While Argentina are left to bemoan refereeing decisions after another Copa América disappointment, former coach Gerardo Martino is finally celebrating an international title as his Mexico side defeated the United States to lift the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Tata, who suffered Copa América final defeats as Paraguay coach in 2011 before back-to-back heartbreak with Argentina in 2015 and 2016, was determined to lead Mexico to a record-extending eighth title and acheived that thanks to Jonathan dos Santos’ 73rd minute winner.
Those penalty defeats to Chile while in charge of Argentina coupled with a difficult season as Barcelona manager in 2013/14 have weighed on Martino’s reputation, largely outside the Americas, but El Tri are already reaping the rewards of being able to snap up such an astute tactician.
Martino’s appointment in January, shortly after leading Atlanta United to their maiden MLS Cup triumph, was a wise move by the Mexican Football Federation and it has been repaid by a run of ten straight wins.
Friendly wins over CONMEBOL sides Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela and Ecuador prepared Mexico for their Gold Cup run and barring the need for penalties to overcome Costa Rica in the quarter-finals, it has been a perfect start for Tata.
Ever the perfectionist after a first international trophy for Martino to go with his championship wins with Atlanta and Newell’s Old Boys, the 56-year-old is not yet satisfied.
“We still not there, we need more time together, more time working and training, but we’re on the right path. Nothing would’ve changed that with the final result. A bad result wouldn’t have changed that either.”
This desire to take charge of a long-term project is precisely what Martino was denied as Argentina manager.
Had Argentina taken chances against Chile or had the edge in the shootouts, Martino would have been a Copa América winning hero, the man that ended La Albiceleste’s trophy drought, but it was instead the beginning of the end due to the short-termism that plagues Argentine football.
Still eager to continue his work, Martino wanted greater control over the much neglected youth levels and was preparing a talented group of under-23s to take to the 2016 Olympics in order to facilitate the required rebuild post-Copa América.
However, as clubs began to deny permission to players without much objection from the AFA that list rapidly became shorter and with months of unpaid wages thrown in, the conditions proved too much for Martino.
Three coaches in the three years since Martino walked and Argentina are back to square one with serious question marks over interim coach Lionel Scaloni going forward but a severe lack of realistic alternatives.
2018 World Cup qualification was a struggle, the tournament itself even worse and in the circumstances a Copa América semi-final now feels like progress. But what is in store for the long and difficult task of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup?
That process begins in March and while Argentina have six friendlies before the end of the year, the AFA have already confirmed that Scaloni will remain in charge until then. If indeed the inexperienced coach plucked from Jorge Sampaoli’s staff isn’t the right man for the job are La Albiceleste simply throwing away vital preparation time?
And while Argentina’s place in Qatar looks far from certain, Mexico look in a good place to go from strength to strength.
Missing the likes of Javier Hernández, Hector Herrera and Hirving Lozano at the Gold Cup, Martino has every right to be confident.
“We’ll be better with those that couldn’t come. If we consider that one of the three best forwards in the Dutch league [Lozano] couldn’t come due to a knee injury, we think there’s a bright future. I’m content with how these first six months of my time in charge has gone.”
If only Argentina could say the same thing about the last six months or have the same faith in what is to come.