Argentina have kicked the can down the road with their decision to place Under-20 coaches Lionel Scaloni and Pablo Aimar in temporary charge of the senior side. The duo will be in charge for next month’s matches in the U.S. against Guatemala and Colombia, and presumably for the international dates in October and November as well.
“We are going to take a semester to find someone to take charge [on a permanent basis],” said Argentine Football Association president Claudio Tapia. “More than anything, we are in search of a project. We will take as long as necessary to make a good choice.”
The Argentine FA do have the luxury of time. In the four-year cycle between World Cups, this is the fallow time. There are no competitive games until the Copa America in Brazil next June and that is at least as much of a preparation tournament as an end in itself. The aim is to come out of the Copa with a group of players ready to do battle in the next set of World Cup qualifiers.
So there is no need to rush. But, on the other hand, most of their continental rivals are trying to get their act together too. Brazil have renewed with coach Tite; Venezuela still have Rafael Dudamel; Chile appointed Reinaldo Rueda at the start of the year; Ecuador have just brought back Hernan Dario Gomez, who took them to their first World Cup in 2002; Bolivia are about to appoint Cesar Farias; Paraguay hope to announce later this month.
There is some confusion with three teams who went to the World Cup. Colombia’s Jose Pekerman has a contract until the end of the month, and it is not yet known whether he will renew; the situation with Peru and Uruguay is more turbulent as Ricardo Gareca and Oscar Washington Tabarez, respectively, could stay on — but their local FAs are both in turmoil and this will surely delay matters.
In any case, Argentina will be out of the starting blocks later than most of the other South American teams — and, after taking an ageing squad to Russia, they have more work to do. An astonishing 15 of their 23-man World Cup squad had passed 30, so there is a huge rebuilding job ahead.
Tapia pointed the way forward, saying: “We have to thank this generation and start a new stage in the national team.” Tapia has been talking of an “18/28 project” — a 10-year plan to improve the fortunes of the national team, maturing right in time for the 2030 World Cup, which Argentina hope to co-host.
Might his thanking of the current generation also be read as a farewell to Lionel Messi? The Barcelona star has kept very quiet over the past month — in contrast to the immediate aftermath of the Copa Centenario of 2016, when he announced his retirement from international football, only to have a quick change of mind.
Even if Messi is tempted to carry on, things will never be the same. One of the wisest comments on the matter came from former Argentina player and current Estudiantes president Juan Sebastian Veron when he said: “We have to get our youth teams right and, once and for all, think about a team, and not just in one person who can save us.”
Argentina have two men in charge for the foreseeable future, but one feels that whoever gets the permanent job in the end will have an exciting project on their hands.