All aboard the Scaloneta, There’s status room simplest at the blue and white bus with Lionel Scaloni on the wheel, subsequent prevent the World Cup ultimate: a whole nation packed in, everybody proper in the back of him, squeezed in combination, making a song. It wasn’t at all times this fashion however as Muchachos, the track that has turn into the soundtrack of the remaining month, places it: Argentina, land of Maradona and Messi that cried such a lot of years, has its hope again. They have come some distance rapid, and so has he, main them again to Lusail on Sunday night.
Scaloni was once in a lodge fitness center in Spain when the AFA referred to as 4 years in the past, his first senior squad drawn up that night as he walked alongside the seaside with Pablo Aimar. There to train the under-20s in L’Alcúdia, his won’t were the primary quantity they dialed however he replied. “Nobody wanted to take the national team,” admits Nicolás Tagliafico, amongst seven survivors from 2018.
Initially, he was once named period in-between supervisor for 2 video games. Two extra adopted, then two extra: “There wasn’t time to find a replacement,” he admits. He had simply seven caps, not too long ago grew to become 40, and no revel in. “He’s a great lad, but he can’t even direct traffic. How can you give the national team to Scaloni? Are we all mad? Diego Maradona complained. “Eat an Asado, fine, but coach a national team?! It’s way too big for you, like Minguito Tinguitella wearing Gordo Porcel’s suit.” Porcel and Tinguitella are a comedy duo, an Argentinian Laurel and Hardy if you like, and Porcel is the fat one.
How things change. Maradona was not alone in doubting and that spell taking it two games at a time was not exactly a ringing endorsement, but a connection was building, an identification: a “chemistry” in Scaloni’s words. The national team was becoming the Scaloneta , his national team. A metaphor – it could be a ship he captained as well as a bus – this was a journey where ever more passengers came aboard. And although Scaloni doesn’t like the title, preferring to point to his players, by the time they beat Ecuador in the 2021 Copa America quarter-final, it had gathered a momentum that felt irreversible.
It is now. Long after the semi-final in Qatar, Scaloni sat in the stands with his wife, Elisa, and two sons, Ian and Noah, the few fans left inside serenading him. He insisted he could not be compared with Menotti, Bilardo or Sabella but what he could yet achieve may even be greater. The sun will come up tomorrow, he is fond of saying, and boy has it. At 44, in his first senior management job, he has taken Argentina from crisis to a Copa América, their first trophy in 28 years, to the Finalissima win, a 36-game unbeaten run and now a World Cup final.
No one expected this. Well, almost no one. If Scaloni is an unexpected hero, those who knew him saw something. The World Cup’s youngest coach has not come from nowhere. It is there in the personality and the preparation. A simplicity, a directness about him which friends link to a chacarero culture: a farming lifestyle. Which he does too, in fact. Talking to those who worked with him, the same words keep recurring: passionate, determined, funny, competitive. An extrovert, he likes to talk. Empathy keeps coming round too. Spend time with him and he is surprisingly, well, normal.
“It’s hard for me to speak about him because we’re great friends but when they chose him, I was delighted. Many had doubts but he has the perfect mix. He’s very Argentinian but played in Europe: he has the possession and touch of Spain, the tactics of Italy,” says Leo Franco, who met Scaloni at 18, a teammate with Argentina Under-20s and Mallorca, and was his classmate on a coaching courses.
“I’ve watched his sessions and he has an incredible ability to lead but afterwards he sits chatting with players. It’s striking how natural he is. In Argentina we’re very, very, very results driven and until he won the Copa América maybe his abilities weren’t as visible, but I was always convinced.”
The then Uruguay manager, Óscar “Maestro” Tabárez, pulled Scaloni aside in his first year and told him to ignore those who said he had no experience: Scaloni had “lived”, he said. Raised in Pujato, where his family worked the land, Scaloni says there was always a manager inside, a collective conscience that colleagues quickly saw. “He was focused on the group, whether he played 90 minutes or two,” remembers Slavisa Jokanovic, a teammate in Scaloni’s first European season. Gregorio Manzano, his trainer at Mallorca, says: “He was competitive, generous and empathised. You saw in the attention he paid that it wasn’t just playing he liked; it was the game.
