We are now well into the 2015 Copa America, and one thing that is abundantly clear is that Argentina have the same old problems that have hounded them for decades. We all think England are hard done by with some of the talent wasted over the years with no silverware – but there is a strong possibility that the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero will never win anything for their nation!
Everyone think’s the team is a different class, but as the saying goes – “All mouth, no trousers” or “All bark, no bite” – and that epitomises their efforts since their last major trophy, the Copa America – in 1993. I’ve looked back over their squads at the past four World Cups and seen a recurring theme – massive promise, little delivery. Let’s just call them the Royal Mail…
Look at Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Italy…all have had a keeper that has lasted years. Brazil have had Dida and Julio Cesar, England have had David Seaman and recently Joe Hart. Spain – Casillas, Germany – Neuer. Italy – Gigi Buffon. A team starts from the number one position, and he is key to a good defence. Looking through Argentina’s keepers since the 1998 World Cup – they have had the following:
Sergio Romero, Mario Andujar, Robert Abbondanzieri, Leo Franco, German Burgos, Roberto Bonano, Carlos Roa, Pozo, Ustari, Cavallero…the list is endless! They have never had a solid number 1, and have kept chopping and changing. Most of those play/played at mid-table clubs, or back in Argentina. Romero has had the longest shot at it, with 62 caps, but spread over about 6 years. I’ll be honest, there are probably a couple I didn’t mention as their stay in the squad was shorter than England’s greatest ever penalty shootout wins’ compilation video.
For a while, they had a cracking defence. Led by Roberto Ayala, and partnered by Walter Samuel. Then you had the likes of Heinze, Placente, Zanetti on the flanks. Always a good back four…but somehow let down by the midfield, but we will get to that. Now, you have a pairing of Otamendi and Garay – both decent players but not in the ilk of Ayala or Samuel.
On the LB/RB, you have a mix of central defenders. Hugo Campagnaro fills in/replaced Zabaleta, who never quite looked comfortable for them, while at left back you have Man Utd’s Marcos Rojo, who is neither a left back or centre back, more a fusion of the two. After that, a mix of kids like Casco. Backing up the centre halfs are Martin Demichellis and Federico Fernandez (dear lord…) both of whom are poor at best, and so slow! This, mixed with the keeper situation means since Ayala retired there has never been any real quality in the back 5, with it being chopped and changed every 5 minutes.
Here lies yet another issue. They have always had the cream of European players, and a few from back home in Argentina that never quite made it to Europe, for very long. Past and present there is a list as long as my arm of players that looked the part at club level but it never transferred to the international stage. Here’s my list of utter-let downs and under-performers over the years:
Current: Ezequiel Lavezzi (37 caps, 4 goals), Javier Pastore (18 caps, 2 goals), Angel Di Maria (63 caps, 13 goals)
Past: Maxi Rodriguez (57 caps, 16 goals), Pablo Aimar (52 caps, 8 goals), Ariel Ortega (87 caps, 16 goals), Juan Riquelme (51 caps, 17 goals), Kily Gonzalez (56 caps, 9 goals), Juan Sebastian Veron (73 caps, 9 goals), Marcelo Gallardo (44 caps, 13 goals)
These are players that were so well known to perform at club level for some of the best in the World! The 3 current players have moved about for a combined £120m, two of them at PSG – but still never quite look the part for the national team. Di Maria has all the skills in the book, but never quite does it for Argentina. Ortega, Aimar and Riquelme were class in club football – all played in Europe for a period varying from a couple of years to over 10 in Aimar’s case. Kily Gonzalez is a football manager hero, but another who failed to cut the mustard internationally.
The big current issue is wingers. Lavezzi isn’t brilliant, Di Maria is more an attacking midfielder now. You have the likes of Piatti, Salvio and Gaitan in the wings and starting to get on that could do a job – all having been capped but all played under 10 games. Salvio has had 5 caps since 2009! Gaitan has played 9 times, scoring twice and Piatti has the solitary cap or two. Two are at Benfica, and I’m astounded none have been given the chance to rescue them!
Their current crop of central midfielders is poor. With Cambiasso gone, they are left picking the likes of Biglia, Fernando Gago and Roberto Pereyra, as well as Ever Banega and a few others. All decent players, but good enog
This is where Argentina are top heavy. Aguero, Messi, Tevez, Icardi, Higuain and then the likes of Vietto and Dybala to come through very soon! They can’t fit them all in, so end up playing Aguero as a wide-man, and give the rest varying degree’s of time as a substitute. Tata Martino has a hell of a choice on his hands, often impossible to choose!
Looking at the history books, they have always had good strikers. Gabriel Batistuta (78 caps, 56 goals) is their record holder, while Hernan Crespo (64 caps/35 goals) was their Shearer type striker, who retired earlier to focus on club commitments at the start of his 30’s. Messi currently has 46 goals in 100 games, and is likely to break the record being just 26 still.
Fear Factor Fading?
Part of the problem is teams genuinely fear getting a battering – so set out for a draw and defend for their lives. This makes it hard for Argentina to start with, but with their array of talent breaking down average teams should be no problem. However – look at this tournament so far, 1-0 wins vs Uruguay and Jamaica and a 2-2 draw with Paraguay from a 2-0 leading position. Teams are starting to attack them more, as they know they are susceptable at the back and are not as good as first thought. They may have got to the final last year against Germany, but never really hit any form of high gear. They ambled through, just about nudging teams out the way. They create plenty, but finish nothing. They could have won the World Cup, but missed vital chances.
I saw an image, depicting the state of the Argentine national side. It was a car, with the front end being a Lamborghini, but the back end being a clapped out VW Beetle. Sums them up perfectly. Strong up front, knackered at the back. Like a German Shepherd, they may look frightening, and sound scary – but walk up to them and you find they are the opposite. Tame, friendly and unlikely to bite you. You see it in their play – with the left and right back so un-used to overlapping, their play is static and unimaginative. They are far too reliant on Messi and Di Maria to produce the goods, and when a nation is reliant on one player, the pressure can be too great. Messi is a great individual – but look at Barca’s team – Suarez, Neymar, Iniesta, Rakitic, Sergio etc – it’s a team game, and no man can beat 11 players on his own.
All mouth, no trousers. Could this Argentine team, with the World’s best player – possibly win nothing? Unthinkable, but on the contrary looking more and more likely with each passing day.