All things considered, a narrow defeat at the hands of a vastly superior Brazil team was about as much as Argentina could have hoped from Tuesday’s landmark 100th Superclásico de las Américas. The gulf between South America’s two titans is immense and widening constantly, meaning that the late 1-0 loss can be considered an acceptable result by interim coach Lionel Scaloni and those in charge of the Argentine Football Association (AFA).
Such limited, thinking, however, tells its own story. The fact that only Miranda’s headed injury-time goal separated Argentina and Brazil cannot hide the latter’s superiority, an advantage moreover that has little to do with the names of the talents on the field. More telling is the stability and cohesion the Seleção enjoy, which is in stark contrast to the chaos that continues to reign around the Albiceleste.
The current Brazil coach, Tite, took over the job at the end of a disastrous 2016 Copa América campaign for his nation. Almost simultaneously, Argentina welcomed as Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s successor former San Lorenzo and LDU Quito coach Edgardo ‘El Patón’ Bauza, after Martino finally tired of fighting the AFA almost as much as his team’s on-pitch rivals. Bauza, however, lasted less than a year in the post, a mark Jorge Sampaoli barely cleared before receiving his own marching orders. Scaloni, then, is the third man to take charge against Brazil since Tite arrived, and all indications suggest that another new face will be in the hotseat by the time next year’s Copa América rolls around.
What all three of Scaloni’s predecessors had in common was a squad selection so conservative that it led to the outrageous rumours that Lionel Messi was tasked with picking a side composed solely of his friends. Where Brazil moved to clear out the deadwood and usher in a new generation of talent, the Albiceleste stuck with the team that fought to the final in the 2014 World Cup, even when a large proportion of that team was clearly past its sell-by date. The bitter fruits of that decision are being harvested now, when 2018’s failure leaves no option but to renew: a team that boasted just two players, Sergio Romero and Nicolás Otamendi, with more than 20 caps; and even more concerningly, with the aforementioned defender, scorer of four goals, as the squad’s leading marksman.
The decision to delay Argentina’s rejuvenation has also made an impact psychologically on players that should represent the nation’s future. After years of watching from the outside, superstars like Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi appear bereft of confidence and poise on the international stage, ambling around the pitch mere shadows of their true selves shown at Juventus and Inter.
Dybala, in particular, was a ghost-like figure against Brazil, a free-kick fired just past Alisson’s post almost his sole contribution in another disappointing showing for the Albiceleste. The pair, and many more, are victims of the inability of those in charge to organise a team worthy of its very talent: that sadly goes too for Scaloni, who despite steering the ship acceptably during these last few internationals does not seem to have either the presence or the experience to step into this tiger cage on a full-time basis.
Not that you would know anything was amiss by watching the AFA’s antics, of course. The association’s current priority is pushing through new regulations that would allow clubs run as non-profit civil societies to be dissolved and reformed as ‘Sporting Limited Companies’ (SAD), a shallow euphemism for the arrival of big businesses in the Superliga. That move would potentially remove the right of fans to elect and remove those in charge of their clubs, and is set to face a vicious backlash prior to voting on November 22, when at least three-quarters of the 43 members of the AFA assembly must cast their ballots in favour to enable SADs.
While those in charge jockey for position and votes, the national team is once more left in a state of limbo. The truth is that, despite the removal of Sampaoli and a wholesale change in personnel, nothing has changed in essence since the World Cup exit almost four months ago, a state of affairs that, as defeat to Brazil demonstrated, cannot be allowed to continue.