Messi’s ban, a new AFA president & managerial uncertainty over Edgardo Bauza: Football in Argentina is at a dangerous tipping point
There is rarely a dull moment in Argentine football but even by its own chaotic standards, this week has proved tumultuous and amid all the tough questions being asked, there has never been a more vital time for the correct solutions to be found.
La Albiceleste’s World Cup qualification hangs precariously in the balance after defeat to Bolivia in La Paz and while the loss was perhaps not the greatest surprise given Argentina’s record at such altitude, the four-match suspension to Lionel Messi delivered just hours before kick-off in response to a foul-mouthed rant at a match official in the victory over Chile has left Edgardo Bauza’s squad reeling.
If Argentina’s place in Russia was far from secure prior to Messi’s punishment, it’s certainly more uncertain now, given that with the mercurial captain in the side, La Albiceleste have won five of the six matches played but without, hold a record of just one win, four draws and three defeats.
Posiciones en las #EliminatoriasCONMEBOL
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— CONMEBOL.com (@CONMEBOL) March 29, 2017
With four rounds now remaining, Messi is set to miss all but the potentially crucial final match away to Ecuador and although the home matches against Venezuela and Peru should be winnable without the Barcelona star, the next fixture, away to Uruguay is daunting.
A defeat to Uruguay for Messi-less Argentina could, if results go against them, leave La Albiceleste below even the fifth-placed playoff spot and so for valid reason, concern is growing.
With this in mind, when Claudio ‘Chiqui’ Tapia was elected the new president of the AFA on Thursday afternoon, the current plight of the national team was high on the agenda.
“We must find the way to recover our confidence so our beloved Argentine national team represents us in Russia and does the best possible,” Tapia said in his first address as president.
Central to that will be getting Messi back on the pitch as soon as possible and the AFA president said assuringly, “Messi doesn’t need to worry. We will do whatever we can to reduce his suspension – it’s unfair.”
The AFA will be appealing the four-match ban and hold out some hope that this will be reduced but the phrase on the lips of many in Argentina is: ‘This wouldn’t have happened under Grondona.’
Given Grondona’s close relationship with Sepp Blatter that is almost certainly true but the vacuum created by Don Julio’s death in 2014 after a tyrannical grip on the AFA since 1979 has led to complete institutional meltdown.
The farcical 38-38 tied election failed to find a successor to Grondona, Luis Segura was named interim president before FIFA’s corruption investigation prompted Armando Perez to be named as head of their normalisation committee, in an effort to bring the AFA back in line.
It didn’t, and after squabbles over television rights and a delayed start to the league season, one conspiracy theory behind Messi’s harsh suspension was that FIFA were firing a warning at its rebellious underling.
Could it have been this? Could Chile have been flexing their muscle at FIFA to hinder a direct rival for qualification? Could Diego Maradona have been looking for retribution over Marcelo Tinelli being named Director of the national team? Could FIFA have been upset over Messi snubbing their inaugural Best Player award ceremony? All have been floated as possibilities, some hold more water than others, but it’s probably fair to say, it wouldn’t have happened on Grondona’s watch.
Re-establishing the AFA, in Tapia’s words, after this colossal mess will take sound leadership, a clear plan and time and while Chiqui looks to have four years to implement his ideas, Argentina’s manager Edgardo Bauza has substantially less.
Defeat to Bolivia aside, Bauza has rarely given the look of a confident manager and even in victory over Chile last week his side were defensively vulnerable while offensively disjointed. For the attacking resources available, the 59-year-old has been under scrutiny for his squad selections and inexcusably Argentina have scored less goals than bottom of the table Venezuela.
Tapia may have tentatively pledged support to Bauza but vice-president Daniel Angelici’s comments were far more damning: “Bauza was appointed by the normalisation committee and we are going to evaluate.”
That evaluation appears to have swiftly taken place and if reports are true the AFA have made their decision. Monday’s meeting between Tapia, Bauza, Marcelo Tinelli and Daniel Angelici will spell the end of El Paton’s eight-match spell in charge and the man in their sights to replace him is Sevilla’s Jorge Sampaoli.
Bauza had never been the AFA’s first choice but for a financially crippled institution, was a cost-efficient alternative; armed with the money of a new television deal with Fox-Turner, Tapia and his cronies have new found ambition.
Whether that stretches to the amount needed to pay off Bauza, clear the debts still owed to Gerardo Martino and his staff and persuade Sampaoli to swap Sevilla for Argentina remains to be seen but the AFA have obviously been buoyed by the Copa America winning coach’s previous comments.
“My dream is to be in charge of Messi,” Sampaoli told Olé last week, “It’s a unique dream to see Messi so close up, always. Who wouldn’t like to be in charge of him?”
Any new appointment may take far longer to complete but all the indications are that Bauza will be gone on Monday and the new-look AFA signal a fresh start for Argentina.
There is a long time until the next World Cup qualifier against Uruguay at the end of August but things could look very different for La Albiceleste and Chiqui Tapia must ensure that there are no slip-ups in his initial steps as president.