ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES —- National coach Gerardo Martino has defied popular opinion by saying there is no such thing as an Argentinian football style.
When British sailors and members of the British community first played the game locally here they did so with the long passing game they were used to in their own country.
Gradually more local players took up the game and formed their own teams. British clubs were invited to play here and won their matches easily with long passes and rapid attacks and shots while the Argentinians indulged in possession, dribbling and short passing.
In 1913, Racing Club won the local (then amateur) championship and held the title until 1919 and it was natural that other clubs copied the style of seven-year champions who became known as the first exponents of local ‘criollo’ soccer although this may not have been completely true.
In 1951, England came to Buenos Aires to play the first international between the two countries. In the first ‘inter-league’ match — a European custom at that time – Argentina’s style was superior to the traditional game of their rivals.
A better idea might have been gained in the second game a few days later in the first meeting between full national teams between the two countries. Unfortunately a heavy storm caused the suspension of the game, with no goals, after 22 minutes when the pitch was a lake which would suited England’s game better.
Argentina played hardly any matches against European opposition and did not participate in World Cups due to disagreements until the 1958 finals which became known as the ‘Disaster of Sweden’.
The Argentinians did badly against European teams with a style against which they had little recent experience. Not unnaturally, Argentinian clubs then adopted a more European style and finally won their first World Cup in 1978 under Luis Menotti.
They even won it again eight years later in Mexico under coach Carlos Bilardo. That was when Argentina beat England 2-1 with Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal though he followed up with a true Argentinian-style goal which is still considered by many the best goal scored in World Cups.
This success prompted arguments for years over the contrasting styles favoured by Menotti and Bilardo.
World Cup contrasts
Menotti, coach from 1974 to 1982, preferred touch soccer, short passing and partnerships among severai players. With Bilardo (1982 to 1990) technique was uppermost and his strategy more defensive. So much for an Argentinian style.
Next came Alfio Basile (1990 to 1994) who gave his players a lot of freedom out on the pitch. Under him the national team enjoyed a long unbeaten run and won the Copa America twice running.
Under Daniel Passarella (1994 to 1998) it was dynamic play and strict orders but he did not win anything and is remembered rather for ordering players to have short hair.
Under Marcelo Bielsa (1996 to 2004) the playing system was more important than names. Jose Pekerman (2004 to 2006) did better with junior teams (which won several championships) but made mistakes with substitutions in the 2004 World Cup.
Basile (2006 to 2008) returned and wanted to continue with his entertaining style but football had changed and he did not last long.
Diego Maradona (2008 to 2010) arrived more by popular choice than previous coaching experience. He did well with a good attacking squad but when they quickly went a goal down against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, he seemed at a loss about what to do.
AFA president Julio Grondona wanted to change the coaching staff but Maradona refused to accept orders and left. Sergio Batista wanted to play like Barcelona with a 4-3-3 but had little success and lasted less than a year.
Alex Sabella (2012 to 2014) almost won the 2014 World Cup, finally finishing with equilibrium in his team of attacking stars. He was criticized for leaving out Carlos Tevez who would have been needed in the narrow final defeat against Germany.
Current coach Martino also favours Barcelona’s style (which he coached, last year), 4-3-3 and the possession game. A good club coach, his success with the national team has yet to be seen.
A possible next coach is Diego Simeone, a leading international and possibly the best Argentinian coach in Europe where he has done wonders with Atletico de Madrid in a Spanish tournament dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid.
He also agrees with Martino that Argentinian football soccer is hysterical, carries too many cheats and is disorganised.
Not the sort of style of which anyone should be proud.
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