Ricardo Gareca: Argentina's Anti-Coach
By Juan Arango
When you see Ricardo Gareca on the sideline there is a sense of tranquility that is a far cry from the persona of his playing days. His fiery attitude came along with a goalscoring instinct that was one of the most lethal in South American during his prime.
This coming season the talking points of Argentine football will be who's on the bench instead of who's on the pitch and the one name that will be at the forefront is Ricardo Gareca.
Names like Carlos Bianchi (who replaced Gareca's former teammate at América in Colombia, Julio César Falcioni), Ramón Díaz and Américo Gallego are going to share the spotlight with former Pichichi winner Juan Antonio Pizzi and the recently retired legends Martín Palermo and Guillermo Barros Schelotto this coming Torneo Inicial.
"El Flaco" (The Skinny One) Gareca knows that despite him winning his third league title, he will have to live with that reality. Although he has one thing to his advantage.
Bianchi, Díaz and Gallego were successful with squads that had successful names from Europe. Names like Juan Roman Riquelme, Walter Samuel, Pablo Aimar, Juan Pablo Ángel, Javier Saviola, Marcelo Salas and Carlos Tevez tend to jog memories of players that had success in Europe. Those days though are long gone. The talent pool in Argentine football has eroded significantly in that past decade and the level of play has become borderline unwatchable on a weekly basis.
The return of the aforementioned coaches will be talked about more than the level of consistency of Gareca's Vélez Sarsfield. They'll be given a pat on the back by the Argentine press and then be sent on their way. Talk about respect for the champs!
Gareca's numbers are nothing to thumb your nose at. He's not mentioned despite winning three titles in the past six semesters. What is more intriguing is that Vélez also have a second place finish as well as two third place finishes.
Since his arrival, Vélez have a 62.3% winning percentage and have done so with a turnstile of players in primary and supporting roles. Vélez played in the semifinal of the Copa Libertadores for the first time in 17 years as well as the semis of the Copa Sudamericana. All of this achieved in spite of the barren desert that is Argentine football nowadays.
“The goalscorer is that player that finds the ball in the area and when they can't find it, the ball finds him. That's the essence. The most important things are intuition, location and obsession to score a goal.”- Ricardo Gareca
Gareca is rarely talked about during this summer pre-season. His team always avoids the headlines and the nucleus of his squad is rather even-keeled. Even the quiet yet, paparazzi-surrounded Fabián Cubero who tends to be in the news more because of his wife, vedette, Nicole Neumann, than for his consistent play that earned him a spot at the top of Vélez' all-time leaders in matches played. Cubero and former Argentine international Emiliano Pappa are fundamental in the implementation of Gareca's 4-3-1-2 as the style puts a great deal of focus on the outside backs' mobility and capability to be a wide option on attack and neutralize opponents on defense.
Players such as Iván Bella, Federico Insúa and league co-leading goalscorer Facundo Ferreyra, who suffered relegation with Banfield the previous semester, were the sparkplugs in the forward lines for Gareca. The arrival of Lucas Pratto made the partnership with Ferreyra one of the most effective in all of Argentine football.
“He's polite, centered, a good teammate, appreciated by everyone. That's why I am not surprised for his way of being, his anti-coach image; the antithesis of the Argentine coach. Without histrionics. Without excuses."
- Former Argentine international Roberto Perfumo
The club has remained faithful to the philosophy that Gareca instilled since day one and they have become the standard when it comes to playing style in Argentina. They are considered the flag bearers in the country in terms of playing style, yet they are consistently overshadowed by bigger teams. Even their last title was overshadowed by Matías Almeyda coaching his last match at River Plate and Boca Juniors clinching a Copa Lib spot.
Players have come in and have assumed positions and they have all seemed to respond.
Gareca's current situation is the fruit of patience; the antithesis of what is going on in Argentine football. Many point at the short tournament format being the cause of this administrative hysteria and coaching instability.
"(Coaching) gives you lots of satisfactions but many heartbreaks as well," said Gareca in an interview with El Gráfico after he won the first of his three titles. "You have to learn to live with that. I don't have immunity here at Vélez. I won the league title and I am not sure if I will stay until the end of the year."
Vélez are aware that Gareca's vision and style have become ingrained in the squad. Plenty of credit must also go to people that have supported him - club president Miguel Calello and manager Cristián Bassedas who have backed him blindly throughout.
This obscurity isn't anything new to Gareca who is becoming used to not being mentioned in upper echelon of Argentine football despite his illustrious career as a goalscorer. Rarely mentioned is his goal against Australia that helped clinch a spot in the 1986 World Cup. He would then be left off the squad that played in Mexico. Without his contribution, who knows if Maradona would have conjured up the magic he did.
So does he deserve to be in the conversation? Of course. Does he care? I doubt it. All he cares about is winning. The club brass agreed; that is why the Liniers re-signing El Flaco for another year was the best acquisition of the summer in that neighborhood.
Juan Arango is a writer and play-by-play announcer based out of Miami Beach, Fla. He is also the co-host of the Mad About Fútbol Show. You can follow him on Twitter (@JuanG_Arango)