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The Five Fantasticos Demise And Argentine Football's Malaise

By Juan Arango



Argentina's midfielder Juan Ignacio Cavallaro reacts after his goal was disallowed by Uruguay's referee Daniel Fedorczuk during their Group A South American U-20 qualifier football match against Bolivia at Malvinas Argentinas stadium in Mendoza, Argentina, on January 13, 2013
Argentina's midfielder Juan Ignacio Cavallaro reacts after his goal was disallowed by Uruguay's referee Daniel Fedorczuk during their Group A South American U-20 qualifier football match against Bolivia at Malvinas Argentinas stadium in Mendoza, Argentina, on January 13, 2013

In 2005, Argentina finished in third place in the South American U-20 Championships.  Later that year, they would win a title in Holland when a 17-year-old Lionel Messi would virtually carry them to yet another world title in 2007 and they would then repeat two years later under the leadership of Sergio Agüero in Canada.  

Their success was created, of course by the 1979 team that started this incredible run with Diego Maradona and Ramón Díaz leading that charge.

Since 1986, there have been some brilliant U-20 sides to emerge from the South American nation, yet that has not translated into senior side success. How can we forget the 1995 squad that triumphed in Qatar with Juan Román Riquelme, Esteban Cambiasso, Fabián Cubero, Walter Samuel and Pablo Aimar.  What  about the 2001 side that was led by Javier Saviola, Andrés D'Alessandro and Maxi Rodríguez?  Yeah, those were the good old days.

All those names that have been successful at the international level with titles won at the youth level have not translated into trophies with the national team. At the senior level it is 20 years since they last won an international title - the 1993 Copa América. World Cups have come and World Cups have gone and the national team has continuely disappointed. As of late, the youth side has also been infected with that virus.

Albiceleste Miseries

In the 2011 U20 World Cup, the team's performance under Walter Perazzo was a complete disillusion as they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual finalists Portugal.  That squad, despite cruising out of the group stage was considered by many to be the worst youth side Argentina have ever fielded.  Those were harsh words considering that Argentina failed to qualify for the 2009 edition that was held in Egypt.  That was the first time since 1993 that the Argentines had failed to qualify.  Add that to the U23 side failing to qualify for the Olympics and defend their back-to-back gold medals. There is a crisis that can no longer be denied.

This 2013 version had a promising future with several experienced campaigners from the domestic league as well as a few players, such as Lamela and Sapmdoria's Mauro Icardi that were not on the squad but with an eye on summertime however that is a huge if.  

Manuel Lanzini, Luciano Vietto, Lucas Melano, Adrían Centurión and Manuel Lanzini had the burden of a nation, a host nation, on their shoulders.  Trobbiani's biggest sin is that he left Boca wunderkind Leandro Paredes off his list because he needed more continuity and not just "play well for only ten minutes" as he stated in an interview with Fox Deportes back in December.  The problem is that the weight on their collective shoulders is a heavy burden. The lack of organization and desperation against Chile in the first match was glaring, their second match against Paraguay left them completely exposed.  “I have a very good team. I have no excuses.  Recover the ball as soon as possible in order to attack. I have a team with talent" said Trobbiani after the match.

Chile played the final 20 minutes down two men and Argentina were not able to get a single shot on goal in that stretch.  To make matters worse, Chile had scoring chances they couldn't capitalize on that would've killed off the match.  Paraguay in the meantime exposed even further the suspect Argentina backline as they sliced passes in between their the defenders as their forwards ran past,  around and through them.

The midfield was underwhelming in their recovery roles and they failed give any continuity in their attack.  The ball was being moved with either a long ball from the defenders, skipping lines while option number two involved one of the players up top attempting to dribble the ball through everyone and win the game.   

If many thought that things were bad under previous coach Walter Perazzo, Marcelo Trobbiani has seen things sink even further.  The former World Cup winner has thus far failed to duplicate his successful playing career into coaching. His team has failed to show any collectivity up to now and the squad is mired in one of its worst slumps for a national team.  It, of course, gets exacerbated when they just happen to be the host nation looking to qualify for the World Cup.  

The Origins

There are many directions in which one can point fingers in an effort to blame.  AFA's lack of organization and archaic leadership shunned player development as these youngsters are being shuttled off before  they even have a chance to even play a first division match with their domestic clubs.  But it's not because of their developed talent, quite the opposite.  The clubs are in an unsustainable situation that they can no longer sell the talent on their first teams in order to make a profit or break even from a budget standpoint.  Many of them are sold and the whatever profit is shared between club, club directors, agents, investors and even barrabravas. These youngsters are a business and they are sent off to top leagues or remote localtions depending on where the highest bidder is located.  

This "armageddonic" scenario in Argentine football was long in coming.  When the Saviolas, Aimars, Riquelmes and Tevez were being sold to Europe there were many critiics of this situation. Pekerman and even Boca youth coach Carlos Griffa, were talking about how football in the country had to be reformed.  At that stage, well over a decade ago, they were talking about the game eroding in the domestic league.  Fast forward to this past Torneo Inicial and you can see clubs that are in dire economic situations. This has only been worsened despite the subsidies they've received from the government through of Fútbol Para Todos.  

All these factors have led to players not being developed properly and thus rushed either to the first team or to another club as quick as possible.  Yes, there are some players with great talent coming out of Argentina but the major issue is that they are few and far between.

If we look at short term, there are issues as to Trobbiani's leadership his overall analysis of their performance.  The major adjustment that were made by Trobbiani prior to the match against Bolivia was to change benches and dressing room.  That alone shows how they lacked insight into finding where the problems lay in their performance. Trobbiani himself denied that Argentina deserved to lose, but admitted his team did not play well.  In a way there is truth to what he said as shots that hit the post and a clumsy challenge by Lautaro Gianetti against Bolivia might have changed their current situation. 

The players lost their shape in the Chile match and decided to attack with desperation leaving themselves exposed while Trobbiani just watched.  Yes, he took all the blame for this team's shortcomings. Yes, he said that the buck stopped with him.  The issue here is that the majority of these U-20 players are not amateurs.  Most of these players are first team players and starters in the first division and abroad.  These players have been training with first division squads and playing in front of packed stadiums. So they do deserve a large portion of the blame however at the end of the day they are still young and need guidance, yet everywhere they look it's not found.  The evils of greed and avarice in Argentine football have finally trickled down to their grassroots and it is at a crossroads presently. 

Probabilities?

Do they have any chance to qualify?  They still have one match left against Colombia, but all they can do is sit and wait.  They have a bye in the next round of matches and wins for both Colombia and Paraguay would eliminate the Albiceleste.  In other words, those results would see Argentina step out in front of their own fans already eliminated against Colombia.  

Regardless of what happens, the final straw has arrived.  Trobbiani will most likely be sacked. AFA Director of National Teams (and son of Julio Grondona) Humberto has already made statements insinuating Trobbiani's eventual sacking. What Humbetito does not mention is that the problem is much deeper than he will want to delve into if his intention is to rectify it.  For him and a select few the spoils are theirs and only theirs.  That was what caused the downfall.