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November 20, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017

Sampaoli eyes a reboot of Argentina’s youth teams

Jorge Sampaoli did not have to wait long to make a favourable impression on his demanding audience. A hard-fought 1-0 win over Brazil, ending a run of nine straight victories for the Seleção, was followed in June by a 6-0 drubbing of Singapore that showcased — the opposition’s weaknesses allowing — the talent some of the coach’s new call-ups can bring to the set-up. But even as most Argentina fans’ attentions are firmly fixed on a massive World Cup qualifying clash against Uruguay in August, the former Sevilla coach is looking a little further into the future.

Part of the deal struck with the AFA to bring Sampaoli back home was that he be given full control of the nation’s underachieving youth sides. He is quickly proving that the clause was far from a dead letter. The most promising youngsters from across Argentina were convened on Monday at the AFA’s Ezeiza facility and put through their paces by Nicolás Diez, the man anointed by the coach to be the new head of the nation’s Under-20s once Claudio Ubeda’s contract expires.

More surprising still was the presence of the hyperactive Casilda native at the first training session. Promising players like Boca’s teenage playmaker Gonzalo Maroni were cajoled and directed by the man who is tasked first and foremost with getting the best out of Lionel Messi and the rest of Argentina’s superstars. His inspiration is clear. Predecessor José Pekerman set the foundations for two consecutive Junior World Cup wins a decade ago by installing a philosophy that reached throughout the Albiceleste ranks. Not only did that generation achieve outstanding success, but it also laid the groundwork for a group of players — Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María, among others — to dominate the senior side.

Now, however, the cracks in the system are more than evident. Argentina’s last youth World Cup success came in 2007, and the conveyor belt of talent has now all but dried up. Sampaoli will be judged primarily on his ability to first qualify for and then shine at Russia 2018, but he knows his job goes far beyond instant success. If he can recover the glory days of Pekerman and revive the nation’s debilitated youth ranks his legacy may prove far more complete in years to come.

— D.E

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia