Three years ago, this newly-built Kazan Arena would not have known that it would facilitate the end of an era for Argentinean football, and the possible end of the international career for one Lionel Messi.
Argentina have been clattered 4-3 in a scoreline that flatters the La Albiceleste more than wearing black slims. It was the brutal meltdown that was bound to happen from the moment the Lionel Messi and company left the Marcanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro just four years prior.
Now, President Claudio Tapia and the rest of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) have a tough road ahead, starting with the decision of letting Jorge Sampaoli be the scapegoat and firing the esteemed coach, or letting Sampaoli stay for a cycle to try and bolster the South American powerhouse.
It does seem the former will proceed this demolition, with the AFA choosing to start from scratch, and rightfully so as Sampaoli’s leadership was a big question in this tournament. Not only could you see that overlying issue with squad and team selection, but it was also apparent in the minutiae, like watching the 58-year-old come of of the team bus with headphones on while the rest of the team was focused, or Messi directing the assistant coaches on who to substitute without Sampaoli’s say.
This shouldn’t all fall on Jorge Sampaoli’s shoulders though, nor should it fall on Lionel Messi’s. The talent in this side was honestly just bad. If your side is relying on Maximillian Meza and Enzo Perez to be difference makers, there is more than just a simply tactical issue there.
This was a culmination of mismanaging by the entire Argentine Football Association.
Argentina as a whole are known for their developing technically-gifted, intelligent footballers who grow up to become great players for some of Europe’s best. But, this was only happening because of the Argentine Primera División, their domestic league.
The likes of Javier Zanetti, Hernan Crespo, and Diego Maradona started in their homelane, at least playing two years there and then moved into European football. The Primera División was the staple for these greats to hone their skills and learn the basics before carrying their talents abroad.
This hasn’t happened in almost a generation now and has become a serious issue for Argentinean football, as Jorge Valdano lays out in a piece he wrote for The Guardian about his country’s struggles.
“On top of [Argentina’s arrogance in their abilities] an imperious, almost delirious need to win overcame the enjoyment of playing,” he writes. “On the pitch, we said goodbye to the olés and welcomed in a world of huevos – balls – are more important than talent,” the 1986 World Cup winner observes.
He later highlights the harsh affects of football’s globalization and monetization, saying these players ” [are] three goals away from being sold abroad” and that “this premature escape, our football diaspora, saw us lose one of the great teachers: emulation.”
Valdano is more than correct in his diagnosis. Just in this World Cup alone, Messi and co. had a paper-thin mentality, every goal conceded ripping the perforated edges from the whole. That’s why it was such a shock when Marcos Rojo – of all people – swooped in to save the day against Nigeria.
But there was no hero, no boy wonder, no Robin Hood or once in a lifetime talent that could align the stars and stop this gigantic meteor from hitting the players where it hurts to most, their legacy.
Instead of dwelling on these qualms though, the AFA needs to find a shovel, and dig their country out from the grave. New standards need to be set for players and teams alike, even if politics have to be overcame.
Talent needs to be cultivated from a young age instead of have these players come through the system by luck, a process that has finally seen it’s downfall in this past generation. Current star players like Paulo Dybala and Cristian Pavon are the lucky ones, but they surely aren’t the only great footballers coming out of the whole of Argentina.
The AFA do not have the money do a whole lot – because of the corruption of the previous regime – but something has to be figured out if Argentina want to remain one of the world’s biggest names in football and it starts from the top, where Claudio Tapia needs to find a way on how to put football over politics.
It will remain to be seen how Argentina will move forward. This federation has until the Copa America to do some soul searching, but it will take a lot more than just thinking to solve Argentine fans’ starving hunger for glory.