It’s hard to envision a worse start to the World Cup for the Albiceleste
There is no doubt that Argentina, from the streets of Buenos Aires to all 23 provinces, has as much talent as any country in the world when it comes to soccer. It’s long been like that. From the days of Mario Kempes to Diego Maradona, from Gabriel Batistuta to Juan Roman Riquelme, the two-time World Cup champs have a pool overflowing with talent that other countries would dream to have.
And somehow this era of Argentina soccer hasn’t been able to get the job done. It’s been 25 years since the senior national team won anything. It’s been over 10 years with the world’s best player on the roster and nothing to show for it
But why did this disastrously spiraldownward at the World Cup in Russia and exit in the round of 16? It’s rather simple. The continuity and the leadership aren’t there. It’s a sinking ship and nothing more. And the 4-3 loss to France was another example.
But why? Well, how much time to do you?
Sampa’s subs and the lack of talent aren’t cutting it
Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli insists on using players that are typically on the bench with their respective clubs, and it’s baffling. Willy Caballero: Chelsea backup. Marcos Rojo: Manchester United backup. Two players that aren’t good enough to start for any big team or club, yet they have been earning minutes in the opening games in the starting lineup, Caballero gave Croatia the first goal, he nearly gave up another howler, and he wasn’t sharp in the first match. Rojo was awful in the opening game before Sampa finally pulled him out of the starting lineup and kept him on the bench for all 90 minutes against Croatia.
Aside from those two, the there were several players that didn’t make the final cut that deserved to be at the World Cup. German Pezzella has been fantastic at defense with Fiorentina, and the same goes for Ezequiel Garay at Valencia. In the middle, Matias Kranevitter, Rodrigo Battaglia, Pablo Perez and Leandro Paredes have all been leaders for their respective clubs.
Up top, Mauro Icardi has deserved more of a shot for his production in Italy. Yet Sampaoli brought two true forwards to the World Cup, which isn’t enough.
Now, it’s easy to say, “If he would have brought these players, they would do better.” We obviously don’t know that, but many of them are experienced, proven and know the core of the team really well. One would assume there would be more chemistry.
But instead, he opted for a 32-year-old Enzo Perez who has struggled at River Plate. He opted for a 34-year-old Javier Mascherano that plays in China and has no business being on this team. An Angel Di Maria that hasn’t been good in a couple years. An Ever Banega that has never produced consistently with the national team. And Lucas Biglia, who isn’t 100 percent healthy.
It’s hard to understand what his thought process is. All I know, it never worked.
How many players?
Since he took over in May of 2017, he’s called up 59 different players, he’s never repeated a starting XI in consecutive matches and he’s changed formations in each of the first two World Cup games, playing three at the back against Croatia, a team you simply cannot do that against because of the height and ability down the wing.
I’m all for experimenting and trying to figure out how to move forward. But fielding all these different players through his first 13 matches at the helm shows he’s scrambling, he doesn’t know in what direction to go, except down. The federation is to blame as well. It pulled the plug on Edgardo Bauza shortly after Gerardo Martino stepped down. Change, change and more change. From the top to the bottom.
Of the 23 players Sampaoli called up initially (before the injury to Manuel Lanzini), 11 had 10 caps or less with the national team. Some weren’t even hardly used by him in qualifying leading up to the tournament.
It feels like he came into the job without ideas, just with a truckload of duct tape and a prayer. And no prayer has been answered. In his press conference after the match, Sampaoli said that he thought the game plan would work.
It hasn’t worked since Day 1.
“The reality really affects me,” Sampaoli said. “It’s painful.”
For the 40-plus million Argentines in the country and for the fans around the world, even more so.
It’s to the point where the days of Argentina crashing out of the World Cup in the quarters are welcomed by some. That’s the sad reality. Sampaoli and the federation are to blame. Not Lionel Messi for not scoring. The changes in coaching, the player selection of a coach that clearly doesn’t know what he has at his disposal, is ruining what could be Messi’s last chance at winning the World Cup.
The 2002 World Cup group stage exit was bad. This was just as bad.
Not enough talent, not enough heart, but more importantly, not nearly enough leadership. It’s not Messi’s fault. It’s not Gonzalo Higuain’s fault. From 2014 to 2016, Argetina lost a World Cup final and two Copa America finals. Those were tough to swallow, but the team was able to at least get results and advance.
And so is Argentina. But not just for a trophy, but for a manager worthy of leading the talent this team has, for a federation to make the right selection to rebuild this train wreck. But the future isn’t clear. Will Messi continue? Will young guys get a chance?
In Russia, the side of the Argentina team bus read “Unidos por una ilusion.” In English, “Together for a dream.”
A dream that, thanks to Sampaoli’s terrible decisions, quickly became a nightmare.