In his first season with Sao Paulo, Edgardo Bauza helped O Tricolor to rediscover their identity, forming a solid, hard-to-beat unit that mounted a serious campaign in the Copa Libertadores without big signings.
“In most of the countries, a team plays from 45 to 55 games in a season,” Bauza said. “In Brazil, with the regional tournaments, we play 75-80 games. It forces you to change training methods, and it’s harder to gain regularity; there are many injured.
“But I’m a football person, that’s why I adapt quickly to a new club. I go from home to the training ground and from the training ground back home. And I only think about football, without distractions.”
A former central defender, el Paton (whose shoe size is 13.5) is a specialist in building compact teams that are difficult to catch off guard. But applying his ideas in Brazil, a shrine of attacking football, was perhaps his career’s biggest challenge. And he succeeded.
Bauza changed his usual 4-4-2 for a 4-2-3-1 that gave more freedom to the Sevilla-bound Ganso; he also helped Jonathan Calleri, recently discarded by Boca Juniors, to become one of South America’s top strikers and the Copa Libertadores top goalscorer with nine goals.
Starting from the preliminary stage, his side qualified and advanced to the continental semi-finals for the first time in five years – becoming Brazil’s best club in the competition – despite Corinthians and Atletico Mineiro having stronger squads.
He was forced to reconstruct the team after losing Rogerio Ceni, Luis Fabiano and Alexandre Pato, and in a group stage that had current champions River Plate and Bolivia’s The Strongest (with their stadium at 3,500 metres altitude) in it, few dared to say that Sao Paulo would even qualify for the 16, let alone the semis.
The truth is that Sao Paulo could have gone further too, had it not been for controversial refereeing decisions in both legs against Atletico Nacional, including three red cards and a penalty not given. “They gave us a referee that was once suspended for eight months. Everybody saw what happened,” Bauza fumed. “If I tell you what I think, I might be suspended for 20 games.”
Having already won two Copa Libertadores with different clubs (Liga de Quito and San Lorenzo), Bauza also is the first Argentine to reach the semis four times with four different clubs.
But it might be difficult for him to lift the Copa with Sao Paulo: he is now a serious candidate to take over Argentina after Gerardo Martino’s resignation.
For him, though, it is not as surprising as seeing his name on a shortlist to replace Dunga as Brazil manager. “I was honoured to read it, but I know it’s almost impossible to see an Argentinian managing Brazil, such as it would be impossible to see Tite taking over Argentina,” he shrugged.
Amid the turmoil at the FA, Messi’s retirement from international football and 23 painful years without titles, Bauza has already hinted that he would like to be appointed national team manager. “For many it might be an unnecessary risk, but I wouldn’t mind setting my feet on the mud with Argentina. I was born in the mud.”
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