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Late Grondona's legacy bites hard in Argentina

A video in memory of the late president of the Argentine Football Association and FIFA Vice President Julio Grondona is screened during the draw for the 2015 Copa Libertadores soccer tournament at the CONMEBOL headquarters in Luque, on the outskirts of Asuncion, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno/Files
A video in memory of the late president of the Argentine Football Association and FIFA Vice President Julio Grondona is screened during the draw for the 2015 Copa Libertadores soccer tournament at the CONMEBOL headquarters in Luque, on the outskirts of Asuncion, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno/Files

By Rex Gowar

(Reuters) - "With my old man, this wouldn't have happened," Humberto Grondona said after Gerardo Martino quit as Argentina coach 10 days after captain Lionel Messi announced his retirement from international football.

The legacy of late Argentine Football Association (AFA) strongman Julio Grondona, who ran the governing body like a fiefdom, is a power vacuum, empty coffers and a lack of support for the national teams.

Martino resigned on Tuesday, fed up with the AFA, whose clubs have denied the under-23 Olympic team their players, something former under-20s coach Humberto Grondona believes could not have happened under his father, who died in 2014.

Messi complained of a lack of AFA support in the United States last month, where Martino's senior team lost a second successive Copa America final in 12 months to Chile on penalties.

"Once again waiting in a plane to get to our destination, what a disaster those at the AFA are, my God," Messi said in the last post on his Instagram account of Argentina's long flights crisscrossing the U.S. during the tournament.

"I would like the AFA to give the national team what it needs, it's a world power," he told reporters of directors more interested in shopping malls than team arrangements.

"We have to change, not just for us (seniors) but also those coming up behind," he added, referring to the junior teams, including the under-23 side due to play at the Rio Games in August.

TACTICAL ERRORS

Martino quit after being unable to start training on Monday with an Olympic squad of fewer than 10 players and was quoted as telling an AFA director he was leaving because "I've lost my appetite, if I carried on I'd be harming the national team."

This stands in contrast to this year's 30th anniversary of Argentina's second World Cup victory, with media celebrating the team coached by Carlos Bilardo and captained by Diego Maradona.

The team arrived in Mexico under a cloud after poor warm-up results and calls from the government to sack Bilardo but Julio Grondona stood his ground and backed his chosen coach.

Argentina last won a major trophy at the Copa America in 1993, apart from two Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.

Martino, who according to media reports has not been paid for more than six months, lost only three matches and won 19 of the 29 he presided over but got his tactics wrong in two finals against Chile, both 0-0 draws that Argentina lost in shootouts.

Julio Olarticoechea, a member of the 1986 World Cup-winning team who has been coaching the under-20s on an interim basis, would take over the Olympic squad, Racing Club president and AFA board member Victor Blanco told reporters.

Atletico Madrid coach and former Argentina captain Diego Simeone is the fan and media favourite to take over the senior side in qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The AFA, whose efforts at a first presidential election in 35 years ended in farce in 2015 with 76 ballots cast by 75 delegates, has come under government scrutiny over TV revenue irregularities and world body FIFA is looking at stepping in to oversee a new election.

(Additional reporting by Luis Ampuero; Editing by John O'Brien)

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