Sergio Batista : Culprit or Scapegoat ?
Finally the honeymoon for 1986 World Cup winner Sergio Batista as the La Albiceleste manager has ended just 9 months after he was handed over the baton from his ex-team mate, Diego Maradona. At the time when Batista was appointed the coach of the Argentina national squad, he had two targets in mind: first to win the Copa America 2011 and second to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Having failed miserably in the quest for the record 15th Copa America, he had to end his stint as the national manager after having managed only 8 wins from 17 matches. So let us analyze where and how did it wrong for the Argentine? Was it the right decision for Batista to step down?
The Batista Era: Where did it go wrong?
When he started out, Batista enjoyed good success in friendlies with wins over World Champions Spain and arch-rivals Brazil. However when it came to the competitive matches, he struggled to find his feet as the head coach. Ironically this year Nigeria totally exposed the team’s weakness in a 4-1 defeat in Abuja last month. It was too late for Batista to make changes to the team strategy and he continued with the defensive mindset in the Copa America. Ultimately he had to pay the price with Argentina crashing out of the Copa America against Uruguay, managing only 1 win in the tournament on home soil.
The Argentina squad boasted of international stars like Aguero, Tevez, Mascherano, Di Maria etc. However the team heavily depended on the two-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who failed to create the magic people are so used to seeing from him. Understandably, the lack of support from midfield was the major reason behind it. In the Copa America, Batista came out with two attacking ploys: a three-man attack of Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Ezequiel Lavezzi and the idea of playing Higuain outright in the attack with Messi, Di Maria and Aguero in the midfield. Neither ploy worked. With the three pronged attack of Tevez, Messi and Lavezzi, the team desperately lacked width as the full backs were happy to sit back and defend and neither Tevez or Lavezzi were able to provide width. With the latter ploy, the onus was on Messi to gel the team together and opponents succeeded by doubling up on him, leaving the World Player of the Year crowded out in midfield.
The burden of not winning a major trophy in over 18 years combined with the pressure of being the home-favourites seemed to get the better of Argentina. Most of the players play away from home in rich European leagues and apparently were slow to get off the blocks and gel together in front of the huge home support. With no one to take charge of situations, the team was in a mess from the tactical debacles. Argentina need to find a new leader to get them out of the mess, a man with character and determination, especially with their current captain Javier Mascherano being a shadow of the player he was three years ago.
BATISTA: SCAPEGOAT OR CULPRIT?
With Batista now relieved of his duties, the big question is whether he was the real culprit or just a scapegoat. Batista had earlier coached the Argentina Youth Team and also led the squad to the 2008 Beijing Gold Medal. Despite his achievements and being the front runner for the job, Maradona was chosen ahead of him to manage the team in 2010. His tactical blunders in the Copa America notwithstanding, had Batista been chosen back in 2010, he would have had more time to implement his tactics and gel the team together, given that he was under immense pressure to deliver when he was brought in right after the Maradona debacle.
Critics are wary of the role of Julio Grondona, the President of the Argentine Football Association, the former coach Maradona even quoted on saying “When the players come onto the pitch it’s like a knife being twisted inside them”. What has happened cannot be changed, but when appointing a future manager the AFA should keep in consideration that a manger should be given ample time to deliver and judged solely on the basis of his performances, rather than the country’s illustrious history and sky high expectations.