Friendly advice from Leo to AFA
It still feels far too early to be playing international friendlies. Apart from the Spanish, we should all be in mourning after the World Cup. We should be allowing the 24-hour sports channels to be drum us up into a frenzy of excitement about club football. We should allow those who lost their jobs after South Africa time to forgive and forget. Those shattered dreams should be given time to fade away.
The weekÃ¢ÂÂs internationals meant that this was impossible.
In the case of Argentina, you may have heard that Diego Maradona is no longer the coach. AFA are now looking for a new coach, but despite this week's friendly with Ireland, and despite playing Spain and Brazil soon, thereÃ¢ÂÂs no sense of urgency from Argentine footballÃ¢ÂÂs decision makers. ThereÃ¢ÂÂll be an announcement late October, maybe early November, they say.
While they mull over the 12 candidates they claim to be mulling over, for now U-20 coach Sergio Checho Batista is in charge and oversaw the 1-0 defeat of Ireland.
Given that Batista is only temporarily the coach, and given that it is barely a month since the World Cup, it's impossible to take too much from the game. But despite only winning by a solitary goal from Di MarÃÂa Ã¢ÂÂ marginally offside, while weÃ¢ÂÂre at it Ã¢ÂÂ Argentina were comfortable winners. Of course, having the ball all to themselves for the entire game didnÃ¢ÂÂt stop Heinze feeling the need to argue every decision, or Samuel shoulder-barging McShane after conceding a throw-in.
But with Gago and Banega replacing Maxi Rodriguez and Carlitos Tevez from the Maradona line-up in midfield and up front, Argentina put on a show of keep-ball. It may not have created many chances, and the trio of Mascherano-Gago-Banega lacks a more direct influence in midfield, but it was a marked improvement on 39 days ago, when Argentina were losing 4-0 to Germany. "We played like Barcelona," said Leo Messi afterwards, before adding "Checho asks the same of me as Guardiola does."
When it comes to appointing the next Argentina coach, the key will be choosing somebody who is capable of bringing the best out of Leo Messi. Messi, for one, says Batista is the man for the job. As well as dropping not-so-subtle hints about the way Argentina played under Batista, appealing to the boardroom as much to the fans, he decided to speak for the group when he said "We take him as the coach, not the caretaker coach."
For some of the squad, however, the past is not yet the past. "All the players heard what Mr. Grondona said to Maradona [after the Germany game]," blurted out Carlitos Tevez when he arrived in Dublin for the friendly. "IÃ¢ÂÂm with Diego: Grondona didnÃ¢ÂÂt keep his word."
Very few people publicly criticise AFA president Julio Grondona, the man who has ruled Argentine football for over 30 years. Beyond the bravado of Tevez questioning Don Julio, though, and saying what many of the players (privately) think, the bigger question remains: Who can bring out the best of Argentina? "We played too much with our heart against Germany," admitted Heinze in the build-up to the Ireland friendly, "and not enough with our head."
AFA still have two months to decide who should take over on a permanent basis, and the forthcoming friendlies with Spain and Brazil could shape that decision. But if they really want to ensure they see the best of Messi in a blue and white shirt, perhaps they should listen to the player himself. And if AFA does ask Messi, we all know what the answer will be.