Zanetti and Jazzmaster D.

There is method in the madness: a deliberately anarchic approach where improvisation is prized above all else, a cauldron of character-forming uncertainty where real men will float to the top like alphabet spaghetti. No doubt the words said tinned pasta spells out will be transcribed onto the first team sheet, too. All this talk of having the team decided already is just a fudge for fat bloggers to chew on, chum for the chumps. He said it last month, we just weren’t listening: “The players aren’t going to have any excuses, they’re going to run and run.” What we failed to understand was that they would be running from a team of automated fire-breathing dragons controlled by Wolf from Gladiators.

If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn –

Charlie Parker

Pegamequemegusta wrote a few pieces last week about Maradona’s preliminary squad (first this, then this). Of course it shared the widespread annoyance with the omission of Zanetti and Cambiasso, as well as Nico Pareja, Gabriel Milito, Banega, Aimar, Zabaleta, Zárate and Perotti, even of Maxi Moralez. Such are the players who have not been included you could arm a shadow squad along the lines of F365’s brilliant series on England’s B team during the alternate Euro 2008 with Jimmy Bullard & Co. However, we are getting a bit sick of seeing these names now and bizarrely find ourselves defending Maradona’s selection.

On Football Weekly today the ever-enthusiastic Paolo Bandini mentioned a theory that had apparently first gone out on one of ESPN’s multifarious platforms. It went like this: during some game with Argentina, apparently “the one where they qualified for the World Cup”, Zanetti disobeyed Maradona’s instructions, leading the team on the pitch like a lion while Diego, a sea lion, then, I suppose, thrashed about on the shore. Thereafter, Maradona’s wrath being akin to Poseidon’s, Zanetti has been ostracised from the national team.

Insofar as we care, it’s a shame we don’t have what ESPN actually said, of course, but as the theory stands it seems pretty preposterous. Firstly, it would be odd that nothing has ever been said or even intimated in the tidbit-hungry media about the matter. Secondly, what match was it? “The match were they qualified” was the last one, against Uruguay. Zanetti wasn’t in the squad if memory serves us right. The match where qualification was saved at the death was against Peru. Zanetti didn’t play then either. His last match for Argentina was in the 1-0 defeat in Paraguay, where he looked utterly hopeless.

© LatinContent/Getty Images

So we come to point number three, that of ferociously taking charge on the pitch, using all of his experience and respect as the usurped captain. Yet far from leading any kind of an albiceleste charge after Paraguay’s domination of the first half, Zanetti was completely anonymous in attack and ineffective in defence. In fact at no point, even when he was captain, did Zanetti really show any leadership qualities whilst playing with Argentina. He never looked like the kind of character his experience would have one believe him to be. Indeed, one might, as pegamequemegusta is wont to do, don one’s shit-stirring pub hat and ask: captain of who for the last decade? Inter? Up til Iron José arrived some of the game’s most celebrated bottlers! What kind of a captain is he anyway? Maradona agrees: the first thing he did on taking charge was to strip him of the captaincy.

This is important as, unlike other players who haven’t convinced either when turning out for their national teams, Zanetti’s very longevity, the amount of instances that we can cite build up a body of evidence which does not do him much good. His excellent season and his hugely impressive – and clean – stuffing of Messi’s exhaust pipe in the Champo League semifinal notwithstanding, perhaps Diego is justified in reckoning he has failed to convince one too many times.

After all, unlike Cambiasso, he was given many opportunities and never stood out. He wasn’t the only one. Maradona experimented fitfully with a good few full backs: Zanetti, Papa, Insúa, Zabaleta, even Jonás played right back once or twice. He even played without full backs a couple of times, setting up 3-3-1-3, 3-4-3, etc. He was never convinced by any of them so he ended up abandoning them altogether in favour of his current formation with four centre backs. Although this makes some sense in that Argentina are clearly not particularly blessed in the position, the drawbacks are obvious and require no further treatment here.

Rather than come up with conspiracy theories, however, it seems more likely that Zanetti has been discarded because of his poor performances and a consistent lack of leadership, despite it being so conspicuous at Inter. Nonetheless, there is a definite political element in the omission of him and others: if not big egos, the very nature of the personalities left out of the 30 showed Diego didn’t want a tough decision for the final squad, didn’t want a close run. Discarding players out of hand has been one of Maradona’s most defining traits. He was hardly going to turn his back on it now. And if the reasons for Cambiasso’s consistent omissions are even harder to fathom and so explanations tend toward the personal (was it the missed penalty in 2006?), Zanetti’s is somewhat easier to understand once one takes his overall contribution into account.

He’s wrong, of course; they should be there as back-up, but it seems  among other things, that Maradona wants a group he can dominate. He’s intrigued by the apparently metamorphic power of the World Cup, a time of such pressure a whole new level can be reached. He never tires of talking about Mexico ochenta y seis, and the Niembro interview was no exception. “When we got to Mexico, no-one knew who Burruchaga was, no-one knew how strong Valdano was, no-one knew Ruggeri and el Tata Brown were going to be so solid. We had Nery [Pumpido – GK]. Carlos [Bilardo] had to make decisions as we went along that weren’t worked out in training. Now they’re all respected household names.” From his selections and his statements, and just listening to him an awful bloody lot, pegamequemegusta reckons el Diego’s after coming down with a bit of Theo Walcott 2006 syndrome.

Dionysus, rumoured to be on the plane to Pretoria later this month

There is method in the madness: a deliberately anarchic approach where improvisation is prized above all else, a cauldron of character-forming uncertainty where real men will float to the top like alphabet spaghetti. No doubt the words said tinned pasta spells out will be transcribed onto the first team sheet, too. All this talk of having the team decided already is just a fudge for fat bloggers to chew on, chum for the chumps. He said it last month, we just weren’t listening: “The players aren’t going to have any excuses, they’re going to run and run.” What we failed to understand was that they would be running from a team of automated fire-breathing dragons controlled by Wolf from Gladiators.

