COS contributor Jamie Clarke on whether a legend on the field can make lead his nation to success from the touchline.
“I pray. Hopefully, it will be my World Cup, Argentina’s World Cup and that we hit the ground running and play up to peoples’ expectations and win the World Cup,” Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi today announced that Brazil, England and Spain are the opponents he fears most in the World Cup. Behind the guarded anticipation of this admission lies a confidence, however, that Argentina will compete with anyone else. The Argentineans are a dominant nation on the football field and for the people of Argentina the combination of Mythadona and the messiah Messi means that this world cup could well be paraded through the streets of Buenos Aires. Of course there are many variables, anomalies and tactical errors that make this destiny a difficult task, however I, like a growing number of people, believe this could be Argentina’s World Cup.
To win the world cup Maradona has to bring consistency to the side following an ambiguous qualifying campaign in which qualification was only secured in the final 1/9th of the group. Having taken over mid-qualifications, Maradona gained twelve points from eight games as Argentina carved an unflattering path to South Africa. Positives were the initial 4-0 victory over Venezuela and a 1-0 final game win against Uruguay. Unfortunately the glimpses of Maradona’s Argentina performing successfully were overshadowed by a 6-1 defeat in high-altitude Bolivia. There was also more than a stroke of theatre in the run-up, epitomised by Martin Palermo’s (Yes, he was excellent on champ man) late winner against Peru. The moment, if any, that sparked qualification.
Another obstacle that Argentina needs to confront is the relative inexperience of their leader Maradona. His early 90s managerial stints are safely nestled in football obscurity. In response to this, Maradona explains:
“They talk about my inexperience but I’ve spent 20-odd years in the Argentina team […] That’s why it makes me laugh when people talk about inexperience.” Diego Maradona
Maradona is misguided in answering such a question, if his logic applied than most fans could happily boast the right to take charge of their national team. Admittedly, he has closer experience than most, however his limited tactical awareness will be his biggest problem. But this can be overcome, indeed an assured victory against Canada with what is rumored to be close to his starting XI implies this. Canada are by no means an outstanding test, but the comprehensive nature of the victory, combined with the recent losses against Bolivia and Chile justify a mild amount of excitement about the result. Maradona has stated that he doesn’t “want [Messi] stationed on the [right touch] line,” because “All the balls have to pass through him.” He has also acknowledged that he will “defend with four centre-backs but I’m also going to have full-backs available in case we need to improve coming out of defence.” The starting XI, then, will presumably look close to this:
Otamendi —- Samuel —- Demichelis —- Heinze
M. Rodríguez/JG —- Mascherano (c) —- Di María
Higuaín — Tevez
The four defenders are all capable of playing in the centre half role and the tactic suggests upon a distinct divide between the defensive and attacking components. Mascherano will excel in a supporting role for the defence, leaving Rodriguez, Di Maria, Tevez and Higuain to pass the balls through Messi. Excepting Rodriguez possibly, Messi cannot complain about the players feeding him. The bench then boasts Diego Milito, who I would advocate to start in the first eleven were it not for the style of play Maradona is aiming for. Milito has excelled as part of a Mourinho team well drilled with no permutation left uncovered. Argentina and Inter differ in this respect. In Maradona’s team Higuain and Tevez are most suited to leading the line with bags of flair, however Maradona’s son-in-law Aguero and Inter striker Milito could indeed play important roles should a star be injured or suspended. The omissions of Cambiasso, Zanetti and Gago have many football brains perplexed, but who can argue with the inclusion of Colon’s defender Garce after Maradona dreamt of his side winning the world cup with Garce’s face being the only he could remember awake. The 23 man squad is talented enough to win the world cup, they just need the momentum.
World Cup route
Argentina will probably lose or draw their opening game against Nigeria. In many ways, I think it could be to their advantage. With a team being seriously doubted, Maradona’s charisma will shine through. Those days in the training camp will be crucial. He appears to have won support from the players, Messi revealing he is happy with Maradona despite that fact he had been imposing. Maradona will have to inspire his squad if they lose a group stage game, but he is probably a God to a fair amount of that squad. Two wins in their final group games against Korea and Greece, similar to the two wins which guided Maradona to the finals, would then ensure progression and give a flowing Argentina side momentum. South Africa, France, Mexico or Uruguay are the opponents in the last sixteen, all teams which Argentina can beat on the day. Even France, the toughest opposition, represents an easier prospect than lining up against Brazil, Spain or England. Argentina could then be lucky and hit the USA in the quarter finals. Imagine Maradona’s warriors taking on the USA, a game sure to bring about a host of memorable quotations as Maradona has aligned himself to Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez in the past. More likely, however, are Germany or England. Beyond them you choose: Italy, Spain, Brazil, Holland.
By the later stages, however, the belief will have reached fever pitch. Maradona will be on the verge of winning another world cup for Argentina and becoming the greatest football icon in history. Argentina will believe. Twenty four years since Maradona single handedly (no pun intended) won the world cup Messi could be clutching the trophy whilst Maradona flings his arms around Garce and frantically tells anyone who will listen (most of the world) that he is the true footballing prophet. Maradona is already a myth in Argentina, he is renowned across the globe. He’s a genius, a brute, a criminal, an eccentric. If he lifts the World Cup trophy in Africa, he will be Argentina’s greatest son. He will be globally immortal and mythical. These are the things Capello, Lippi and Domenech cannot achieve at the World Cup and that is why Argentina could go all the way….