The Argentine Football Association’s (AFA) chaotic, even farcical search for Gerardo Martino’s successor came to an end on Monday evening when acting president Armando Pérez announced that São Paulo coach Edgardo Bauza would be the man tasked with guiding La Albiceleste back on track.
Despite the AFA declaring an interest and making approaches to Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pochettino, Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli, the eventual decision came down to the far less inspiring short list of Bauza, Ramón Díaz and Miguel Ángel Russo.
This scattered approach for the choice of a national team coach has undoubtedly left supporters underwhelmed and Pérez’s announcement declaring Bauza as, “the most palatable of the coaches I interviewed,” hardly sounded like a ringing endorsement.
In the circumstances, Bauza is the ideal candidate for the AFA: an organisation in complete institutional chaos, that has required the goverment and FIFA to appoint a Comisión Regularizadora (Normalising Commission) to investigate the misappropriation of funds and importantly, an organisation whose pockets are empty.
The latter point made the appointment of the likes of Simeone or Sampaoli a pipe-dream given Pérez reportedly couldn’t stretch the AFA coffers to a pay for a plane ticket to Spain let alone pay the millions required to buy out a contract.
Bauza, on the other hand, had a clause in his São Paulo contract that allowed him to leave for the national team job and despite leading the Brazilian club to a Copa Libertadores semi-final within his eight months in charge, the two-time winner of the competition was able to walk away.
However, the AFA’s miserly approach to appointing a new national team coach should not detract from Bauza’s sterling reputation in South America; numerous perceived superior managerial targets were always out of reach and the former San Lorenzo boss certainly appears to have been the best of the available options.
A highly skilled coach with cup expertise
Edgardo Bauza may not have made the leap to coaching in Europe but his career since retiring as the fourth highest scoring defender in history (behind Daniel Passarella, Franz Beckenbauer and Fernando Hierro) has been a steady incline to the top of South American club management.
Having retired with Rosario Central, the club he began his career, Bauza swiftly starting working with the reserves and after four years as the academy coach, El Patón took over the senior side.
It was in Rosario where Bauza first acquired his taste for the Copa Libertadores when he took El Canalla to the semi finals in 2001 and after spells with Vélez Sarsfield, Colón and Sporting Cristal, the former Argentina international went even further with unfancied Ecuadorian club, Liga de Quito.
Lifting the Copa Libertadores in 2008 proved to be no coincidence as Bauza returned to the Quito after a brief spell in the Middle East to win the league and Recopa Sudamericana before moving back to Argentina with San Lorenzo.
Juan Antonio Pizzi had just led El Ciclón to the Primera title but the club remained the butt of jokes in Buenos Aires as the only grande yet to claim a Copa Libertadores.
That soon was put to right and for the second time Bauza held the gigantic trophy aloft; defeat to Real Madrid at the end of 2014 in the Club World Cup signalled the end of his time in the Nuevo Gasómetro but it wasn’t long before the Libertadores expert was working his magic with São Paulo.
Eventually losing out to this year’s winners in the semi-final, Bauza wasn’t able to add a third title but remains the only coach to have won the competition with two sides from different countries and reach the semi-final stage with four teams.
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) August 2, 2016
Of course, success in the Copa Libertadores doesn’t automatically translate to a World Cup or a Copa América but it does show Bauza for the shrewd tactician that he is and why FourFourTwo recently named him their 15th best coach in world football.
Bauza’s perceived negativity
For all the plaudits that his Copa Libertadores record has brought him, Bauza’s critics still sneer over his safety-first approach, built around a compact system that holds as its central idea not to concede.
As a former defender, Bauza is an admirer of what could be considered an Italian approach to the game and while that maybe true, the 58-year-old is pragmatic, intelligent and almost obsessively dedicated.
“I’m a football person. I go from home to the training ground and from the training ground back home. And I only think about football, without distractions,” Bauza told reporters shortly after taking over at São Paulo.
While that might not sound like a lot of fun for Mrs. Bauza, it is perhaps a structure that Argentina need in an effort to find a balance between the obvious attacking talents but the meagre defensive resources.
This was a point not lost on Bauza in his first statement to the press after being appointed: “The issue is how we can organize the team defensively. I think that’s the part we have to work on. Argentina has plenty of options offensively, but we have to organize defensively for the team not to get worn down and to recover the ball as soon as possible. I have an idea in mind but for that, we have to talk to the players, explain the idea and work on it.”
El Patón will be confident of being able to do this and to some extent his reputation as overly defensive is self-perpetuating as it is repeated so often. Yes, his sides are compact and he likes to play with two central midfielders to protect his back four but San Lorenzo also played with two attacking full backs and often a three of Ignacio Piatti, Leandro Romagnoli and Ángel Correa behind a central striker.
Players know their roles and work hard when they lose the ball but it is not the anti-football that is sometimes levelled at his sides.
Bauza has also shown a degree of adaptability while with São Paulo after losing several key players and switching from a preferred 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 that brought the best from playmaker Ganso and centre forward Jonathan Calleri, both of whom are now heading to Europe.
It is only fair to allow Bauza time with this somewhat top-heavy Argentina squad and see the results. Alejandro Sabella was far from being renowned as an attacking coach but in the circumstances, built a side based on what he perceived to be their greatest strength to relative success.
A will to succeed
Given the mess within the AFA, the amount of coaches vying for what in theory should be one of the most desirable jobs in world football was slim but when Bauza was first linked to the role he responded, “For many it might be an unnecessary risk, but I wouldn’t mind setting my feet on the mud with Argentina. I was born in the mud.”
In different financial circumstances the AFA could have perhaps lured a bigger name with the promise of riches but that is of no concern to Bauza.
“It’s the most important challenge of my career and I told Armando Pérez that I’m grabbing onto this and giving it my all,” the new Argentina coach said in one of his first interviews.
“If today I don’t dream about bringing the World Cup to the Pope and more so with Argentina, I should devote myself to another profession.”
Lifting the World Cup is a long way off and Bauza must immediately start thinking about next month’s qualifiers but Argentina will find no one in the current situation more determined to ensure success.