The new generation of Argentinian managers

by Tom Robinson

Facundo SavaMinutes away from a first Champions League and historic double with Atletico Madrid, Diego Simeone may be entitled to a degree of bitterness but overall can reflect, without sadness, on a sensational season of high octane grit and guts.  He may never completely shake the lingering thoughts of what could have been, such is the want of single-minded competitors of his ilk, but nevertheless, his achievements, both this season and in years gone by, have placed him top of the pile of a generation of young Argentinian managers.

Argentina has a long history of successful managers who have made telling contributions to the world game.  Helenio Herrera, one of the most successful proponents of Catenaccio, won back to back European cups with Inter in the mid-sixties as well as four domestic titles in Spain and three in Italy.  Luis Carniglia is the only other Argentine to have won Europe’s premier prize, with consecutive victories in 1958 and 1959 managing Real Madrid, while Hector Cuper twice finished as runner up with Valencia in the late nineties.

The Albiceleste’s two world cup winning managers, Cesar Luis Menotti in 1978 and Carlos Bilardo in 1986, represent two opposing schools of thought on the national philosophy of the game.  Roughly speaking, Menotti represented a focus on style, harking back to the days of ‘La Nuestra’, whereas the pragmatic Bilardo prioritised the result and victory above all, whatever the cost.  Forged from the anti-futbol stylings of Osvaldo Zubeldia’s Estudiantes side in the 1960s, Bilardo served as a contrasting method for success compared to Menotti’s expansive game which thus created a lasting debate, one which can be just as easily be exported outside of the Argentinian national context.  For an in-depth analysis of this dichotomy, the article on Futebol Arte vs Futebol Forca on Cafefutbol comes highly recommended.

More recently, Marcelo Bielsa has made a notable impression on the modern game.  In line with Menotti’s aesthetic view of football, el Loco Bielsa has captivated audiences with his Chile and Athletic Bilbao sides, as well as influencing a number of managerial ‘disciples’, including one Pep Guardiola.  His arrival at Marseille will certainly be widely anticipated.

The stock of Argentinian managers appears to be enjoying a relatively healthy period at the moment.  As well the en vogue Simeone, there will be three Argentinians coaches – Alejandro Sabella, Jose Pekerman and Jorge Samapoli – at the World Cup, while Barcelona’s appointment of Gerardo Martino from Newell’s suggests an increasing willingness to appoint straight from South America.  What’s more, Mauricio Pochettino becoming the new manager of Spurs is a promising step in the career of another bright young manager.

Though not at the same level as the exodus of players leaving South America, there is a growing trend of top managers being exported to Europe.  This leaves the domestic game largely with ageing managers past their prime and those doing the rounds between impatient clubs looking for a quick fix.  However, it does also provide a perfect platform for young upstarts to cut their teeth in the unforgiving world of Argentinian football.  Simeone himself won titles with Estudiantes and River as well as finishing as runner up with Racing.  However, Cholo would also learn some harsh lessons too as both his league wins were followed with massive slumps and undoubtedly these served as character building experiences.

So, alongside the likes of Simeone and Pochettino, which young coaches look set to carry on the fine tradition of Argentinian managers?

One man who has already made the move across the Atlantic is Eduardo Berizzo, who will take over at Celta Vigo to replace Barcelona-bound Luis Enrique.  The 44-year-old led Chilean side O’Higgins to the first trophy in their history by winning the 2013 Apertura and previously worked as an assistant to Bielsa for the Chilean national team.  To compare him to Bielsa would be lazy but he has adopted some of his mentor’s meticulous traits and his style of play, as well as the fact he used to play for Os Celestes, should see him settle in quickly in Galicia.

Of the current crop still plying their trade in Argentina, Guillermo Barros-Schelotto stands out as one of the best managerial prospects.  With his twin brother Gustavo as assistant, Guille has thrived since taking over Lanus almost two years ago.  Though consistent title challengers in the league, it has been on the continent that has seen los Mellizos’ biggest achievement as they won the 2013 Copa Sudamericana.  A run to the quarter-finals of this year’s Libertadores has earned the 41-year-old yet more plaudits and there is constant speculation linking him to a return to Boca Juniors, the club with which he won 16 titles as a player.  One aspect to work on though is his fiery temperament and a reputation for moaning, which occasionally gets him in hot water with the officials.

After an ill-fated stint as Valencia manager, Mauricio Pellegrino has returned to Argentina for experience and is rebuilding his reputation with Estudiantes nicely.  Having worked as an assistant to Rafa Benitez at Liverpool and Inter Milan, Pellegrino found himself joining Valencia at an inopportune moment and can count himself somewhat unfortunate to suffer the wrath of president Manuel Llorente .  At Estudiantes he has steadily improved an exciting crop of youngsters and, founded on the league’s tightest defence, almost guided them to the 2014 Torneo Final.  Previously linked with the West Brom job, it won’t be long until he is back managing in Europe.

By far the youngest name on this list at 33, Luis Zubeldia already has six years of experience under his belt! After his playing career was cut short due to osteochondritis, Zubeldia took his first job in 2008 to become Lanus manager aged 27, making him the youngest manager in the history of the Argentine Primera Division.  Third and fourth place finishes looked an early indicator that he would follow in the significant footsteps of his father – the aforementioned Osvaldo Zubeldia – even if his long locks make him seem more like the offspring of Menotti.

Unable to take over at Almeria due to a Liga BBVA requirement of three years coaching experience, Zubeldia went to coach in Ecuador and impressed with Barcelona SC.  He returned to Argentina with Racing and his youthful side achieved 5th with a highest points total in the 2012 Inicial.  However, 15 months later Zubeldia was sacked rather short-sightedly and he returned to Ecuador to manage giants LDU Quito.  It hasn’t all been plain sailing but it should stand him in good stead in what is still a very exciting future.

Though best remembered in England for his Zorro mask celebration, Facundo Sava is forging a reputation as an intelligent young manager back in South America.  In his first job he saved seemingly doomed San Martin de San Juan from relegation in 2012, playing an attractive brand of football, but was then let go after a poor start to the next campaign.  Unable to repeat the feat in an underwhelming spell at Union de Santa Fe, the ex-Fulham striker will now replace Eduardo Berizzo at O’Higgins.  Joining a club not fighting for their lives, it should give 40-year-old Sava the first real opportunity to show what he can really do and his possession-based football should ensure a smooth transition into life in Rancagua.

Elsewhere, there are a number of other emerging managers also worth keeping tabs on. Matias Almeyda has already won promotion to the Primera with River and now Banfield, while Martin Palermo did well at Mendozan outfit Godoy Cruz and now has the chance to impress at Arsenal de Sarandi.  38-year-old Marcelo Gallardo won the Uruguayan title with Nacional in his debut season and has just become the new River manager after a brief managerial hiatus.  Racing have also opted for youth by appointing 41-year-old Diego Cocca fresh from winning the Nacional B with Defensa y Justicia, while Jorge Almiron has done well since taking the reins at Godoy Cruz and ex-Villarreal defender Rodolfo Arruabarrena deserves recognition for his spell at Tigre in which he masterfully saved them from relegation while simultaneously challenging for the title.

Simeone’s success in the Primera acted as a telling precursor to his future feats and his example will act as an inspiration to this new generation of young Argentinian managers taking their formative steps in management.  Don’t be surprised to see some of the names above crop up in the near future.

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