one more time. 2014 Samuel 34 still is a hard rock, and Demichelis sometimes hard to rely on, still is a solid defender. Heinze and Zamborata should be used for back wingers. Midfield bring back Riquileme, and he can messi.

    1. You’ll have an awfully old defence, Mike. In my opinion the younger defenders have to be given a chance to come through – if not now, then when?

      And who is Zamborata? I’ve never heard of him…

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