It has been one of the worst kept secrets in football but on Thursday afternoon, Argentina finally named Jorge Sampaoli as their new manager ending weeks of speculation.
Even as late as Wednesday afternoon there were rumours that the Argentine Football Association (AFA) had not yet agreed terms with Sampaoli despite Sevilla announcing that their manager would be leaving but all the details were worked out and the Copa América winning coach put pen to paper on a five-year deal with Argentina, running until the 2022 World Cup.
“This is a dream come true, one that I have desired for some time,” Sampaoli said at his official unveiling in Ezeiza. “I thank the [AFA] president [Claudio Tapia] for his patience.
“The contract is through to the 2022 World Cup. I hope we can do something important for the Argentine people.”
The appointment of Edgardo Bauza was one that had never excited Argentina supporters and performances did nothing to change that as La Albiceleste staggered through World Cup qualification to the perilous position that they find themselves in now.
Sampaoli, after his Copa América triumph with Chile and fine work with Sevilla this season, is the tactically astute, big-name coach that the Argentina job has demanded and now finally has.
“The difficulty in the World Cup qualifiers is real,” Sampaoli told the press ahead of his friendly debut against Brazil on June 9th but more importantly the qualifier against Uruguay at the end of August.
“We know that there are resources for Argentina to reach the World Cup. The qualifiers are complex and there are other teams like us that are trying to reach the same aim.”
If the appointment alone weren’t enough to boost Argentina, Sampaoli said all the right things when addressing the media.
“We have to build a team that respects the history of Argentine football,” the former Sevilla coach said.
“I’m surrounded by very capable people. This national team is not of a group of players but of 40 million Argentines. We need to have a starring role.”
Sampaoli has brought with him a familiar group and by his side will be current Defensa y Justicia boss Sebastián Beccacece, who has been making a name for himself in Florencio Varela and will be a real miss come the end of the season for El Halcón.
The squad for the forthcoming friendlies was said to be chosen by Juan Sebastián Verón with Sampaoli’s input but the 57-year-old admitted that this is far from a completed process.
“There are more than 100 players being monitored. What we want is for those players that wear this jersey to expose the quality they have.”
This may even extend to a domestic squad that Beccacece will help select ahead of possible friendlies over the coming months and the new team will also analyse the youth sides after their recent troubles. Sampaoli made reference to the great under-20s sides of José Pékerman and confirmed that Nicolás Diez from his own staff will take over from Claudio Úbeda.
Of course the subject of Lionel Messi was on the tip of everyones’ tongues and Sampaoli said, “We want for the best player in the world to be happy being here.
The important thing is that Messi has players that are compatible [with him]. I spoke to him yesterday [Wednesday] and he is very enthusiastic.”
Injury has already denied Sampaoli using Argentina’s other figurehead aside from Messi, Javier Mascherano but the new coach did confirm his intentions regarding El Jefecito: “We called him up with the intention to play him as a central defender, as he does as Barcelona.”
The tough-tackling veteran seemed certain to start in central defence against Brazil on June 9th but his knee injury will now present an opportunity to one of Sampaoli’s new faces and regarding the forthcoming friendlies, the former Chile coach said, “When we will be with the players, we will evaluate to see who is best fit to play against Brazil.
We have to think about three or four systems but the important thing is how it functions against a team like Brazil.”
There is a great deal still to organise, still to confirm and importantly still to prove but there is an optimism in Argentine football that has been lacking for a long time and with the players available under the guidance of a world-class manager the potential is enormous.