by Daniel Fraiz-Martinez
“Do or do not, there is no try” – Now at this point it’s unknown if Gabriel Heinze (19th of April 1978. Crespo, Argentina) is a fan or not of the Star Wars movies. However, what has been reasonably established is that the immortal words of master Yoda could perfectly sum up his footballing credo.
A self-confessed footballing ‘hatchet man’ as a player, the no-nonsense defender carved out a career that saw him play for some of the world’s biggest sides. Not to mention feature as a regular for his country for the better part of a decade, and as a trusted lieutenant under as many five different managers during said period.
Heinze would undeniably not have been the most skilful player in the dressing room he walked in but you can be sure that his voice was always heard, and his opinion (perhaps somewhat through fear) taken into consideration. Having now embarked on his managerial journey said traits have seemingly not abandoned him.
A Rocky Road on the Horizon
Truth be told, Gabriel Heinze the manager was not as foregone a conclusion as many would believe. Having returned home for one final, (ultimately successful) hoorah with boyhood club Newells Old Boys, the Lepra club legend was not always clear on what he wanted to do after hanging up his boots.
So much so in fact, that when ideological mentor Marcelo Bielsa came calling with an offer to be part of his Olympique Marseille backroom staff, it came as no big surprise that the former international Olympic Gold winning defender would decline, feeling not yet ready to make a future career decision at the time.
Indeed funnily enough it would take a conversation with yet another of Argentine football’s greatest coaching minds in the form César Luis Menotti, to turn Heinze’s head definitively.
“Pardon me Señor Heinze, but you’re a chicken. You can’t just retire and live an easy life, you have an obligation to give something back to football, and in particular to that of Argentina,” Menotti would boldly proclaim. Heinze (and Menotti too) not being one to ever shy away from a challenge, knew that at the point onwards the writing was firmly on the wall.
Nonetheless much like the rest of his career, Heinze’s route was not a smooth one. In June 2015, El Gringo (as he’s commonly known in his homeland) would take over at Primera side Godoy Cruz… Albeit if you blinked you would have missed it.
Barely ten games into his tenure, and with off-the field issues surrounding his lack of the required qualifications preventing the new coach from taking a place in the dugout, Gabriel Heinze was fired with only two wins as a manager to his name.
A Bicho shaped Phoenix from the ashes of the B Nacional
Nowadays setbacks such as Heinze’s Godoy Cruz tenure are what create many the budding football TV analyst. The rugged former defender has never been one to be easily abated, so when less than year after his dismissal one of Argentina’s historic sides fallen on hard times, Argentinos Juniors came calling, Heinze was back in the game again. Albeit this time dropping down a division to the hellfire that is Argentina’s B Nacional championship.
Re-birth was most definitely on the agenda at La Paternal. Both the club and the manager seeing the opportunity to break free of difficult recent past by doing what they know best. The club: in producing a core of promising youngsters from their famed academy. Heinze: to implement an aggressive pressing, possession based football with an emphasis on attacking throughout the 90 minutes.
Despite many widely held conventions regarding lower league competitions (around the world to be honest) Heinze’s side played football: attacking with verve, plenty of width and often only leaving three at the back, and hunting the ball in packs throughout the 90’s minutes.
Gabby Heinze’s side incessant pressing tactic… despite already being 4-0 up.
Regardless of the ground they went to Los Bichitos as they were christened due to the youthful nature of the side, went there to win, and more often than not they invariably did.
Argentinos Juniors’ attacking verve – Menotti professing Heinze to be “a breath of fresh air” in terms of a new generation of progressive Argentine coaches.
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
Fast forward to July 2017, and what would best be surmised as an unconventional post-match press-conference.
Having mathematically secured a return to top flight football at the first attempt, Gabriel Heinze orders a troop of people into the room to stand beside him. This wasn’t some superfluous entourage, the sort that usually follow many in the modern footballing world, but all members of the clubs support staff. From the medical team, to the kitmen, going all the way to members of the security or the club psychologist.
Admirably, the now successful Argentinos Juniors boss would proudly announce to the watching world that “this is just much their day. I may have barked the commands, but they all helped steer the ship.”
A fitting analogy for what was a difficult, yet ultimately rewarding year for Gabriel Heinze. Having navigated stormy waters both off the pitch (with the sad passing of his father Jorge) and on it, a club in deep financial turmoil who would go on to achieve promotion as worthy Champions of the division, playing some breath-taking football as part of their DNA.
The goal and emotional celebrations that sealed promotion for Argentinos Juniors
Was Heinze happy? To be honest you can never tell. Not one for self platitudes throughout his career, his time on the touchlines has been the much the same, brushing aside the often disingenuous clichés and compliments as he once did World Class centre forwards in his playing career. He had a job to do: give back to football in Argentina, and return Argentinos Juniors to their rightful place in the top flight.
Mission accomplished, at least in part. With yet another ensuing, abrupt departure, the much loved Argentinos Juniors boss announced his departure at the end of the campaign, unable to reconcile certain differences with the board.
This time though, much like when he was a fresh faced 19-year-old, Europe has already been watching, circling in anticipation. Offers being touted even during the campaign itself, Heinze unsurprisingly kept his word to see out the project to its end.
But it won’t be long until he’s back in the dugout, perhaps embarking as nomadic as his career suggests to date, but never likely to be a dull moment. El Gringo rides again, like some fictional Quixotesque personality almost, whose journey is set for a lot more action and adventure.
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