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Argentina's Olympic heroes, 10 years on

Where are they now?
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 By Tim Vickery

Argentina got it wrong with Jorge Sampaoli, now they have time to get it right

Now that Jorge Sampaoli's time as coach of Argentina has come to an end, more details are starting to emerge about the chaos in the camp during the World Cup.

It is clear there was a complete breakdown of trust. Following Argentina's second match, a dismal 3-0 defeat to Croatia, the players, led by Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi, reportedly forced a meeting where they made their grievances known; they had no faith in the coach, in his idea of play and even in his excessively nervous behaviour.

It might have been expected that the Argentina campaign would completely unravel at this point. In fact things got better. They beat Nigeria to seal a place in the round of 16 against France where, although they were clearly second best against the eventual champions, they were not humiliated in a 4-3 defeat.

In short, the element of self-management that was instituted after the Croatia game did not lead to outright anarchy, it actually improved matters. That stands as a pretty firm condemnation of Sampaoli, who was swiftly sacked after the tournament.

And yet when he was appointed in the middle of last year, there was considerable hope. Indeed, as recently as the eve of the World Cup, some in Europe were still proclaiming Sampaoli as the finest coach in the World Cup.

It is true that he does have an impressive CV, especially in his previous three jobs -- with Universidad de Chile, the Chile national team and Sevilla. In these three cases, in different environments and with different challenges, he produced consistently exciting and successful sides.

Nonetheless, he was an utterly bizarre choice to take charge of Argentina and that should have been abundantly clear at the time.

There are two reasons for this.

The first has to do with the short term: the task of ensuring the national team qualified for Russia and did well in the competition. Sampaoli's successes have been based on a single model of play: the bold high press, with the creation of numerical superiority close to the opposing goal.

It is a magnificent sight when it works, but it carries the risk of leaving the side open to the counter attack. And one glance at Argentina should have made it clear that the idea was incompatible with the defensive resources at his disposal. Argentina have no defensive pace.

Sampaoli wrestled with this idea, switching and improvising as he went along, trying a back three, then a back four, using wingers in the wide defensive positions. But both in the warmup games and in the tournament itself, he ran into the team's inability to defend.

In the circumstances, the solution that the players forced upon him -- an orthodox back four with centre-backs as centre-backs and full-backs as full-backs -- was the best available.

The second reason comes out of this sad reality. Why were the defensive resources so poor? Why has the renewal process in the national team been so bad that 15 of the 23-man squad for Russia were over 30 years old?

The answer lies in the decline of the under-20 team. Five times U20 world champions between 1995 and 2007, Argentina's recent sides at this level have been awful, and this had fed through to the senior ranks.

Argentina's urgent long term task is to reverse this process and, as Uruguay do so well and England have started doing, use the youth ranks to develop their own players.

Sampaoli was a strange choice for this challenge, though. When in charge of Chile his record in this area was patchy at best. There was little contact between the senior and U20 sides, and he did little to prepare the generation that must now take over from the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.

Now Sampaoli is gone, Argentina have to start from scratch once more. But there is no immediate imperative to rescue an ailing World Cup qualification campaign, and no competitive matches until the Copa America in Brazil next June. It should be easier to get things right this time. The AFA can make a considered choice of both coach and structure, aiming to fix both of the issues above and ensure long term growth for one of the world's most successful footballing countries.

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