From being the only man available at a tough time to a refusal to accept footballing reality with Argentina, the short reign of Edgardo Bauza was a troubled one
After only eight months and eight matches in charge the axe has finally fallen on Edgardo Bauza, bringing an end to a messy few weeks of speculation and leaving Argentina in the market for a third coach since the 2014 World Cup.
The writing has been on the wall for Bauza since last month’s unconvincing victory over Chile and his bizarre post-match comments (perhaps even earlier) but Monday’s confirmation that the 59-year-old was out came as little surprise after a World Cup qualifying campaign that has lurched to crisis, leaving La Albiceleste contemplating missing out on Russia 2018.
A record of three wins, two draws and three defeats – the worst win percentage from an Argentina manager since 1974 – a failure to address key deficiencies and a disjointed, unimaginative style that has shown no sign of improvement, hardly make Bauza a blameless victim in all this but perhaps El Paton’s tenure was doomed to fail from the start.
When Gerardo Martino walked into the sunset after a second consecutive Copa America final defeat, the AFA was in complete and utter institutional chaos. Tata hadn’t been paid for months and had seen his plans for the summer Olympic tournament undermined, while the AFA were under the rule of a FIFA appointed normalisation committee.
Any list of exciting, potential successors was swiftly cut as coaches ruled themselves out amid AFA’s madness and as options dried up, Bauza was left as what many referred to as ‘the best of a bad bunch.’
An excellent track record in South American football, Bauza is a two-time Copa Libertadores winning coach, once with relative minnows Liga de Quito and again with San Lorenzo, but most importantly for the AFA, he was willing and his club at the time, Sao Paulo required no compensation.
An accomplished coach, albeit on a relatively modest scale, Bauza didn’t provide the lift that Argentine football needed after the disappointment of three final defeats in three years.
Not only was it underwhelming but it stylistically appeared at odds with the tools available to Argentina.
Alejandro Sabella came closest to harnessing Argentina’s attacking power in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup with a sometimes haphazard 4-3-3 but Bauza’s pragmatic and cautious approach to coaching was unlikely to replicate that and all too often, El Paton has been left to appear outdated, outthought and outgunned.
The highlight for Bauza was coaxing Lionel Messi out of his brief international retirement and an opening victory against Chile but it has been downhill since then and poor results and even worse performances left El Paton’s position virtually untenable.
The claims of Messi-dependence have reached new levels under Bauza as an increasingly disjointed or non-existent midfield seem set up to rely on moments of individual brilliance from their captain.
Uninspired squad selections have only served to exacerbate the issue and a refusal to look to the future and incorporate new faces has left a stagnant feel to La Albiceleste for which Bauza must shoulder responsibility, even if the alleged author of this ‘friends club’ is Javier Mascherano.
Last month’s qualifier against Chile was a must-win and while Argentina secured the three points required, it was plain to see that mistakes were being repeated and future success remained equally unlikely. Bauza’s glib appraisal that it was a ‘ten out of ten’ performance only antagonised supporters and when Lionel Messi was subsequently hit with a four-match ban, confidence in securing a place in Russia dropped further.
With good reason – in the eight matches Messi has missed during this campaign, Argentina have won just once and there has been scant evidence to suggest Bauza can select a side and prepare it to achieve the wins necessary to guarantee a place in the qualifying positions.
Eight months on and a new look AFA are back in the same position and while the two favourites Jorge Sampaoli and Diego Simeone excite supporters, their wildly differing styles suggest a lack of clear planning as to where Claudio Tapia and his team want Argentina to go.
Ultimately if La Albiceleste are winning and qualify for the World Cup, the AFA are unlikely to care but to some extent this short-term mindset is responsible for many of the issues within Argentine football.
Armed with the money from a new television deal, Bauza’s termination has already been agreed and now the AFA head to Europe and try and persuade Sampaoli. For many the Sevilla coach will be the answer to all problems but there is still a great deal of work to do and Claudio Tapia has much more to do in order to restore order in Argentina.