So the day after the perplexing match of the night before, there are enough two cents doing the rounds in the papers and in Olé to stock all the sliding coin machines in Bundoran. Happily enough – for which read ‘i’m a smug cunt’ – most commentaries i’ve read coincide with my Argentina-are-the-new-Ireland-theory.
In a good article in Olé, Luis Calvano points out that Jonás Gutierrez is in many ways the symbol of this Argentine team: “his presence gives a clear indication of one of the key concepts of this team [….]: commitment, attacking but always with a mind to help out his defence, all heart but little more.”
If you think back to the beginning of the disillusionment with Trap’s Ireland, the home Cyprus match, when murmurs of discontent became accusations of liberties being taken and the game plan being downright “wrong, wrong, wrong”, the situation is more or less the same: relief at what looks very much like the end of a horrible time in the country’s football but disquiet at a perceived lack of class, a nagging perception that against a better team – or the same team on another night – the ghosts we so recently thought banished, shot down in blinding streams of ectoplasm, could come back to slime us. Look at the youtube clip of the analysis: for Di María, read Duff (remember the run for Robbie’s goal?), for McGeady read Messi, for Verón read Whelan/Andrews, for Otamendi read McShane. Would that make Cambiasso Andy Reid, and for Zanetti, I don’t know, Steve Carr?
As for the Andy Reid saga – Riquelme is in the Stephen Ireland role but in a Bizarro World twist, this time he’s right – the “best midfield player we’ve got”, in Giles’ phrase, would have to be Cambiasso, in his current form at least. Martín Eula, in a piece entitled 100% Bilardo, again in Olé, compares Diego’s latest team – the same for two games now, wow! – with the ’86 World Cup winning team. Messi, obviously, is supposed to emulate Maradona himself, and “he wants Verón, somehow, to be his Burruchaga,” man of the match in the final, lest we forget (according to El Gráfico at least).
For his part, Angel Cappa, former manager of the brilliant but brutally dismantled Huracán team that thrilled in the Clausura of 2009, lamented the lack of real full backs in Argentina today, saying that neither Otamendi nor Heinze looked particularly comfortable. “[We need] full backs who play a part in the move, who push on so as to support their teammates and open up the pitch, not just to put in the odd cross.” He goes on to say that the current set-up is geared to play on the counter attack, utterly dependent on individual moments of brilliance, “but on very few occasions on collective play.”
Surely the most important player in this set-up, then, is Verón, who should be more accomplished than Andrews/Whelan or Gilberto. However, Calvano draws attention to the fact that he “very rarely managed to develop any kind of meaningful interaction with his teammates that would get the ball moving (and in the second half, indeed, he repeatedly ceded territory and gave the ball away to the Germans who, in spite of the generous offer, between them couldn’t think of one useful thing to do with the ball).”
Thankfully, this time at least, the journos resisted the temptation to castigate Messi, as is their wont, recognising that the few times he actually got the ball he looked dangerous, but that far too often he received ‘dirty’ ball, with his back towards goal in the middle of a crowded pitch. His frustration showed when he ripped down the hated Lahm in the last few minutes.
So has Maradona matured as a manager or is he turning into his erstwhile nemesis, Dunga? Has he become a purveyor of dull, negative football sure to be undone the first time they come up against a good team or go behind in a game? Or are we seeing the genesis of a World Cup winning manager, a pragmatic Maradona intent, as so many times before in his long career, on getting the best from apparently limited resources and/or compensate for lack of time to impart his wisdom with a strategy no doubt learned on the potreros of Fiorito and which could be pithily summarised on the back of a napkin as: “Stay back there and just give the ball to me; i’m better than you.”
Sentences such as the last one, however, are examples of why even i’d rather listen to Maradona.