Cult of the idol and chronic mismanagement prevent Argentine success

There was a delicious irony in Carlos Tevez’ penalty miss in Argentina’s shoot-out defeat to Uruguay on Saturday.

‘El Apache’ or ‘Carlitos’, call him what you want, the ongoing saga surrounding him in recent months has been symptomatic of the problems running deep through the veins of Argentine football.

For a player who was categorically “not in [the] plans” of manager Sergio Batista just two months ago to line up in the starting XI for the tournament curtain raiser against Bolivia on July 1 confirmed many people’s thoughts on the Argentina boss.

He was not the first, and he won’t be the last – but he caved in to external pressure to include the Manchester City forward.

‘El jugador del pueblo’ (the people’s player) was included by a manager who had, in the previous week, said that he did not need Tevez.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Carlos Tevez is by far the most popular player in Argentina. His rags-to-riches story twinned with years of success at the country’s best-supported club – Boca Juniors - has seen him become a working-class idol and national hero, the like of which hasn’t been seen since ‘El Diego’ himself.

Hero or not, in the months approaching the tournament, coach Batista made it clear the Manchester City forward was not in his plans “for football reasons”.

Tevez and Batista in (marginally) happier times...

He confidently declared that Messi was his “number 9” and that he also had Diego Milito and Gonzalo Higuain for that position.

But this all seems to be patently false: Tevez wasn’t even being used in that role.

The former Manchester United man had also been vocal in support of former boss Diego Maradona ahead of Batista, and declared himself ‘injured’ for a friendly match against Brazil, only to turn out for Manchester City just two days later. It was suggested that their differences were more personal than professional.

When the decision was made to bring Tevez back into the fold, Batista claimed that he had “cleared the air with Carlitos”, but why the need to clear the air if the disagreements were football-related.

Batista’s lying on this topic has not gone unnoticed, and if it were simply a case of flagrant populism then it might be less damaging.

The truth is that the pressure exerted on him from AFA boss Julio Grondona has lead to the inclusion of Tevez, and it’s Grondona’s immovable and repugnant influence that is to blame for the general state of the Argentine national team.

Grondona has been in his role as AFA president since 1979. You may not recognise the name, but you may recognise some of his quotes. He recently demanded that the English return the Falkland Islands in exchange for a vote in the selection process for the 2018 World Cup.

Going further back, he declared: "I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level. It's hard work and, you know, Jews don't like hard work."

Plenty of blame for Argentina’s exit will rest on the shoulders of manager Sergio Batista, and with reason, for being tactically poor and a shoddy man-manager sees that he should leave his post.

Fortunately for him, Grondona prides himself on having never sacked a manager, so he is safe in his job despite the utter failure at the Copa America.

Grondona - always game for a laugh...

That is if you deem the host nation, with the best player in the world on their side and a ludicrously favourable draw, being knocked out in the quarter finals having only beaten a Costa Rican under-23 side as a failure.

Batista doesn’t, and has said as much this week.

His predecessor, Diego Maradona, left the post at the end of his contract in the wake of their 2010 World Cup elimination.

A popular man manager, but with the tactical knowledge of a lampshade, the real question should be how he got the job in the first place, given his failure with every team he managed previously.

However, as with ‘Carlitos’, Maradona’s popularity was the key, and when he put himself in the frame for the job, Grondona found himself in a win-win situation. Had Maradona succeeded, Grondona could count the pesos and take credit for what on the face of it looked a bold decision. Had Maradona fallen short, Grondona could portray him as an unstable individual and distance himself from the failure. Of course, the latter proved to be the reality.

While Maradona is even more revered than Tevez, the point is that this idolatry is still causing damage to the national game.

The deification of these individuals is bordering on the obscene, but while excessive, it seems harsh to criticise members of the public for having a role model, a hero.

Instead, it is the way that the authorities (and not just in football) use people’s emotional attachment to these stars to partake in cynically-built, populist policy decisions, that is the issue.

Even on a basic level, pandering to the whim of the football fan can never be a successful way to run a major organization.

Henry Kissinger once said: “Leaders are responsible not for running public opinion polls, but for the consequences of their actions.”

It’s there that Batista and Grondona have failed. Weak through the fear of criticism; abject failure has resulted, but neither have faced the consequences.