Argentina Comment: Turning To Sergio Batista Means A Return To The Glory Days Of 'La Nuestra'

A graduate of the same Argentinos Juniors 'semillero' as Diego Maradona, Batista's controlled and measured approach to attacking football could not be more different to his predecessor's gung-ho tactics...
It may be an exaggeration to say that Sergio Batista 'is an unknown even in Uruguay', as his predecessor Diego Maradona recently stated - on the way to becoming more and more like a pantomime villain every day - but it is true that outside of South America the long haired 47-year-old is something of an unknown quantity. A reserved individual who favours cold analysis over emotional outbursts, the new coach is tactically a giant step away from the polemical figure of Maradona who previously occupied the Albiceleste bench.

Just like 'El Diego', Batista cut his football teeth in the famous academy of Buenos Aires club Argentinos Juniors. A neighbourhood team which has a fraction of the funds and fans as the giants of Argentine football, the Bicho nevertheless boast an incredible record of unearthing future superstars. Juan Roman Riquelme learned the game in La Paternal, as did Esteban Cambiasso, Boca Juniors coach Claudio Borghi and Fernando Redondo.

A clear pattern can be seen through the players who walked through these doors; measured passing football is an imperative, individual talents are nurtured and the focus is on playing in the Argentine tradition. 'El Checho' never forgot these early lessons, and a commitment to la nuestra marks him out throughout his playing and coaching career.

While most left Argentinos at an early age Batista opted to stay, and as a combative yet cultured defensive midfielder he formed a potent partnership with the more creative Borghi, an immensely talented player unlucky that his career coincided with one of the best players ever to play the game. The pair inspired the Bicho to their best spell in history; the team lifted two national titles and the first and only Copa Libertadores in their history in 1985, defeating America de Cali in a famous three game final series.

The highlight of 'Chechos' playing career was to come in the next year however, as with Maradona in magical form an unfancied Argentina side won the 1986 World Cup. Batista was ever-present for the Seleccion, and would go on to accrue a total of 39 international caps which included the 1990 World Cup.

Batista never made a move to Europe, playing the majority of his career for the Bichos with short spells at River Plate, All Boys and a year in Japan. He also, perhaps inevitably moved on to coaching his beloved first club in two spells, first saving them from relegation in 2001 before coming back in 2004 to lead them into the top flight. It was only on taking over the Argentine Under 20 squad however that his coaching talents began to flourish.

Taking advantage of a squad that included such talents as Riquelme, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and current captain Javier Mascherano, the youngsters were on fire in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, winning every single game to take the gold medal. The win raised the coach's stock in the AFA and most importantly secured a lifetime bond with the players who would form the backbone of the Albiceleste for the next 10 years, and when looking for a reference on how Batista's teams will line-up Beijing is the place to start.

When considering how a 'Chechista' Argentina will line up, it can almost be assumed that an attractive attacking side will take the field, no matter who the opponents. This will not however be the kamikaze, manic 4-1-5 approach favoured by his predecessor but a style of play based on keeping the ball, working on the ground through the midfield and releasing the superstars when the time is right.

Players such as Ever Banega and Esteban Cambiasso are crucial to the coach's plans as, before anything else, they do not give away the ball easily and like to build attacks from deep. Once fit again, another player in line for a sensational return could be Riquelme himself: the classic number 10 is a lost art in the Argentine team, and Batista is desperate to have a playmaker directing play 20 yards out, feeding the speed merchants around him.

This is a coach that values skill over brawn; keeping a cool head over the current Argentine fetish of poner huevo - roughly translated as giving your all physically. Batista has regularly bemoaned the trend for Argentine clubs to hothouse their youngsters with weights and physical training in a bid to bulk them up for Europe, and wants all Argentines to go back to basics and nurture the traditional skills of la nuestra, dribbling, vision, passing and control.

Argentine supporters then, as well as fans of pure football around the world, have plenty to be optimistic about with the ascension of Batista to the hotseat. Of course the honeymoon period will not last long, with big questions looming even on his first day - first and foremost whether Argentina should keep the old guard in the squad for a last hurrah in 2011 and the Copa America, or put Javier Zanetti and company to one side in preparation for the 2014 World Cup - but one thing at least is certain; in 'El Checho', the Albiceleste have picked up an astute coach who is not afraid to take the initiative, and who will bring back the football that the entire country wants to see played.

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