Copa America coaches feel the heat
Not many coaches last that long in soccer these days. Fewer still make it out the other side of a major international competition, with even the victors often opting to go out on a high. For some, this month’s Copa America in Argentina marks a new beginning, but for others this beginning will only be that of a new end.
With the gruelling CONMEBOL World Cup qualification marathon done and dusted and those lucky enough to have earned a spot at the big show having sufficiently settled back down into something approaching normality, more than half the coaches strutting the touchline in the 43rd Copa America weren’t doing so for their country’s last World Cup fixture. Some have a great deal to live up to; others, not so much. A couple are demanded not only to win, but to win the right way, while others are challenged only to deliver a steady improvement on what went before.
One of them, Brazil’s Mano Menezes, has been asked to do pretty much all of the above. Succeeding Dunga, his task was to win, and ‘win the right way’; to adjust Brazil’s image on the field, so that it could once again thrive off it; to develop the young players, and do away with the old; and lastly, but by no means least, to keep one eye firmly fixed on the forthcoming World Cup 2014 that will be played out on home soil – and so absolutely must be won.
Another asked to brush the recent past aside and start anew is Argentina coach Sergio Batista. Maradona’s reign was inevitably chaotic and unpredictable, too much so for Julio Grondona and AFA (Argentine Football Association) who made sure he walked following La Albiceleste’s World Cup elimination at the hands of an infinitely more effective Germany. Batista’s answer has been to admire and imitate – taking the best team on the planet, Barcelona, and attempting to reproduce their style in order to get the most out of the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi. “At this moment, Messi is the best footballer in the world and we have to take advantage of that,” Batista told a press conference last month. Having reinvented his team’s style in order to do so, ‘Checho’ will be praying the blanket is long enough to warm his defense too.
Chile’s Claudio Borghi arguably has the biggest shoes to fill. "I never liked comparisons and [it] would be disrespectful to compare myself with him, he has more prestige as a coach than me,” Borghi told the press this week when asked once again about his predecessor Marcelo Bielsa, adding, “Chile is a team that is well formed. Bielsa did a great job.” Indeed he did, leading them through World Cup qualification by winning 10 of 18 matches (a record bettered by nobody). But more impressive than that was the way in which Bielsa achieved what he did, with an intense, high-tempo brand of attacking football that won the hearts of soccer fans worldwide. Borghi himself is a coach attacking in nature and he knows Chilean football well having spent time in the country as both a player and a coach.
Ecuador’s Reinaldo Rueda is one of the few that did coach in last year’s World Cup, but with a different nation – the Colombian led Honduras to South Africa in 2010. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Rueda in the run-up to the Copa, however, with a contingent of Ecuadorians calling for his dismissal last month. With no wins in their last seven – though they’ve been beaten just once – and a group that includes Paraguay, an ever-improving Venezuela and reigning champs Brazil, Rueda will do well to steer his team though the group stage.
Peru’s Sergio Markarian and Bolivia’s Gustavo Quinteros are also new to their roles and both will be aiming for an improvement on a World Cup qualifying campaign that saw them finish bottom and second-bottom respectively. Quinteros faces possibly the biggest challenge of any coach this month, but he got off to a great start with a 1-1 draw against hosts Argentina in the curtain-raiser.
In Markarian, Peru has a wily old coach who guided Paraguay to the 2002 World Cup, but he has major injury concerns. While Juan Vargas did make the 23 and hopes to be passed fit for the second group game, Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan are both major losses. The experienced Markarian, however, remains positive. “Peru will be okay, don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll do my best so Peru has a good performance.” Peruvians are now left hoping the 66-year-old’s best proves enough.
Costa Rica’s Ricardo La Volpe will look only to learn more of his team before the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers. Colombia, meanwhile, has a base on which to build having missed out on the chance of a World Cup qualifying playoff by just a point. The loss of playmaker Gio Moreno to long term injury was a huge blow for its coach Hernan Dario Gomez who will now hope that Radamel Falcao, Teo Gutierrez and Hugo Rodallega can transfer their goalscoring form to the international scene.