The worst kept secret in Argentine football finally 'revealed'

Ricky Martin’s sexuality. There were no WMDs. Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Out there are many, many poorly kept secrets that, when they finally make the light of day and are admitted, turn out to be remarkably underwhelming.

You knew the truth all along. (Perhaps Santa Claus is a bad example here. La Liga Loca is reported to have broken down during his GCSEs upon hearing the news that Father Christmas was, in fact, just daddy…)

Now, naming a national team coach may not be as transcendental as any of the above, but the appointment of Sergio ‘Checho’ Batista as the Argentina coach was surrounded in a shroud of pretend suspense nonetheless.

He had already been in charge of three Argentina matches since Diego Maradona was ousted after the World Cup. He was also Lionel Messi’s choice, and if he was Lionel Messi’s choice, then that would be good enough for most of AFA. He didn’t necessarily have the backing of General Manager Carlos Bilardo, who was tasked with recommending candidates for the job to the committee set up by the AFA to make the final decision. All the same Batista was in pole position.

The announcement filtered through via ‘sources’ days previously. From the very start, when Batista first stepped in months ago, he was 99.9% guaranteed to land the job. The official announcement wasn’t made, however, until Tuesday evening.

But now, at last, Batista is in charge. He is officially the man to take the selección to Brazil in 2014.

The decision wasn’t met with applause from all quarters. Despite AFA saying there was unanimity in the decision to appoint Batista, it soon emerged that Vélez and Lanús were not in favour of the choice.

There were other dissenting voices too. “If Checho hadn’t been the youth team coach, he wouldn’t be in charge of the national team,” said Gustavo Alfaro, coach at Arsenal. Ironically, as the more diligent readers of Argie Bargy already know, Arsenal is the team founded by Julio Grondona, whose backing of Batista was central to the decision being made.

Anyway, Alfaro didn’t stop there. “If we choose the coach because he’s friends with the players then we are in trouble. It is a mistake to think that the coach has to get on with his players.”

As Alfaro pointed out, Batista made the step up to the full national team from the Under-20 side. Back in 2008, he had been intended to work as Maradona’s right-hand man, but El Diez thought that Batista had been disloyal to him when Diego was chosen as coach. Batista ultimately stayed with the U-20s.

Checho’s link to several players in the current generation had already been formed – when Alfio Basile decided not to coach the team that went to the Beijing Olympics, Batista had his chance.

The side won gold, and players like Di María, Agüero and of course Leo Messi all responded well to Batista in the dugout.

Whether or not Batista is chummy with his players, as Alfaro suggests, or whether its more a case that they respect and listen to him, and he knows how to get them to perform, remains to be seen.

It is true that Batista does not have quite as impressive a CV as some other candidates for the job, which included Alejandro Sabella, Carlos Bianchi, Americo ‘Tolo’ Gallego and Ramón Díaz. It is also true that Batista has not coached a grande in Argentina, nor a grande abroad. Indeed, with Batista as under-20 coach, Argentina did not qualify for the U-20 World Cup.

There have been signs, however, that under Batista that there will be a more measured and rational approach to the national team in terms of tactics and formation. There are also problems with Argentine football, such as a chronic shortage of full backs, which no coach would be able to resolve immediately.

It looks likely Batista will aim to rejuvenate the side in phases. Next year Argentina host the Copa America – a good showing there is vital, so certain older players (Zanetti, Demichelis, Heinze, Cambiasso) may well stay in contention.

Riqulme is expected to return to the side. It is after that competition that the team will start building for the 2014 World Cup with a younger crop of players.

Just in case Batista needs any reminding what his real goal is – to return victorious from the World Cup in four years time - his first game since being confirmed as coach is on November 17th. Argentina face Brazil.