It has been one of the worst kept secrets in football but Argentina finally named Jorge Sampaoli, the successor to Edgardo Bauza as national team coach, ending weeks of speculation and while the Copa America winning coach said all the right things at his official unveiling, the magnitude of the task ahead cannot be understated.
The Argentine Football Association (AFA) made it very clear who their number one (and only) target was as soon as Bauza’s departure was confirmed but even after Sevilla had all but confirmed that Sampaoli was leaving and less than 24 hours before the 57-year-old was due to be presented, the AFA did what they do best and almost jeopardised the whole deal with some characteristic penny-pinching.
However, an agreement was reached and Sampaoli put pen to paper on a deal that runs until the World Cup in 2022. Results will obviously dictate whether the former Sevilla manager will see that through but after eight coaches in thirteen years, Argentina hopes of a period of productive stability.
So, what were the takeaways from Don Sampa’s presentation and what lies ahead?
World Cup Qualification
Before anyone can dream of Sampaoli guiding Lionel Messi and Argentina to glory there is the tricky matter of World Cup qualification to negotiate. With four matches remaining, La Albiceleste sit fifth in the inter-confederation playoff spot and difficult away trips to Uruguay and Ecuador lie ahead.
This immediate issue was not lost on Sampaoli, who said at his unveiling, “The difficulty in the World Cup qualifiers is real. We know that Argentina has the resources to reach the World Cup but the qualifiers are complex and there are other teams, like us, that have the same aim.”
Unlike Edgardo Bauza, who was plunged straight into the mire of South American qualification, Sampaoli has the luxury of two friendlies, against Brazil and Singapore, on June 9th and 13th and it will be a quick opportunity for the new coach to assess his options and try out new ideas before the crunch match in Montevideo at the end of August.