Jose Pekerman takes Colombia back to the future
Pep Guardiola as coach of Argentina's national team? It was an idea floated recently by Argentine FA boss Julio Grondona, but as nothing more than a pipedream.
It is very, very hard to imagine Argentina having a foreign coach. Same with Brazil.
The idea was debated briefly in the Brazilian press just over a decade ago. But that was in exceptional times, when the national team were in danger of not qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.
Over recent decades there have been very few foreign coaches in Brazilian or Argentine club football - those that took the plunge were usually gone sooner rather than later.
62-year-old Argentine coach Jose Pekerman is set to lead the Colombia national team. Photo: Getty
The other member of South America's traditional big three is Uruguay.
It is an indication of how far they had slipped that after missing out on the World Cups of 1994 and 98 they swallowed their pride and appointed a high profile Argentine, Daniel Passarella, to take charge of their national team.
It did not last long, and Uruguay have since climbed back to the top table under the command of a local, Oscar Washington Tabarez.
Elsewhere on the continent, only two national teams have home grown coaches - and in both cases, they are building on foundations which foreigners helped to build.
Paraguay have enjoyed the most successful spell in their history, qualifying for four consecutive World Cups, never easily beaten and reaching the quarter finals for the first time in 2010, where they gave eventual champions Spain their toughest match of the tournament. The coaches behind this run were Brazilian (Paulo Cesar Carpegiani), Uruguayan (Sergio Markarian and Anibal Ruiz, with a bizarre interlude in between them from the Italian Cesare Maldini) and Argentine (Gerardo Martino).
Now they have gone local, appointing one of their best players in this process, the former right back Francisco Arce.
And Venezuela's extraordinary recent rise began just over a decade ago when an Argentine, Jose Omar Pastoriza, identified a promising group of young players.
He helped lay the groundwork, and then results improved when locals took over, first Richard Paez and now Cesar Farias.
Bolivia can claim their coach Gustavo Quinteros as one of their own.
He played international football for the country, including the 1994 World Cup. But he is from Argentina, where he was born, grew up and first developed as a footballer, only taking out Bolivian nationality after he had played in the country for a few years.
Chile are also coached by an Argentine, Claudio Borghi, while Peru have gone Uruguayan with Sergio Markarian.
These appointments clearly show the dynamic of South American football.
The British introduced the game to the continent, especially in the south cone.
It caught on with remarkable speed in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, all cities going through rapid booms of urbanisation and immigration.
The local re-interpretation of the British game soon made it an important part of national identities in these countries - who then helped popularise the game elsewhere in the continent.
Far bigger than Uruguay, and without Brazil's linguistic isolation, Argentina played the lead role in this process - perhaps more successfully in Colombia than anywhere else.
The launch of a professional league in Colombia in the late 1940s coincided with a big players' strike in Argentina.
Unable to make a living at home, some big name players moved north. Stars such as Adolfo Pedernera, Alfredo Di Stefano and Nestor Rossi left a refined Argentine imprint on Colombian football.
Since the heyday of players like Carlos Valderrama, Colombia have lost their way as a footballing force. Photo: Getty
In 1993, when Colombia beat Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires (inflicting the first ever home defeat in a World Cup qualifier) the debt was obvious.
Colombia's Carlos Valderrama dominated the game like an old style Argentine number 10. It looked like the birth of a new global power.
Since then Colombia have lost their way. The Colombian school of coaches have had more success in Ecuador, where first Francisco Maturana, then Hernan Dario Gomez followed by Luis Fernando Suarez, and now Reinaldo Rueda have coached the national team.
It probably makes sense for Ecuador to have a foreign coach - it is easier for an outsider to stand aloof from tensions between the two major cities, the port of Guayaquil and the mountain capital of Quito. But it is striking that these Colombian coaches have done better with Ecuador (much smaller and with less football tradition) than at home.
Perhaps some of the explanation lies in the trauma of 1994. In that year's World Cup, unable to cope with the expectations, Colombia imploded, with tragic consequences for centre back Andres Escobar, murdered in Medellin.
The national team were supposed to be ambassadors for the positive side of their country. Instead their World Cup failure ended up attracting global attention to the drug cartel-fuelled chaos that was mid 90s Colombia.
The national team - a splendid, attractive one, capable of beating anyone outside the pressures of a World Cup - suffered a kind of guilt by association.
The team and its playing style were seen as discredited. Never since has the Colombian national side had a sense of footballing identity, a clear idea of who it is and what it is trying to do.
It is in this light that the appointment of Argentina's Jose Pekerman to coach the national team looks so positive.
Of course, it would have been better had he taken charge eighteen months ago, rather than three games into the current set of World Cup qualifiers.
But even with limited preparation time it looks a perfect fit. Pekerman played in Colombia, he has a magnificent record in youth development and his 2006 Argentina side was one of the most attractive seen in recent World Cups.
Built around the playmaking talents of Juan Roman Riquelme, it was almost a retro side, the type of old fashioned Argentine football that was so influential in Colombia.
Pekerman, then, should be able to help Colombian football get in touch with its lost identity. He is the first foreigner to take charge of the national team in 30 years.
Some might see it as a backward step. But when you have lost your way, sometimes you have to go back to go forwards.
Please comment on the piece in the space provided below. You can send questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q: What are your thoughts about Dorlan Pabón of Colombia? To me he is a technical player with a lot of potential and a good burst of speed. Is there any chance he might make the move to Europe?
I'm surprised there hasn't been more fuss about him. He's ideal for a wide attacking position, on the right in a 4-2-3-1, for example.
He's stocky, strong, very quick and can shoot well off either foot, with two goals already in World Cup qualification.
I'm really looking forward to seeing him play for Atletico Nacional of Medellin in this year's Libertadores, especially now that playmaker Macnelly Torres has returned to the club.
Pabon has attracted interest from Argentina, but I certainly think he's worthy of wider recognition.