There is little about how Lionel Scaloni conducts himself that suggests interim coach. The 40-year-old confidently explains his vision for Argentina and despite what Diego Maradona may have had to say, Scaloni very much appears to be auditioning for the role on a permanent basis.
Scaloni named his second Argentina squad last week ahead of the October friendlies against Iraq and Brazil in Saudi Arabia and spoke to the media on Monday from the national training ground at Ezeiza.
After Maradona had said “[Lionel] Scaloni is a good guy but he couldn’t direct traffic,” there was one obvious subject but that was one topic that Argentina’s interim boss stayed well clear of.
Instead, as is always the case, the whereabouts of Lionel Messi was the pressing issue after the world’s best player was once more left out of the Argentina squad.
“I spoke with Messi about ten days ago, after the talk we made the final decision he is not to be called up,” Scaloni confirmed to the press.
“We do not talk about what could happen in a while, we talked about how the team played because honestly Leo sees everything.
“But not beyond that because in my head we have not planned more than six games. We don’t touch on the Copa América.”
And so it is a similar Argentina squad to the one that defeated Guatemala and drew with Colombia in the United States last month. Messi and many of the World Cup squad remain outside but there was a recall for Manchester City defender Nicolás Otamendi.
“Otamendi’s call-up is because we believe he is an acceptable player for the national team. He spoke with him and explained what we want,” Scaloni admitted.
Certainly Otamendi’s inclusion boosts an area of obvious weakness for Argentina and while there is still no place for his City teammate Sergio Agüero, with the likes of Mauro Icardi, Lautaro Martínez and Giovanni Simeone, La Albiceleste remain well stocked in attack.
“His level is not surprising, it is the same as always, but I didn’t speak with him,” Scaloni explained regarding Agüero’s tremendous start to the new season.
In discussing Agüero, along with the likes of Angel Di María and Ever Banega, the new coach was clear: “There is nothing strange. At this time we want to call the same players because we want to continue watching and assessing whether or not they can continue playing for the national team.
“All of them have the possibility of being called [in the future].”
The friendly against Iraq on October 11th will presumably be an opportunity for a number of those younger players on the fringes of the squad before the real test of Scaloni’s credentials against Brazil on October 16th.
“We know what it means to face a rival as strong as Brazil and for sure it will make for a great match.
“I have always said that the most important thing is not the result but the performance. I want a team with desire. The idea for this match against Brazil is that you see a team with desire and a team that the people can identify with,” Scaloni stated.
The performance and the long-term project certainly is of greater importance than the result against Brazil but it is the result that will ultimately judge Scaloni. A heavy defeat to the old rivals will make his claim for the position on a full-term basis a far more difficult sell; victory and the voices calling to give Scaloni a chance will grow louder.
There are still a great number of doubts. The number of untested, young players in the group saw Rodrigo de Paul and Juan Foyth added to the ranks for these friendlies and Scaloni explained that the Tottenham defender, “is a boy who has a huge future,” who, “can give us a lot for the future.”
Franco Armani, Sergio Romero and Gerónimo Rulli have all been called once more to battle it out over the number one spot but despite the two European-based goalkeepers failing to impress for their clubs, Scaloni made it clear that he is undecided.
“The idea is to do the same as we did for the previous matches, play a different goalkeeper in each game. What we don’t know is who will play first.”