Sabella excels as coach of Estudiantes
Pep Guardiola is piling up the titles with Barcelona, and doing it in style - but he must surely face some competition for any coach of the year award from the man whose team gave him a scare on Saturday - Alejandro Sabella of Argentine side Estudiantes.
Like Guardiola, Sabella is a first-time coach - though the Argentine does have many years experience as assistant to Daniel Passarella before being tempted to fly solo with Estudiantes, who are one of the clubs he played for, along with Leeds and Sheffield United.
Given the imbalance of forces, coming within two minutes of beating Barcelona and claiming the world crown is a remarkable achievement. And it is all the more extraordinary when placed in full context.
Barcelona were pushed all the way by underdogs Estudiantes in Saturday's final
For a club from Brazil to push Barcelona so close would not, in the current circumstances, be as surprising.
The Brazilian currency is very strong at the moment, making it easier to lure players back from Europe with relatively high salaries.
Brazilian football is even attracting high profile Argentines - the likes of D'Alessandro, Maxi Lopez and Guinazu play there, and recent revelation De Federico has been sold across the border. There is no significant trade in the other direction.
The comparative weakness of the Argentine currency gives an extra incentive to sell players abroad - the selling club gets more bang for its buck, or more likely its Euro, and the Argentine championship is left looking threadbare as a result.
There is evidence in its inconsistency. Little teams keep coming through strongly.
Banfield have just won their first title in over 100 years of existence and the previous championship (two are staged per year) was just a refereeing error away from going to Huracan, while Tigre were just a goal away from winning the one before that.
And who were the bottom two teams of this championship? Tigre and Huracan.
In Argentina, as in other countries, this rollercoaster parade of comparatively little teams is not a healthy sign.
It hints broadly at generalised mediocrity, when the big clubs are unable to transform the size of their fanbase into quality on the field.
River Plate have been mired in institutional crisis, and Boca Juniors have run into problems of the very successful model they pioneered - that of producing potential stars, selling them to Europe and financing a competitive squad with the proceeds.
Firstly, the policy comes with built-in instability - there comes a time when you are unable to replace the players you sell.
Secondly, it is hard to maintain such a logical strategy in an environment driven by passion.
When Boca bought back playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme on a definitive basis they were contravening their own model - which argues that to have a man in the dressing-room earning many times more than the others is not a recipe for good team spirit.
So the little clubs come through - but lack the quality to sustain their success (though it will be interesting to follow the long term futures of Lanus and Velez Sarsfield, who seem well run and proficient in producing their own players.)
Evidence of the low level of the current Argentine domestic game was clearly supplied in this year's Copa Libertadores.
River Plate, Lanus and San Lorenzo were knocked out in the group stage, and Boca went straight afterwards - leaving Estudiantes to carry the challenge.
And before Sabella took over from Leo Astrada, they too looked to be heading for an early exit.
Only goal difference saw them past Peru's Sporting Cristal in the qualifying round.
Then in their group they lost 3-0 to Cruzeiro of Brazil and needed a scandalously offside goal to beat Bolivia's Universitario, before going down to Deportivo Quito of Ecuador.
It strains belief to think that, just eight months later, this side would come within minutes of the World Club title.
But it shows the difference a coach can make in his two main spheres of influence - personal relations and team strategy.
Sabella got everyone pulling in the same direction and made the team more compact. It favoured their passing game and tightened up the defence - after he took over the team won the Libertadores by conceding just two goals in 11 games.
And even with keeper Andujar sold to Italy and not adequately replaced they kept Barcelona at bay for 88 minutes.
In his low-key, 'all credit to the players' style, Sabella marshalled his heavily outgunned resources impressively on Saturday.
He packed the midfield to interrupt the flow of Barcelona's passing, had clearly put in the hours studying the trajectory of their set-pieces - Veron headed away corner after corner - and it was a shame that his team were not blessed with attacking pace.
With someone to latch on to Veron's diagonal passes the second half need not have turned into attack against defence, and Barcelona's high defensive line could have been exposed.
Even here, Sabella tried his best, freeing his quickest player, right-back Clemente Rodriguez, to burst forward.
Sabella, here on the left talking to Barca boss Guardiola, made his team a tight unit
On the rare occasions when the team looked threatening after the interval Rodriguez had got himself into promising positions.
Even the last ditch tactic nearly worked - that of throwing big defender Desabato up as an emergency striker.
Right at the end of the game his glance was just a few inches away from forcing penalties.
At the final whistle Sabella was noble enough to compliment his team on being good losers - adding that it is not always a characteristic of Argentine football. But there should be no nonsense about a good loser being the same thing as a loser.
When, especially against such odds, the team has given it their best shot, then win or lose the dominant emotion after the game should be pride - and that is an emotion that Alejandro Sabella is well entitled to feel looking back on his first year as a coach.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
This season Ever Banega has been putting in some very good performances for Valencia, could he not be the answer to partner Mascherano for Argentina in South Africa ahead of Fernando Gago? Gago seems to have declined in the past two years.
Argentina play Catalonia this week. Banega was named in the end - as a replacement for Mascherano, who Liverpool refused to release - but I'm astonished that he wasn't in from the start - especially, as you mentioned, with Gago not getting a game with Real Madrid at the moment.
Banega has played his way through the problems of a premature move to Europe, joining a club in chaos, and so on. He looks in terrific form, justifying the hopes built up around him when he emerged nearly three years ago - available to receive, strong on the ball, wonderful range of passing. He can defend as well, though it's not his strongest suit - at Boca he was used in the holding role. He's a class act and it's great to see him come through.
What are your views on Lucas Levia's development under Rafa Benitez.
He was Brazilian Player of the Year before his transfer, but tell any Liverpool fan this and they would wonder how? Despite his opportunities, he just has not won over the fans with any of his performances - and yet Dunga has picked him recently for the Brazil squad. Are we Liverpool fans missing something?
Fair to say that so far he's been a disappointment - though there aren't too many who could fill Xabi Alonso's shoes.
A bit of context. Brazilian football produces so many great players in so any positions, but these days, much to my regret, it's not strong on central midfielders. In the last World Cup the central midfield duo were Gilberto Silva, a converted centre back, and Ze Roberto, a converted left-back.
The season has just ended here, and on Sunday one of the Rio papers printed a team of the championship picked by former greats. Of the midfield quartet, three were foreigners (Guinazu and Conca from Argentina, Petkovic from Serbia, leaving Hernanes as the only Brazilian).
So I think the reason that people went overboard on Lucas when he came through - and I include myself in this - includes an aspect of wishful thinking. A strong central midfielder capable of making an attacking contribution, happy to burst beyond the strikers and get shots in - we wanted him to be good, and perhaps built him up into something better than he is.
Or perhaps we were right first time, and he's just finding it tough to make the step up from a Brazilian club to a big four Premiership outfit. Time for truth is approaching - I'd love to hear the opinions of Liverpool fans who are watching him every week.