The Writing Was Already On The Wall
While the world wakes in horror towards Argentina’s shambolic performance against Croatia, those who have been following the team long enough will know that there is nothing shocking about this. Ever since Lionel Messi came down from the VIP box with his tournament best player award in 2014, Argentine football has been experiencing a slow and steady yet painful decline.
Though this downfall was only beginning to look visible in the last few years, its roots can be traced back to decade ago. So which begs the million dollar question; how did a country that has produce so many great talent have fallen behind in today's football.
I've decided to list down a few reasons I can think off and try to elaborate them for everyone's understanding.
Corruption & Inefficient management in the AFA
A lot of the problem that exist today in Argentine football can be traced to this cause. For more than 30 years under the presidency of Julio Grondona, the AFA have become the focal point of all that is wrong with football in Argentina. Football club president who are in favour of him, will tend to get a bigger cut of the cake and even avoiding any possible relegation. As a consequence, the football league was altered on numerous times to protect the bigger clubs by introducing a weird relegation system. That is since the refereeing decision on the field wasn't in any way helpful. Not forgetting the many financial scandal that has embroiled Argentine football under his leadership. Sebastian Garcia, a journalist and friend of mine from Buenos Aires wrote about this subject back in 2009. I would encouraged everyone to have read on this just so you understand the sickening state that football in Argentina has undergone.
Decline of talent coming from the domestic league
Ever since Jose Pekerman step down as manager of Argentina, gone with him was the youth development system that was once the envy of world football. The Under 20, once the darling of youth football have suffered tremendously since winning the World Cup in 2007. Not only they haven't won the tournament ever since but have also missed out a couple of edition.
With the collapse of the youth system, what can you expect what the end product could turn out to look like. Don't expect anything that is sweet as a caramel pudding. While so much has been said about the likes of Kranevitter, Mammana, Cirigliano, Ocampos, Joaquin Correa, Ricky Centurion and many more, none seems to have the aptitude and virtuoso that football today requires.
There are many arguments about why Messi doesn't emulate what he does for Barcelona as he does for Argentina. My take on this is simple, none of the talent that Argentina produce these day are on the same level of Messi's teammates at Barca.
Pekermen exit from Argentina pretty much coincide with Messi's arrival on the world scene. Since then football in Europe has undergone a significant change thanks to Pep Guardiola and Barcelona. While the rest of the world have pretty much pick up on this, things in Argentina has remained stagnant.
The Death of Midfielders
The one thing I constantly hear is Mauro Icardi absence from the squad. On any given day, Icardi is just the kind of striker that would walk into any of the 32 nation's World Cup squad. Much has been said about his personality but I can assure he isn't the problem neither is the solution. Even a striker of his quality would struggle in this Argentina’s side. Simply because he doesn't have a Ivan Perišić to create those chances for him.
In the past, Argentina were renowned for producing quality midfielders such as Redondo, Riquelme, Houseman, Veron, Ardiles, Ferreira, Simeone, Batista, Rattin and countless others. Its fair to say, that Argentina had a system that was able to produce such quality players.
Believe it or not, when Olive Bierhoff took over as one of the task force for German football, he flew to Argentina to conduct a study on the system. Of course, they didn't necessarily copied the whole thing rather than improvised the system to give it a 21st century feel.
In my view, the existing system in Argentina has remained stagnant for far too long since Pekerman's exit. More obvious reason why Argentine football don't have the prerequisite tool to give Messi or Icardi the kind of support they deserve.
Icardi, and Messi are example of players that has benefited a lot from the school of European football after leaving Argentina at such a young age. I doubt they would be the player they are today had they stayed in Argentina.
No stability in the coaching set up (Sampaoli not to be blamed for everything)
Since 2006, Germany only had one man in charge and that was Joachim Low. Argentina had half dozen different coach before Sampaoli arrived. The lack of stability in the coaching set up is major concern to ensure the team plays according to a certain identity.
Marcelo Bielsa once said that Sampaoli wasn't his disciple because he was better than him. That's not understatement. He inherited a Chilean side that was already well oiled and engineered by Bielsa. So there was no need for a major overhaul instead he just needs to close the gaps on where the team lacking before him. That's the reason why Sampaoli manage to take Chile one step further than Bielsa which is delivering them their first international title, 2005 Copa America.
Argentina, except during the tenure of Alejandro Sabella, never had a certain identity of game plan to begin with. On top of that, this group of Argentine player didn't have the IQ that was required to adapt to his Bielsista philosophy.
Imagine opening a Chinese restaurant in the middle of Reykjavik and asking a group of Icelandic man whom were never well informed to prepare a meal for you? You get the picture.
Squad selection debacle
This is the one part which I could never understand with every Argentine managers that come and go. As mentioned, there was a brief stability under Sabella's reign. Thus it was understood that the likes of Carlos Tevez or Javier Pastore were never part of the plan. But Sabella choose to ignore a rising Mauro Icardi and was in favour of having Rodrigo Palacio instead.
But imagine Maradona ignoring the likes of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso at the prime of their career with Inter? Or Tata Martino failing to call the likes of Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi when he could have done so? These are just tips of the iceberg.
It makes me wonder whether Argentina’s is its own worst enemy.
Both Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino are among the world's best managers. They work they have done with Atletico and Tottenham is highly admirable. It is a shame that neither are involved with Argentina at the moment.
While both were approach for the top job in the past, but respectively found a way decline in good faith. For me its understandable. Why would they risk everything of working in an organization as incompetent and corrupted like the AFA? There is just a lot to loose if anything goes wrong.
There is another glaring factor that bothers on whether if both are good fit to manage Argentina. The success they have build at their club has little to nothing to do with Argentine footballers.
Under Simeone, only Angel Correa has established firmly while the likes of Kranevitter, Ansaldi, Vietto and many other have all failed. A video of Vietto caught running out of breath much to the Simeone's laughter, says everything about the current fitness demanding that Argentine footballers can't seems to cope.
At Spurs, Erik Lamela is relatively a bench player. To be fair with him, a hip injury which kept him out for almost a year had curtailed the progress he initially had under Pochettino. Still on his best, he is no Son Heung-min or Christian Eriksen.
Of course in the middle of all this turmoil, there is always an equal opportunity to make things right. But it can't be something that can fixed overnight. Argentina does need its own “Das Reboot”. They should in my opinion take note from Germany in the same way how the Germans took note from them.
When comes to passion for football, there isn't that many country out there that can match up to Argentina. Thus with a population of 40 million people, finding kids with natural born talent isn't going to be an issue. Its just nurturing and developing in the right way that it required to play football in the 21st century.
Obviously in the won't be a smooth ride in the near future. But with patience and a lot good work put into place, I have no doubt Argentina could wake up from this dark chapter. Then again, things in Argentina doesn't necessarily have the same approach as they do in Europe. Only time will tell.