Basile exit sparks change of direction for Argentina
Lionel Messi was hardly overcome with regret when he arrived back in Barcelona to be informed that Alfio Basile had resigned as coach of his national team..
"Argentina haven't played well for a while, and the results haven't been good," he said. "We needed a change."
But the change he is advocating would seem to be one of style of command rather than ideas or playing personnel. Messi was enthusiastic in his support of 1986 World Cup-winning midfielder Sergio Batista stepping up from the youth sides to replace Basile.
Batista recently took Argentina to the Olympic gold medal with a line up differing little from Basile's favourites - Riquelme as the hub of the midfield, Mascherano to hold, Gago to link, with the Messi-Aguero combination up front.
Perhaps Batista places more emphasis on attacking width, but as he said recently, he sees football in a similar way to Basile. But there is a key difference. Batista is 45. Alfio Basile is 65 on November 1st.
Just over 30 years ago Basile was part of Argentina's coaching staff in the 1978 World Cup, providing scouting reports on future opponents. He had recently retired from a playing career in which he won international caps as a centre back. Messi was not born for another nine years.
Over the last few weeks rumours have been leaking out of the Argentina camp suggesting a lack of affinity between Basile and his back-up staff on one hand, and some of the players on the other, rumours which Messi's reaction to the resignation did nothing to dispel.
The likely cause of the problem is a mutual cultural incomprehension. The pace of technological change and the globalisation of football have left players and coach looking at things through very different perspectives.
Basile is a bohemian of the old school. He even looks like a tango singer from the 1950s. His naturally deep voice has been rendered pure gravel by cigarettes and whiskey.
Like Tony Soprano he found himself trying to steer the course in a world where values have changed. The mobile phone is to him a giant nuisance, a machine designed to destroy harmony in the dressing room by letting outside opinions in, and internal dissent out.
And this traditionalist was in charge of a squad where some of the key members are hooked on PlayStation.Today's stars have gone to Europe early. They have had little contact with the mystique and superstition of Argentine football that Basile is steeped in. They are used to a relationship with their club coaches which is less paternal, more professional, with greater attention to detail.
Perhaps Basile's big mistake was to surround himself with a back-up staff from a similar generation. Maybe relations would have been smoother with a younger assistant who was closer to the players. Areas of confusion and conflict could have been identified and dealt with earlier.
Certainly the Olympic squad's experience of playing under Sergio Batista seems to have led to a comparison which has done Basile no favours. "The idea of Batista taking over seems very good to me," said Messi at Barcelona airport. "I know him and his staff well and it would be good if he becomes coach of the national team."
And so the debate rages over the succession. Should it be Batista? How about Miguel Angel Russo, or Diego Simeone? Carlos Bianchi? Is there a role for Maradona?
But as Basile leaves the scene, he deserves to be remembered. He is one of the game's romantics, for whom the joy of expression speaks louder than the fear of defeat - a philosophy that might be old fashioned, but which should never be out of date.
He remains the last Argentina coach to win a title at senior level - the 1991 and 93 Copa America triumphs from his first spell in charge, which ended with one of the great World Cup matches of recent times, the 3-2 defeat to Romania in 1994.
It was a classic tie of attack versus counter-attack, made attractive by the fact that Argentina accepted the risks of taking the game to their opponents.
The highlight of his second spell, before the breakdown in relationships started corroding performance, came last year in the Copa America.
It ended in tears, stiffled and picked off by Brazil in the final. But the previous matches were an exhibition of passing football, patient and audacious, hypnotic and dazzling. Being there in Venezuela to watch Alfio Basile's side in action was an immense privilege.
From last week's postbag:
I watched some late night coverage of the recent game between Uruguay and Argentina and I was startled by some of the decisions made by the referee, and indeed some of the challenges being put in by the players. I have read columnists and heard commentators complain that "on the continent that would have been a straight red" for a challenge that was only deemed to have been a yellow. My question is whether or not you think that there could be a recognised standard of refereeing at club level that could be implemented globally and that could somehow be universalised. i.e. a red card worthy challenge would be given a red card in Rome just as much as it would be in Rio or London? Is this just idealistic? Or am I just being naive, and is this already the case? James Cox
Refereeing will always be controversial, for two reasons. Firstly, coaches have a vested interest in finding controversy to deflect attention from their failure to achieve objectives. Secondly because so many decisions are down to interpretation, and, as football is a universal language which we speak with different accents, interpretations vary.
I had the opportunity to discuss this very point some time ago with Leonardo Gaciba, one of Brazil's leading refs. He told me that the role of the ref is to be a chameleon - he should adjust his criteria in accordance with the local interpretation. He said that in Brazil the players are looking for the foul all the time, where elsewhere in South America this is not so true. So a moment of physical contact where he would award a free kick in a domestic Brazilian game may go unpunished if he was handling a Copa Libertadores match. The long term trend is for criteria to converge - look how it used to be considered fair to barge the keeper into the net in England - but this is a process that takes many, many years.
Speaking of Colombia's footballers [the subject of last week's piece] what happened to the highly rated young player called Sherman Cardenas? Mihir Bose
I think he's suffered a bit from an unfairly inflated reputation. He got in the first team at Bucaramanga, a relatively small provincial Colombian side, very early. He showed some talent and then I believe was awarded a high value by the Football Manager game (I'm a bit like Alfio Basile with this new fangled technology). He's still developing, and his progress would be seen as perfectly satisfactory if it wasn't for this unrealistic expectation which had been created. I watched him at length last year in the South American Under-20 Championships, and though he came up with flashes, he looked very lightweight and, understandably, well away from being the finished article. He's young enough to participate in the next version of the tournament in January - I'm hoping we might see something good from him then.
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