Sevilla have announced that manager Jorge Sampaoli will depart the club in order to take charge of the Argentina national team.
For many fans, the appointment of Sampaoli was relatively foreseeable, the former Chile manager has never been subdued when talking about how he couldn’t envisage himself turning down the opportunity to manage his native Argentina.
Despite his indomitable energy and tactical ingenuity, the task that awaits Sampaoli is nothing short of monumental.
If Argentina’s new manager is to be a success, it’s imperative that he wastes no time in salvaging a World Cup qualifying campaign, that has so far been catastrophic.
Sampaoli takes over from Edgardo Bauza, whose languid reign as manager culminated with a dismal 2-0 qualifying defeat against Bolivia, it left the Albiceleste precariously lingering in fifth place in their group.
To ensure their place at the grandest stage in World football, Argentina must finish in the top four of the South American qualifying group, remaining in fifth position would result in them having to overcome a play off tie against a team from Oceania.
From an Argentina perspective, Russia 2018 feels far more significant than just another World Cup.
For a group of players that were once considered destined to become a golden generation, the tournament may provide the last opportunity to avoid becoming a generation synonymous with international anguish, therefore, contemplating the first World Cup without them since 1970 is unfathomable.
When Argentina last won the World Cup in 1986, their incredibly astute manager Carlos Bilardo had an abundance of talent in his squad.
However, when his side looked on the brink of exiting the tournament and required a moment that defied belief, they turned to their unmistakeable captain, Diego Maradona.
Furthermore, this was a tactic that wasn’t too dissimilar to one deployed by Alejandro Sabella’s beaten finalists in 2014, who despite being a team that possessed copious amounts of world class players, they were regularly dragged out of desperate situations by their majestic captain, Lionel Messi.
The undeniable resemblances between Maradona in 1986 and Messi in 2014 exalted the heartache that was felt by the ardent Argentine supporters, when despite being named as the best player of the tournament, Messi couldn’t replicate the bravura performance of Maradona when it mattered most, during the final against Germany.
Heading into the 2015 Copa America, new manager Gerardo Martino appeared to have eradicated any vulnerability that may have remained in the Argentina camp, from their devastating World Cup final defeat.
Having played so well throughout the tournament, it was seemingly inevitable that Argentina would win the Copa America to assuage for the grief they had felt a year earlier, however, they once again failed dramatically hurdle, suffering a penalty shootout defeat at the hands of hosts Chile in the final.
Almost unbelievably a year later, Messi and Argentina endured further heartache, succumbing to a second consecutive penalty shootout defeat to Chile in the Copa America final.
So distraught was Messi in the aftermath of the defeat, he precipitately announced his retirement from international football, the Barcelona icon has since returned to the international stage, playing a key role in Argentina’s turbulent qualification campaign.
Moreover, It shouldn’t be disregarded that it was Sampaoli who indoctrinated a win at all costs attitude, into the Chile team that overcame Argentina in two consecutive Copa America finals. Sampaoli was at the helm in 2015 and even in his absence, the side of 2016 very much retained his masterful blueprint.
After guiding Chile to their first ever Coppa America triumph in 2105, Sampaoli couldn’t resist the challenge of European football, ending his illustrious run in South America to take the Sevilla job.
Replacing longstanding manager Unai Emery at the Spanish club was always going to be an immense challenge, and although Sevilla’s season didn’t end in the triumph that it had once promised, Sampaoli will undoubtedly be deemed a success in his short spell in La Liga, taking them to the knockout phases of the Champions League and only having their league position bettered by Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Sampaoli’s fondness for Sevilla was evident in his inaugural Argentina squad, as he included both Gabriel Mercado and Joaquin Correa from this former side.
His squad caught many South American pundits by surprise, whereas many of them were under illusion that he would select a large number of South American based players, Sampaoli opted to select the vast majority of his squad from clubs in Euorpe, handing a first call up to West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and recalling the tenacious Inter Milan skipper Mauro Icardi.
The era of Sampaoli begins with two showpiece friendlies, his new look side head to Melbourne on June 9th to take on bitter rivals Brazil, then four days later, his squad will travel to Singapore for their last friendly before the recommencing of their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Sampaoli’s judgement will truly commence on August 31st, when the former Sevilla manager will be desperate to revitalise Argentina’s World Cup qualifying campaign, with crucial games against Uruguay and Venezuela.
The cruel consequences of Argentina’s recent inconsistency, is that if Sampaoli can’t get things right instantaneously, his dream job may be over before it even begins.
That being said, there is very little evidence to suggest that Sampaoli won’t take the bull by the horns in his new role and finally get the best out of an Argentina squad brimming with talent.
If the 57-year-old can translate his winning mentality to his new squad of exquisite footballers, than the results could be awe inspiring, he undoubtedly brings to the table something the Albiceleste have desperately craved over the past decade.