email at

Thursday, February 17, 2005

World Cup Fever- Part 2 (A look back at 2002)

I need to push ahead with my thoughts on what happened to Argentina during the 2002 World Cup; there are other things I want to get to.

On Part 1 of World Cup Fever I mentioned Bielsa failed to notice or react to Veron’s dropoff in form. The same error in reverse was perhaps more costly. Bielsa failed to notice two players whose form had improved greatly the year preceding the World Cup who would have been key additions to the squad. In the case of Pablo Aimar of spanish club Valenica, Aimar's popularity with argentines owing to his days at River Plate forced Bielsa's hand. Aimar was reluctantly included on the World Cup squad. When things against England were not going well or as we say in Argentina "cuando las papas estaban en el fuego" (when the potatoes were on the fire) in the second half and Veron was in the midst of his dramatic collapse before 1 billion people the coach then turned to Aimar for some creative spark in midfield. Aimar of course is a more offensive midfielder; more of a 10 whereas Veron is almost a cross between a 10 and a 5 (actually he may just be a 5 but Bielsa had him playing as a 10). In any case, Aimar destabilized but was unable to tie up the game. In the following crucial tie against Sweden Aimar started and again played very well but things just did not break for this point, after the England fiasco, the squad was in a near mutiny...Aimar should have started all three initial round games and should have come into the World Cup as an integral part of the starting squad.. his form in Spain led his club Valencia to challenge for or even win (I forget) the La Liga Spanish league title (if they did not win that year they won the title immediately following the world cup) and challenge for some European cup or even win it (was it the Champions? UEFA? I forget)….. You CANNOT fail to use players like Aimar who bring creativity to the pitch.. creativity to a squad starved for it.. a team that had been having problems scoring…More on this later but stylewise Aimar is the classic Argentine player..and for most argentines he was the only player that really played well in 2002... even in the anguish of 2002 i marched to my local sports store on the avenida santa fe and purchased his jersey..

But I had mentioned two players.. the other was Solari another midfielder from Real Madrid who had began to display great form with Real particularly in the highest form of European club play: the Champions league…. Although not always a starter Solari had been coming off the bench at times and integrating perfectly with Zidane and other monsters playing at the time for Real (Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul, etc). If Solari could play so well at such a high level of club play there is no doubt in my mind that he was a natural to make the squad… and perhaps he could have replaced one of the players that Bielsa refused to consider removing even as their form dipped for Veron was not the only one who did not perform during the 2002 World Cup.. Kily Gonzalez, another midfielder comes to mind and to my mind Solari should have taken his spot.. Even Simeone, my favorite all time player, had seen his form dip and Solari would have been a better choice... coaches have to make tough choices but bielsa always made the easy choice..

Coach Bielsa failed to react to changes in the form of key players preferring to go with the players that had been with him since the beginning of his cycle(the "historicos")..this was a mistake…in some cases it led him to take “older” players more prone to injury such as Sensini (or Simeone) who did not make it past the first game….or Chamot who had already failed Argentina (my personal scapegoat for the losses in the 1994 [watch the romania game and TELL ME just TELL ME he was not responsible for at least 2 of romania's goals] and 1998 World Cups [Owen schooled him during England-Argentina II, Holland second goal he leaves Ayala to singlehandedly confront Bergkamp]- he is that horrible defender who goes up to attack and then when the counterattack comes is to be found with his back to the opponents goal far from the ball- no solidarity)… Then to make matters worse he succumbed to pressure from Argentines to take Caniggia along merely because Caniggia had scored a few goals in the forsaken Scottish league.. Caniggia was past his prime and worse yet prone to injury...(think about it: cani and bati had helped argentina win the 1991 Copa America...this was 11 years later and the two same strikers are on the squad?!)`Cani ended up being injured of course during the cup and only was able to play in the third game were once again displaying his "maturity" he promptly got himself red carded....a waste of a spot on the squad..

When you add the miscues of taking Chamot, Sensini, Caniggia, Kily Gonzalez and not giving a proper role to Crespo, Aimar, and Solari (and I would add Gallardo who watched the cup from the bench but should have been preferred over Ortega) you begin to see something very wrong going on..river plate fans might be tempted to conclude bielsa had it in for their squad as all four of these players had come through river..

However, the problem with the squad was not just one of players.. Bielsa committed the gravest error that a national coach can commit… he had argentina play like a European club instead of having it play like Argentina…. national teams have an identity that comes from the country itself… the English play like English with their long balls and speed.. Brazilians by and by like Brazilians, the Germans are always the Germans..never quitting.. always storming back with sheer will....the italians are the stingiest team around and rely on a lone single quick witted play to put them over the top.....and have been for decades.. the french have style and sophistication..from Tigana/Platini to Zidane/Henry.. and on and on and on….as coach you have to be true to your country’s style… if you commit the ultimate treason of forcing your team to play with someone else’s style don’t be surprised if when meeting other teams whose national identity is that very style they beat you…
to be continued….

No comments:

Blog Archive