As Argentina continues to discuss who should take over as the manager of the National Team, a couple of domestic names continue to be thrown into the mix. The most obvious of those being Marcelo Gallardo of River Plate, but a few people have even suggested Ariel Holan deserves consideration. With the top names likely not interested in managing the Albiceleste, it seems more and more likely that the job could be filled by someone currently coaching in the Superliga.
So, who is the best Manager currently coaching in Argentina?
Is it Gallardo or Holan? How about Guillermo Barros Schelotto who won the last two titles with Boca? Or could it be Eduardo Chacho Coudet who has Racing currently sitting at the top of the table?
There is one name that rarely gets mentioned in this conversation who deserves heaps of praise for the job he is currently doing, and has been doing this entire decade. If we travel outside of Buenos Aires to the furthest city in the Superliga, we arrive in San Miguel de Tucumán where one of the best managers in the country calls home.
We may only be six matches into the season, but Atlético Tucumán currently sitting in second place in the table is remarkable. What makes it even more incredible, they are also in the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores. Fans of El Decano must be pinching themselves trying to be sure they’re not living in a dream. It truly is remarkable the rise of the club since being promoted to the first division three years ago.
While there is no one person who can take all the praise and glory for helping Atlético Tucumán get to where they currently are, one of the key figures is without question their current manager, Ricardo Ruso Zielinski.
In June 2017 as the Primera División season came to a close, Pablo Lavallén was managing El Decano. After three consecutive defeats and an underwhelming season where the club finished in 21st place in the table, Lavallén called it quits. On the 23rd of June, El Ruso took the reins of Atlético Tucumán and it has been a near perfect marriage ever since.
El Ruso has been managing football clubs in Argentina since 1994. He first started with Ituzaingó and little by little moved up to bigger and bigger clubs, often only spending one or two seasons with each. Zielinski first gained national recognition in 2011 when he took the job as Manager of Belgrano. In his first season with El Pirata, he led the club to a 4th place finish in the B Nacional, which meant they would get a chance to gain promotion into the first division through a home and home playoff with one of the relegation candidates from the Primera.
Belgrano would face and defeat River Plate, sending the football giants down to the second division for the first time in their club’s history. El Celeste gained promotion into Argentina’s top flight.
From there it was an upward trajectory for the club from Alberdi. El Ruso managed Belgrano until 2016 in what became the most successful stint in the club’s history. El Pirata qualified for multiple times for the Copa Sudamericana and was a mainstay near the top of the table each season. Zielinski had helped change the culture of the club from one that was a regular yo-yo between first and second divisions into one that could compete with the best teams in the country.
In May 2016, El Ruso decided it was time for him to try his luck managing one of Argentina’s largest clubs, Racing. However, things did not go the same for him in Avellaneda as they did in Córdoba. After a mediocre start to the season, fans were starting to lose their patience with Zielinski and as the 2016 calendar came to a close, Ricardo decided it was time to call it quits. Uncoincidentally, in their first season without El Ruso, Belgrano had their worst campaign since their promotion in 2011, finishing 28th in the 30-team table.
After taking a six-month break from managing football, Atlético Tucumán needed a fill an vacancy and reached out to Zielinski. In his first season in the Northwest of Argentina, El Decano improved from their previous season form, but still finished in the middle of the table. But most impressive was that Atlético Tucumán qualified for the first time in their club’s history to the knockout stage of the Copa Libertadores.
For the 2018/19 Superliga season, El Decano started the year in danger of being relegated, yet at the same time, competing in the Copa Sudamericana (they qualified for the tournament because they made it to the final of the Copa Argentina). The worry was that El Ruso would prioritize the international competition over the domestic league and Atlético would slip down into the relegation zone. We are only just six matches into the season, but it is safe to say Zielinski has done the complete opposite.
El Decano managed to get past Atlético Nacional in the Libertadores and is currently matched up against title holders Grêmio in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, on domestic soil, they sit in second place in the table just two points off the pace being set by Racing. With 14 points from their first six matches, El Decano has already opened a 12-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone. Atlético Tucumán should have no problem remaining in Argentina’s top flight.
So, let’s return to the initial question: who is the best manager in Argentina? Does Ricardo Zielinski deserve to be mentioned in that conversation? Of course, he does. According to ClubWorldRankings.com, El Ruso is currently the 15th best Manager in the world. No, not in Argentina, on the planet. He is currently ranked above the likes of Unai Emery (Arsenal), Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham), and Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea), just to name a few.
With so much success at both Belgrano and Atlético Tucumán, should the 58-year-old be in consideration for the Argentina job? Or does his spell at Racing prove that he is best fitted for a medium sized club? If we are being honest, to go from Atlético Tucumán to the Argentina National Team might be too much of a stretch. However, one poor spell at Racing should not disqualify Zielinski from consideration should future opportunities at big clubs come his way.
With that being said, maybe El Ruso is happy right where he is. He is regarded as just short of a God among Belgrano fans and is on a path to similar love and admiration in Tucumán. Unfortunately, managing clubs in the interior of Argentina has led to him often being overlooked by the Argentine media. But his accomplishments have made it clear, Ricardo Zielinski might actually be the best Manager currently coaching in Argentina.
Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife and two kids. He also runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.