Written by Ash Jagtiani (@JAshP96):
The Argentinean national team is in dire straits. On and off the pitch, the problems don’t seem to stop pouring in for the governing body of football in the country, the Argentine Football Association. Recently, news broke that Lionel Messi had to step in and pay up the security guards of the AFA. The security group of the national team turned to Messi for help before Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Brazil in Belo Horizonte. This is just one of many problems currently affecting the AFA and Argentine football as whole. The corruption that has been going on for years together is now taking its toll and the AFA is currently being overlooked by a FIFA external committee.
All of the problems with the AFA and the football setup in Argentina right now is hurting young talents and the academies in the country. The quality and amount of young Argentinian players coming through is pale in comparison to those coming through in Brazil and Colombia. This has left the national team coach Edgardo Bauza with limited options, particularly in defense, resulting in him calling up 36-year-old Martin Demichelis for the recent qualifiers. Bauza himself has come under a lot of scrutiny, with sections of the Argentine media calling for him to be sacked after the humiliating defeat to Brazil. On the pitch, Argentina seem to play with no soul or desire. They don’t seem to have a tactical plan or strategy and rely on individual talent to get them the points. They have been over reliant on Messi in these qualifiers; they’ve won 4 out of the 5 he has played and just 1 out of the 7 in which he hasn’t featured. Even on the pitch it seems pretty clear that the players only turn up if Messi does, otherwise they seem lost and bewildered. Whether this is down to the manager or the players themselves is something we’ll have to wait and see.
What is pretty clear however is that external politics has affected the team greatly. Bauza has been criticized for adopting a “Messi and Friends” policy, basically allowing Messi to choose the players he wants to play with. While this may not be true, it is rather baffling that Bauza hasn’t yet called up the likes of Mauro Icardi, Manuel Lanzini and Leandro Paredes, young players who have been playing quite well with their clubs. This is in direct contrast with Tite at Brazil. He seems to be willing to give young Brazilian talents a chance in these qualifiers, evident with the inclusion of the likes of Weverton, Gabriel Jesus and Rodrigo Caio, all of whom won Gold with Brazil at the Olympics. And it has worked for him. Brazil are now top of the qualification table and have been playing refined, quality football. Argentina meanwhile are in 5th and hang on to that spot by a just point now.
The AFA is bankrupt. Previous coach Tata Martino hadn’t been paid for 7 months prior to his resignation. There were serious doubts previously over the functioning of the Primera Division, the top level of club football in the country. It’s clear that problems in Argentine football run deeper than just the association. There are structural and political problems. The stagnant economy of the country has taken its toll too. There is this looming sense of disappointment of the potential this ageing golden generation promised. The team’s morale is lower than ever following three consecutive defeats in major finals. While Argentina may still make it to the World Cup in 2018, there is no doubt some serious and deep lying flaws in the structure of football in the country and the association handling it. A brilliant 3-0 win at home against Colombia may bring some hope in the minds of Argentinians, but in my opinion, their expectations for 2018 should be minimal and realistic at best. Their time may have passed.