The former Chile coach and Copa America winner is the number one pick to lead Leo Messi’s Argentina – but there’s one problem standing in the way 

Sampaoli is the AFA’s firm favourite as there is a serious lack of plan B?

“The candidate the AFA likes most is Sampaoli,” said vice-president Daniel Angelici to the surprise of absolutely no one given that speculation this week that has varied from firm interest in the Sevilla manager to an already done deal.

The AFA have made little secret in the identity their number one target but despite Angelici stating his friendship with Sevilla president Jose Castro, it didn’t prevent the Spanish club hitting out over the pursuit of their man.

Sevilla’s anger at the very public approach and talk of a meeting in Spain with Sampaoli before even enquiring about his availability created unnecessary tension and prompted Sampaoli to deny all contact in a pre-match press conference this week.

“Meeting with the AFA? No, not at all. I wouldn’t meet anyone, not even my brother, before a game,” Sampaoli insisted.

“If you’re asking if I have already said yes to the AFA – that is not true and I can’t talk about something that isn’t real.”

However, despite the denial Claudio Tapia arrived in Spain to speak with Lionel Messi and if growing reports are to be believed has met with Sampaoli’s lawyer Fernando Baredes. It is being widely reported that Sampoli will sign an initial one-year deal but with both parties hopeful that this will be extended until the 2022 World Cup.

Such news will no doubt anger Sevilla further particularly as if a deal has been struck behind closed doors, no official announcement is likely to come for some time.

Tapia has told reporters this week, “If it is Sampaoli or someone else, you will have to wait,” and this stance of not being rushed to make a decision has been one that has been repeated on several occasions.

Argentina face Brazil in a friendly on June 9th in Melbourne and Tapia has said that they have until May 31st to find Edgardo Bauza’s successor. Perhaps an agreement with Sampaoli is the reason for such a relaxed attitude and why there is little talk of any other options.

But suppose Sevilla managed to ward off Argentina – who else could the AFA turn to?

The truth is that realistic alternatives are scarce.

Diego Simeone was the other candidate immediately named by the AFA but such a move looked like a non-starter from the beginning. Tapia addressed this from Spain, “he [Simeone] has a contract for a year after the World Cup with very important clauses and we have to take care of the economy and be cautious.”

Simeone’s attraction cannot be denied after a playing career that amassed over 100 appearances in La Albiceleste, an exceptional coaching career in Europe and the passionate personality that Argentineans adore.

However, El Cholo himself has maintained that it is a job for much later in his career, Atletico Madrid want the 46-year-old to lead them out in their new stadium and crucially he is under contract – a contract that unlike Sampaoli does not include a relatively small release clause.

For similar reasons, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino can be discounted and so it leaves the AFA looking at the established names currently in Europe and realistically Sampaoli being the only viable option.

Sampaoli’s €1.5 million release clause is even within the AFA’s limited budget and aside from the Copa America winning coach’s excellent CV, this financial aspect is vital.

The AFA may have recently signed a lucrative new television deal with Fox-Turner but the vast majority of this is for Argentina’s cash-strapped club football and not a blank cheque to pay off Bauza along with any other debts and pay for any coach of their choosing.

Sampaoli it would appear is the balance between high-profile, accomplished and affordable.

So if money is a restriction, is there anywhere else to turn?

If the riches of European football prove too much to compete with then the next port of call would be within the very same broke system that the AFA are partly responsible and River Plate’s Marcelo Gallardo stands out.

The 41-year-old had an excellent playing career both internationally and in Europe but since retirement has enjoyed a wonderfully successful coaching career, winning a league title in Uruguay with Nacional before returning to River Plate and lifting the Copa Libertadores, among a glut of trophies.

Europe beckons for Gallardo but after committing himself to River for one more year, the former Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain playmaker said this week, “I can’t leave River until the end of the year. I gave my word,”  – an apparent rejection of any advances from Argentina.

Whether that would be true if Tapia came knocking and Gallardo was now the AFA’s number one choice would likely test his promise to River but El Muneco would be perhaps the only candidate within Argentine football who could command the respect of the current squad.

Edgardo Bauza rarely gave the impression of a coach fully in charge and there were certainly few or no examples of Paton stamping his authority and shaking things up.

Gallardo’s lack of experience maybe a concern but this would surely be even greater for another of the candidates linked, Jorge Almiron. The 45-year-old led Lanus to the league title last season in impressive fashion but an otherwise mediocre nine-year managerial career cannot be completely assessed purely on a six-month period with a club that he had little input on building the squad.

With this in mind, it is clear why the AFA have made Sampaoli such a priority and the prospect of Tapia not being successful would plunge Argentina back into further uncertainty.

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