It is now official that Argentina have parted ways with Jorge Sampaoli after ‘mutually agreeing’ to terminate his contract but while many rejoice due to La Albiceleste’s disastrous World Cup campaign, the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) are now back to square one.
Gerardo Martino, Edgardo Bauza and now Sampaoli have all failed to deliver what the AFA desire in the four years since Alejandro Sabella took Argentina to the World Cup final and now another new coach will be tasked with competing in next year’s Copa América and hopefully guiding a new generation towards 2022.
That is certainly something that goes beyond simply replacing Sampaoli and the AFA must look far deeper if they are to truly rectify years of mismanagement.
However, with Sampaoli gone, the immediate business is finding his successor and some familiar faces (and difficulties) re-emerge.
The Usual Suspects
Certainly since looking for a replacement for Alejandro Sabella in 2014, one man has been at the front of the queue for Argentina and remains there this time round despite the same logistical problems. Diego Simeone played over 100 times for Argentina as a player and has carried that same passion and desire into his managerial career.
After a patchy start to coaching in Argentina, Cholo found his place at Atlético Madrid and since being appointed in 2011 has made the Colchoneros a genuine force in La Liga and the Champions League.
The 48-year-old remains in charge and under contract at Atleti and has never really stated any great desire to take on the challenge of Argentina at this stage of his career. Simeone would also likely prove an expensive option and a coach, whose methods may not be best suited to international football,
Many players have struggled at Atleti with Simeone’s demanding, high-intensity style of play and while some point to the defensive discipline of his sides and Argentina in desperate need for such solidity, could this be achieved in the short space of time that an international coach gets with his players on the training ground?
And the other most high-profile candidate would be Mauricio Pochettino, who would present many of the same issues that come with Simeone.
The two former teammates have drawn praise as two of the best coaches in Europe but just like Cholo, Pochettino wouldn’t come cheap. Tottenham have established themselves as Champions League regulars under the 46-year-old but must now add a trophy to go with their potential and Pochettino will desire this as much as anyone.
Neither Simeone nor Pochettino look likely to hammer the door down at the shambolically-run AFA and force a move so both appear pipe-dreams for Argentina.
The more realistic frontrunners
And so the AFA’s search is likely to take them to more financially viable options and that could lead to a couple of coaches who have been in direct competition with Argentina over the past few years.
José Pékerman’s six-and-a-half year stint in charge of Colombia appears at an end after his side fell to a penalty defeat against England in the last 16 at this World Cup and for the man widely credited with helping to produce Argentina’s best players from the past two decades, Claudio Tapia could be interested in a return.
The work that Pékerman did with Argentina’s youth sides between 1994-2001 saw La Albiceleste dominate Under-20 football and fed the senior team all the way up until this World Cup. With that production line having slowed, the 68-year-old could be tempted back and even if that isn’t as the Head Coach of Argentina, his experience could prove invaluable in a technical role behind the scenes.
Leading to speculation that Ricardo Gareca could assume the role of Head Coach. After guiding Peru to a first World Cup since 1982, the 60-year-old is a hero to La Blanquirroja but remains undecided on his future. In a press conference a little more than a week before Sampaoli’s departure was confirmed, Gareca stated he was a free coach and aware of the possible interest the former Argentina striker will be keeping tabs on developments at the AFA.
While both of those options could be free (a characteristic presumably favourable to the AFA), Marcelo Gallardo’s name remains in the discussion.
The River Plate manager has been hugely successful in his relatively short managerial career and looks destined for a move to Europe sooner or later despite recently extending his contract at El Monumental until 2021. However, his progressive style of football, strong man-management and outstanding record in cup competition has led to many argue his case for Argentina now.
Still relatively inexperienced it would pose something of a gamble for the AFA but that wouldn’t be the main issue. A financial settlement with River aside, it is fair to say that Gallardo isn’t the biggest fan of the current AFA set-up, publically speaking up about the pro-Boca stance of president Claudio Tapia and vice-president (and Boca president) Daniel Angelici.
Finally, if the AFA were unable to get any of those already mentioned, for any one of the reasons listed, who else could they look to?
Matías Almeyda, fresh from his impressive three-year spell in Mexico is available and would presumably jump at the opportunity in spite of the disarray at the AFA. Taking Chivas from relegation candidates to Liga MX champions in addition to lifting the Copa MX (twice) and the CONCACAF Champions League is an outstanding record and while it will have gone largely unnoticed in Argentina, Almeyda does look set for big things.
Atlético Nacional manager Jorge Almirón is an outside bet, in the event that the AFA are unable to secure any of their preferred choices, and while most outside South America would be clueless as to who the 47-year-old is, his title winning Lanús side in 2016 were rightly applauded.