The Argentine awarded by Fifa as the best coach of 2022 has risen to the top of the world in four years, literally starting from scratch
He was supposed to be passing through and ended up conquering the world, from his triumph in Qatar two months ago to the “The Best” award presented to him by Fifa on Monday. Not a bad parable, that of Lionel Scaloni, especially in the light of how the adventure at the wheel of the Seleccion had begun just over four years ago. That coach at the time still budding, catapulted from nowhere (or almost) onto a hot bench like the Argentine one after the flop of the World Cup in Russia, took off the role of the sacrificial victim to put on that of the hero. Yet, the winning recipe of Scaloni and his “Scaloneta” is based on simple concepts and principles, which leave the tactical aspect in the background to enhance commitment, individual qualities and, above all, team spirit .
The keys to success
No secrets, no particular stratagems, Scaloni’s word. “The fundamental thing is that my players identify with the idea I want to convey and play convinced of what they are doing”, explained the coach last summer after the Final won against Italy. “Attitude and spirit are fundamental, because either they are there or they aren’t. Tactics and strategies, on the other hand, can be corrected, even during the game.” But to convince and drag a wounded and traumatized Seleccion like the one taken by Scaloni in the summer of 2018, convincing arguments were certainly needed, starting with those that distracted Messi from farewell ideas. “The first step was to build a shared path,” confessed the former Lazio and Atalanta defender. Then the gradual generational turnover, the explosion of Lautaro Martinez and the mature leadership of Messi have come full circle, bringing the first results to an Albiceleste which in the meantime was growing in awareness and self-esteem. “There are no magic formulas”, said Di Maria after the America’s Cup won in 2021. “We are simply a united and hungry group”. A group that blindly relied on its helmsman from the very first hour, as per the metaphor used by De Paul last summer: “If it’s ten in the morning and Scaloni says good night, it’s night for us”.
In fact, Scaloni has not brought about tactical upheavals compared to his predecessors. What changed was the climate around a group that until then had seemed to live exclusively on the shoulders and moods of Messi. It is no coincidence that he was the one who publicly extolled Scaloni’s importance immediately after the 3-0 win over Croatia with which Argentina earned the final in Qatar: “If we have come this far it is thanks to the compactness and preparation . We are an intelligent team who are able to read the various moments within a match. We always know what to do, we leave nothing to chance and we don’t lose heart when things don’t go the right way”. Many Argentines, even the most critical at the beginning, today recognize Scaloni’s two great qualities: that of knowing how to get the best out of his players and that of having surrounded himself with prepared and competent people. As admitted by the albiceleste coach himself, in fact, the contribution of old glories such as Samuel, Ayala and Aimar, to whom Scaloni relied to prepare the various phases of the game, was decisive.
Few, very few would have imagined an Argentina capable of winning the America’s Cup, the Final and the World Cup in the space of a year and a half, capable of wiping out a fast of 28 years and, as if that weren’t enough, capable of scoring a string of 36 useful results in a row (second only to Italy’s absolute record of Mancini). Scaloni’s, at the time, seemed to be a passing adventure, the result of almost obligatory circumstances and destined for a short life. A sort of blind “all-in”. Because the federation’s disastrous accounts certainly didn’t allow for big dreams. Because the names of “scream” (Simeone and Gallardo) were already taken. And above all because few coaches would have run the risk of getting burned on the bench of a national team so full of expectations and pressure. The only viable solution was therefore to promote who until the day before had been Jorge Sampaoli’s deputy, albeit without experience except for the two years as assistant to Casilda’s coach (first at Sevilla, then at Seleccion).
The feeling built with Messi and with the rest of the group, including the new ones promoted on a permanent basis (from Mac Allister to Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez), allowed Scaloni to withstand the impact of the first criticisms after the 2019 America’s Cup closed at third place. The support of the group has always been accompanied by that of the AFA, which has always appreciated the seriousness and low profile of the Santa Fe coach. From there, the climb to the top of the world, the same that in December inspired an in-depth praise of the Cronista (a popular South American periodical) in an attempt to trace Lionel Scaloni’s main features and qualities: “He is clearly a winner because he has the right mix of skills that transcend the virtues and knowledge of the common coach. First of all, he possesses an innate leadership combined with courage, ambition and calmness, with a marked ability to manage unexpected and crisis situations. Someone like him – states the editorial – could easily manage a company”. In the meantime, freshly renewed until 2026, Scaloni will be content to lead Argentina until the next World Cup.
1 March – 11:24
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