Argentina’s 25 years of wait and counting

Chris Bardet
Subscriber

The year 1993 saw Jurassic Park open its doors to cinema goers everywhere, while Bill Murray was living the same day, over and over again, in the film Groundhog Day.

On the 4th of July that year, Argentina would retain their Copa America title, when they defeated Mexico in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This remains their last International tournament success, and with the 2018 World Cup on the horizon, the wait for another victorious tournament will have reached 25 years.

So, how could a nation that has given the world some truly great players have gone this long without further success?

Diego Maradona lifting the World Cup in 1986 Image source: FIFA

Players

The Argentina side has not been short of wonderful players to call upon during this period. Names like Gabriel Batistuta, Lionel Messi and Javier Zanetti, to name but a few, have all been scribbled on the team sheet, at various points, by the manager.

While at present, very few top European sides don’t have an Argentina player playing their trade for them. Juventus has Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín. PSG have Angel Di Maria, and Sergio Aguero is still terrorising defences in the Premier League for Manchester City.

There is definitely a case to suggest the whole being less than the sum of its parts. England’s so called ‘Golden Generation’ of 2004 can maybe back this theory up also. Don’t let it be suggested either, that Argentina has only produced attacking players during this period.  The players that are prepared to do the donkey work, or as Cantona referred to Deschamps, be the water carriers, have been produced by the country continuously.

Roberto Ayala, Javier Mascherano, Diego Simeone and Fernando Redondo were all tremendous players that were also prepared to battle and fight (sometimes literally!) for the cause.

Man in Charge

A total of ten different managers have tried to find the winning formula during this barren period. Including the return of Alfie Basile, who was the last manager to win a major trophy for Argentina, having overseen the victorious Copa America campaigns of 1991 and 93.

Included in this list of ten, is the great Diego Maradona, who was in place for the 2010 World Cup. While Diego was a truly great player, the role of manager never seemed to really fit. Subsequent managerial roles in the United Arab Emirates suggest Maradona isn’t one of the great managerial minds that will be heading to one of Europe’s top leagues any time soon.

The current manager, Jorge Sampaoli, could be different, however; A Copa America winner in 2015 as manager of Chile (ironically beating Argentina in the final), and recently manager of La Liga side Sevilla. Sampaoli was highly sought after, with his name being mentioned in association with Barcelona when Luis Enrique decided to step down. While many Arsenal fans were championing for him to replace Arsene Wenger.

Mentality

Perhaps the one aspect the Jorge Sampaoli needs to address is the mentality of the team; the current squad has reached three major finals in as many years, and lost them all.

Successive Copa America final defeats to Chile in 2015 & 16 followed perhaps the biggest regret, the World Cup Final in 2014. Argentina were hoping to emerge victorious in their biggest rivals’ own country, yet were unable to see it through. Thanks in no part for wayward finishing from Gonzalo Higuaín. A trend that followed in the defeats to Chile, and subsequent big games for his club.

Sampaoli will look to change this if his tenure is to be any different to the men who preceded him. Ultimately there is no magic wand, just ask England whose wait for honours puts the Argies barren spell into some sort of perspective. Argentina won’t care about that though. They’re aiming higher, a lot higher, than to be compared against a team like England.

Messi

One man integral to any hope of ending the winless run you feel, is Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly the best player in the world, and Argentina’s all-time record goalscorer. Messi retired from international football soon after the 2016 Copa America Final defeat, such was the sense of disappointment.

He soon reversed this decision, however , and you feel the determination to finally land a major honour with his country is as high as ever – not helped by Portugal, and you know who, winning Euro 2016.

Football tends to go in cycles, and the last three World Cups have all been won by teams in Europe.  That won’t sit well with the South American countries. And maybe they will feel, and Argentina in particular, that Russia is their time.