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Now or never for Sampaoli

  • Published at 08:16 pm June 26th, 2018
  • Last updated at 09:51 pm June 26th, 2018
Argentina football team manager Jorge Sampaoli

Jorge Sampaoli has been heavily criticised after Argentina’s dismal start at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia. And ahead of the Albiceleste’s must-win Group D clash against Nigeria, Sampaoli faces a strange situation in that despite being the manager, he almost has no authority in calling the shots right now.

Argentina have produced many great coaches in the past, always preferring one of their own to manage the national side. They sacked Edgardo Bauza last year after getting to the brink of elimination from the qualifying stage.

The Argentina Football Association then handed the job to the then Sevilla coach Sampaoli, another Argentine who led Chile to the Copa America title in 2015. Sampaoli hasn’t done all that bad in recent times.

After taking charge of Chile, Sampaoli, who follows the philosophy of legendary Argentine manager Marcelo Bielsa, changed the playing style and got immediate results. Sampaoli steered Chile to the Copa crown after beating Argentina in the final.

His title-winning campaign saw him named in the final three-man shortlist for the 2015 Fifa World Coach of the Year award, alongside Spaniard Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich) and Luis Enrique (Barcelona). So when he took charge of the Albiceleste, Sampaoli was welcomed warmly by the Argentina fans throughout the world.

But he soon faced a reality check as Argentina had to wait till the last day of qualifying to squeeze into the World Cup. Coaching a star-studded Argentina is always a difficult job, especially when you have to meet expectations not only back home, but millions of Albiceleste fans across the globe.

And this group comprising Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Lucas Biglia, among others, have been playing in the side for the last 10 years. Managing a group like this whose average age is around 30 is anything but easy for a newcomer.

Sadly, it was recently learned from the Argentine media that the players revolted against the heavily-tattooed coach, and decided to play according to their own wish. Sampaoli denied claims of a mutiny against him in the camp but his nerves was visible for all to see at the official press conference in Saint Petersburg Monday.

There will be a number of changes for the Nigeria clash, including Willy Caballero, who was disappointing in their Croatia tie. Argentina must beat the Super Eagles and hope for a Croatia win against Iceland if they are to advance to the knockout stage. 

An Argentina win and a draw in the Croatia-Iceland game will also see the two-time champion qualify for the Round of 16 as Group D runners-up. So it is now or never for Argentina. 

A negative result will only make matters worse for Sampaoli. Whereas a win will give the Argentina coach some much-needed breathing space.