ALAN VACCARO* / AIPS in ABU DHABI: Astute and experienced. Calm despite the pressure. Confident he can make history in the World Under-17s: This is how Humberto Grondona, coach of Argentina, appears on the eve of their semi-final against Mexico in the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.
“I wake up with pressure, have lunch with pressure, live with pressure, have dinner and go to sleep with pressure, which is normal – that’s why I am hypertensive and take the pills,” says Grondona .
Being the son of the veteran president of the Argentinian football association does not disturb him or make him work any differently or feel under particular scrutiny by Don Julio [who also just happens to be senior vice-president of FIFA].
He adds: “I have pressure since birth; if not, I would have dedicated myself to do something else. I am very happy I chose this profession. I’m very proud of the father I have, he is the best as a father and as a football director.”
Yet Grondona’s voice sounds hoarse and tired. He knows the responsibility he shoulders and accepts that a coach “pays with his head in defeat but keeps a low profile in victory.”
Happy for ‘the moment’ he is living with Argentina’s youth team, Grondona believes it means even more to him than as ‘only’ a coach. He says: “You have to understand that I have four daughters so I treat these players as the sons I didn’t have.” In football terms the squads he coached in 2003, 2005 and 2013 “are the best thing that happened in my life.”
Grondona was so sure of success in this tournament before flying to the Emirates that he asked a nephew to change his wedding day, which had been set for November 8: “Now he is getting married on the 15th. I have justified what I asked him so my conscience is clear.”
As for the semi-final against Mexico, Grondona assessed it as being “as difficult as all games.”
Beyond the important absences through suspension of midfielder Matías Sánchez and defender Rodrigo Moreira, Grondona says “the team is well” and that of course he would choose “the best players who play good football because that’s our mentality always.”
He also believes the game will not be as relentlessly physical as the quarter-final against Ivory Coast. Grondona said: “There will not be the aggression of our previous games nor the acts of misconduct. We played against hard teams and the referees were not so good. If these people hope to referee in the big World Cup in Brazil next year it will be awkward.”
Grondona left the cloud of concern about over-age players up in the air, saying only: “This World Cup for many teams is for 17 years old, so we have to take care of our players, especially when any player is kicked . . .”
The family feeling enveloping Grondona is enhanced by the opposition in Abu Dhabi. Grondona coached Mexican youth teams for four years but with nothing to show for it. Quite the reverse. He regards that time as his biggest failure, above all being knocked out of the Finland finals in 2003 by opponents from his own Argentinian homeland.
“I hope this time is not as it was in that tournament,” says Grondona. “Now I’m on the other side. I had a very good experience in Mexico but now I think 100pc about Argentina.”
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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