Record number of Argentine coaches at World Cup
Argentine football is mostly known for producing outstandingly skillful players like Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, but the country is a talent factory for coaches as well.
"If you want to learn about soccer, you have to travel to Argentina," Pep Guardiola said before his tactics at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City helped revolutionize the game. Guardiola's words were uttered after a meeting with two coaching greats of the South American nation, Cesar Luis Menotti and Marcelo Bielsa.
No country will supply as many coaches in next month's World Cup. Five Argentine managers will be present in Russia — Jorge Sampaoli (Argentina), Jose Pekerman (Colombia), Ricardo Gareca (Peru), Hector Cuper (Egypt) and Juan Antonio Pizzi (Saudi Arabia).
"Argentine coaches are highly valued," 1978 World Cup winner Mario Kempes told The Associated Press.
"They have a strong character and personality to do a good job," said the former Argentina striker, whose goals helped his country triumph at the World Cup eight years before Maradona led the team to glory in Mexico.
There are other qualities that make the coaches wanted around the world.
"They have very versatile profiles, allowing them to adapt to new contexts, especially uncertainty," said Gustavo Aguilera, an executive for the Argentina office of the ManpowerGroup, a provider of workforce services. "They also generate solutions in an efficient way."
Pizzi, 49, left his role as Chile coach last October after his team failed to qualify for the World Cup.
One month later he took over at Saudi Arabia from fellow Argentine, Edgardo Bauza. His "Green Falcons" squad is the lowest ranked of the 32 World Cup teams.
Pizzi, who played alongside Guardiola at Barcelona in the 1990s and later took a coaching course with him, is looking to make it to the last 16 in Russia.
"We'll be in condition to compete," Pizzi said recently. The Saudis begin their campaign against host Russia in Moscow on June 14.
The versatility of Argentine coaches may be due in part to their experience of the recent turmoil in the country, Aguilera said.
The nation's worst economic implosion 17 years ago led to one in every five Argentines being unemployed, and millions sliding into poverty.
"The coaches are used to working in radically changing contexts," Aguilera said.
They have also learned how to live with extreme pressure in Argentina, where anything but the best is often considered total failure.
Aguilera said this helps build character, making the coaches stronger than counterparts in other countries.
Cuper, 62, took over Egypt's team in 2015. The Argentine inherited a seven-time African champion that had failed to qualify for three successive Nations Cup finals.
He had previously suffered final defeats with Argentina's Huracan, Spain's Valencia and Italy's Inter Milan.
However, not only did he lead Egypt to the final at the 2017 African Cup of Nations, the team then qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, with Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah playing a key role.
Cuper's feats have ended media criticism of his tactics and turned him into a national hero. So much so that football federation officials are hoping he reverses plans to leave after the World Cup.
Pizzi and Cuper will meet in Russia as Saudi Arabia and Egypt are in Group A with Russia and Uruguay.
Argentine coaches are also known for building trust among their players.
Without any previous experience coaching a national team, Gareca led Peru to the World Cup finals for the first time in 36 years.
As a player, he was responsible for denying Peru a place at the 1986 World Cup, scoring the goal that ended its qualification hopes.
Gareca, 60, is now credited in the country for ending indiscipline in the team and restoring the elegant ball possession and short-passing style that carried Peru to the quarterfinals in 1970.
Peru is in Group C with Australia, Denmark and France.
Pekerman, 68, has led Colombia for six years. He previously steered Argentina to under-20 world titles in 1995, 1997 and 2001 and guided the senior squad to the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals before losing to Germany in a penalty shootout.
He steered Colombia to the quarterfinals four years ago, its best-ever World Cup performance, with attacking midfielder James Rodriguez scoring a tournament-leading six goals.
Pekerman, who has led the country to two consecutive World Cups, and his team will face Japan, Poland and Senegal in Group H.
Unlike the other Argentine coaches in Russia, Sampaoli was never a footballer and has not managed a first division club on home soil.
He took over at Argentina in June 2017, replacing Bauza when the team was on the brink of missing out on the World Cup.
Sampaoli, 58, developed his career in Peru and Chile. His success at Universidad de Chile helped him get a job in charge of the Chilean national team in 2012.
His team reached the last 16 four years ago before losing to host Brazil on penalties. A year later host Chile won its first major title at the Copa America.
Sampaoli's first experience in European football was with Sevilla in 2016 but he left after a short spell to take charge of Argentina. Like Bielsa, he likes his teams to attack as a group.
Argentina booked its ticket to Russia in the last round of South American qualifiers thanks to a hat trick by captain Messi against Ecuador.
Messi's side will face Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in Group D.
"(Sampaoli) is always at the maximum level," Messi said recently. "He's about working with intensity and doing it all at 100 percent."
AP Sports Writer Eric Nunez contributed to this report.