The former Blaugrana boss struggled at Camp Nou and, despite being promptly reunited with his No. 10, he is unlikely to find matters much easier with the Albiceleste.No matter what he does for the rest of his career, Alejandro Sabella is always likely to wonder, "What if?"
Two weeks after he so nearly led Argentina to World Cup glory, Sabella decided to walk away from the role. The Argentine Football Association (AFA) confirmed that the ex-Estudiantes boss had given all he could to the position, with Gerardo "Tata" Martino finally set to be unveiled Thursday as the new manager.
While Sabella became the first person to take the Albiceleste to a World Cup final in 24 years, they will begin the qualification stage for Russia 2018 knowing it will be at least 32 years between meals when it comes to the ultimate triumph.
Some will claim Sabella is partly to blame for that. They will point to him choosing Enzo Perez over Ever Banega and Sergio Romero instead of Willy Caballero. They will say that it may have been different had Carlos Tevez been there. "What if?"
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"Contrary to media reports last year and despite the fact that they both hail from Rosario in Argentina, Lionel Messi and Gerardo Martino only met when the latter took over at Barcelona last summer.
"The two enjoyed a positive relationship early on and could often be seen laughing and joking on the training ground.
"Things became more difficult as Messi took time out to recover from injury and the forward was unhappy at being substituted in some games and later due to being played on the right by Tata in others.
"The 27-year-old was also unhappy at some of his coach's tactical decisions late in the season, but the two remain on good terms and parted ways amicably — even though Barca ended the campaign with only the Spanish Supercopa to its name."Ben Hayward | Goal's Spanish soccer writer
But they weren't saying that as they overcame each hurdle on the assault course laid in front of them in Brazil, with more and more Argentines crossing the border on long car journeys as each round was negotiated. Sabella had them believing.
Perez, as it turned out, was thrown into action at the business end of the tournament and succeeded. Romero's penalty saves saw Argentina past Netherlands in the semifinals. And had Gonzalo Higuain reacted with a cooler head when being presented with a golden chance by Toni Kroos' header in the first half of the final, nobody would have said a word about Tevez.
The Juventus striker could easily have been called up only to be just as divisive a figure as he has previously proven himself to be — though there is always the chance he would have made the difference, too.
Unlike Tevez, though, Banega had been championed by Messi. Sabella decided that what he needed most in midfield was solidity in front of a suspect back line, sacrificing the Valencia man for the more durable approach offered by the likes of Lucas Biglia, Perez, Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano.
Had Banega been included, Messi could have found himself in more dangerous positions more often in the latter stages, but the cost may have been the concession of more chances at the other end.
The bottom line is that Higuain and Messi both had great opportunities in the final and never took them. Argentina may not have played the most thrilling soccer of the tournament, but it created the positions needed to win it, and as such has only itself to blame.
Martino, of course, is fresh from an unsuccessful spell with Barcelona. After picking up the Spanish Supercopa on away goals against Atletico Madrid, Diego Simeone's side would come back to bite him. First, Atletico knocked Barca out of the Champions League at the quarterfinal stage, marking a first failure to reach the last four since 2007. Next up, it won La Liga at Camp Nou on the final day of the season.
Martino's employment of Messi was always going to be one of the greater talking points of the manager's time in Spain, and the difficulties he found in keeping his star happy will leave many wondering exactly what he can do to avoid stumbling across some of the same issues over which Sabella was left scratching his head.
The Tevez issue will always be there. The best way to balance an attacking style with a strong defense will remain a concern. And the need to get Messi playing at his very best when it really matters has still not been entirely addressed by an Argentina coach.
Martino will once more be handed the privilege of coaching one of soccer's greatest ever players, but Sabella will be the first to tell him that there is a thin line between the ultimate glory and the unending sense of what could have been.