So many plaudits have been raining down on the heretofore quiet men of Inter’s squad over the last week, yet shame on us jittery, chattering type-monkeys, useless halfwits most of whom don’t even get the opportunity to feel their work in print, let alone get bloody paid. Maradona knew long ago Zanetti and Cambiasso had no feel for the horn, too long Italy have they been, too, too Apollonian are their souls. South Africa will be a Dionysian feast.

Argentina 30-Man Provisional Squad

As you read pegamequemegusta’s cat is bathing itself furiously and shooting recriminating looks at its master for the overflowing litter tray, yet such is our excitement that we cannot stop, for Diego Maradona is meeting with whatever members of his management team are not currently trash-talking on TV. The aim of this congress is to determine the 30-man provisional squad for the World Cup, which has to be presented to FIFA before 7 o’clock this evening local time (23:00 GMT). Although over the last few days many pundits have been insisting there will be no surprises, canchallena is reporting that as recently as last night there were a few changes.

But what is regarded as being ‘unsurprising’ in the oft-deranged world of Argieball? Well, one would presume that Champions League stalwarts and standouts such as Zanetti, Cambiasso and Milito would be shoe-ins. Yet they’re not. Although those three should be in the first 11, there is some doubt if they will even be in South Africa. While of the three pegamequemegusta reckons Milito’s the most likely to be included, he’s the only one of the strikers not to have been confirmed by Maradona in his heretofore frequent leaks to the press, despite the fact that 36-year old work horse Palermo will definitely be in South Africa.

Likewise, even though Argentina are notably short of full backs, the man with more caps than anyone in the celeste y blanco, the natural leader and multifunctional captain of potentially treble-winning Inter Milan, Javier Zanetti, has had to undergo the indignity of fat useless hacks wondering whether he has ‘earned’ his chance to take his place alongside Gabriel Heinze, Nico Otamendi and Clemente Rodriguez in the provisional squad. Maradona has thrown all sorts of people at this position, including Insúa, Zabaleta, Monzón, Emliano Papa, etc. and has finally decided to play without full backs. Fair enough, but why not have this legend on the bench? After all, as many football tacticians far wiser than this blog have opined in the past, when you do have to play against really good teams, teams with good attackers and which don’t allow you space, it’s the full backs that can make the difference. To ignore that is to imagine Dani Alves has not put in a shift or two for Barca over the last few years.

Cambiasso - unlike you, dear reader, he's not pretty, but by gum he'll do a job

As regards Cambiasso, he doesn’t even look close to being in the provisional squad. Crucial to Inter’s success this season and perfectly suited to joining Masche in the uncompromising midfield Maradona has deemed necessary improvisational brilliance of Messi, Di María and Higuaín, his omission should be inconceivable rather than probable. Yet his only appearance in the Maradona era was 15 minutes as a sub in the friendly against Spain last November. Only in the last few days has any modicum of dissent been heard emanating from the gallingly neutered Argentine press, with Marcelo Sottile imploring the manager yesterday “Look, Diego, you said that it was a matter of taste, that there was nothing strange behind his repeated absence. Then bring him. The best players have to be at the World Cup. And Cambiasso is one of them. He has to be in the 23 man squad. how could he not be in the to 30?”

And who are the candidates to replace him? Well, we know the midfield that is likely to start on the 12th of June will consist of Mascherano, Verón and Jonás Gutierrez. Well failure and pretty boy Fernando Gago is likely to be there, while uninspiring Liverpool shuffler Maxi Rodriguez is battling for a place. Ever Banega, after a comeback this season with Valencia, is also a possibility. Yet some of the others may sound somewhat stranger to your waxless ears: Mario Bolatti, Javier Pastore, Juan Mercier, José Sosa. The first two were part are undoubtedly talented and earned moves to Italy after a hugely impressive with Ángel Cappa’s Huracán. The others, however, are inexperienced, unproven and downright nobodies even in the sphere of Argieball. It makes pegamequemegusta want to ban the Argentina manager from even living in the country during his term. Supporting the local league is fine, but when it comes to dicking up the World Cup, it’s absurd.

Meanwhile, up front Argentina are obviously blessed with a barrack of strikers. This is nothing new but the form of Messi, Higuaín, Tevez, Milito and Di María this season has been incredible. Yet these five are likely to be joined by Aguero, Palermo and Lavezzi. Yes, eight strikers for a system which allows for a maximum of three or four! If Maradona hadn’t confirmed Palermo already, I would expect he and Lavezzi to be dropped for the final 23. Yet he has and it looks like Argentina will be going to the World Cup conspicuously top-heavy and with a number of light-weights in defence.

………………….

Some time later. Here’s the final list:

  • Arqueros: Sergio Romero, Mariano Andújar, Adrián Gabbarini or Diego Pozo.
  • Defensores: Nicolás Otamendi, Martín Demichelis, Walter Samuel, Gabriel Heinze,  Clemente Rodríguez,  Nicolás Burdisso, Coloccini, Juan Insaurralde (Newell’s), Ariel Garcé (Colón), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes)
  • Volantes: Jonás Gutiérrez, Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastián Verón, Angel Di María, Mario Bolatti, Javier Pastore, Juan Mercier (Argentinos), Maxi Rodríguez, José Sosa (Estudiantes), Jesús Dátolo, Sebastian Blanco (Lanús).
  • Delanteros: Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito, Martín Palermo, Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Trapattoni, Dunga & Maradona

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.”

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?

Cambiasso, chief cherry-on-cake-man in 2006

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).

Verón le manda un besito al Burru, goleador en el '86

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.