Scaloni took his first coaching badges in Rome in 2011. Winner of league and cup at Deportivo, he felt they should have won more and found in Italy the tactical depth he missed in A Coruña. If he had a regret it was not going sooner, but Spain had become home, far from the noise of Argentina. He coached a Mallorcan kids’ team before joining Jorge Sampaoli’s staff at Sevilla, then the national team, and took his Fifa pro license with the Spanish federation, new selection coach Luis de la Fuente among the teachers.
At Las Rozas, Scaloni stood out. If anyone anticipated his success it is the class of 2018. “He was destined to be a coach. To install He loves football. The teachers would put a subject on the table for debate and he had a great ability to argue his case,” says Pablo Orbaiz, a former Spain international now working in the Osasuna academy. “He has a gift, something special,” says Ayoze García, another classmate and former teammate. “He’s a leader. As a player, he would be close to the coach, taking it in. On the course he had an ascendancy. He would come up with new ideas. You’d think ‘that’s mad’ and then: ‘Actually, it could work.’ Put into practice, it did.”
Gica Craioveanu was there too. “There were two on the course I would have absolutely bet on making it: him and [current Rayo Vallecano coach] Andoni Iraola,” he says, then he cracks up. “And he owes me dinner. He said he liked three centre-backs, I said [a back] four and I see he’s used that at the World Cup.”
“I was sure he would coach,” Iraola consents, giggling. “He was so competitive, determined. After classes, some would stay to play football tennis. And if he had to cheat to beat you, he would cheat. And he always ended up winning. Watching Argentina, I see his character. There was theory, practical sessions, but the best part was the debates, arguments. And Scaloni was always right in the middle.”
There is a richness in that exchange of ideas, in the value of listening, finding shared solutions, that is reflected in Scaloni’s choice of backroom staff: Aimar, Walter Samuel and Roberto Ayala. Those names say something of Scaloni’s humility and intelligence, classmates insist. There is a connection with players and a depth of tactical analysis too. That potential has perhaps been overlooked even though it has played out clearly, Argentina shifting through footballers and formations, demonstrating a flexible fundamentality. “We have a great technical staff that leave nothing to chance. What they tell you before every game happens,” says Lionel Messi.
“Tactically he is improbable: he discovered the best way to construction his concepts, particularly in Italy,” says Franco. “I could see it: there’s a coach here. Some said: ‘He doesn’t have a style.’ They were laughing, dismissive. Too many don’t see that football evolves but it does. The two finalists aren’t coaches who say: ‘I have a system I’m not changing.’ You have to control every aspect. You need five at the back? Five. You need four? Four. Need the ball? Have it. If you have to kick it into the stands, kick it. Five forwards? Five forwards. He sees that.
“Scaloni has probably been the World Cup’s most interventionist coach,” says Iraola. “He’s labored on more than a few programs, letting them shift right through video games. In phrases of person ability there are likely 5 – 6 groups a degree above them, however he is built a group.”
That has supposed a construction that serves Messi and is served through Messi. Simple? As his classmates analyze the captain’s function, it is transparent that it isn’t. A possible candidate as Argentina trainer in the meantime privately admits that the Messi query is a explanation why some did not need the task. In brief, making it paintings – “and which Messi are we talking about?” one 2018 graduate notes – isn’t really easy. As Orbaiz says: “Messi’s had many coaches they usually have not been in a position to do that. Scaloni has.”
He adds: “Scaloni had the bravery to take Argentina on and his group management, the union he has built – it’s brutal; what he’s done, brutal. The demands are so, so big: very few people understand the pressure he’s exposed himself to and he deserves enormous credit.”
So now right here comes the Scaloneta, arriving on the ultimate. “It all comes back to the same thing: when Leo has an objective, he meets it,” says Franco. “Seeing him succeed in the general makes me simply greatly satisfied, for him and his circle of relatives – as a result of if you find yourself a trainer it isn’t simply you who suffers. And as for the Scalonetathere is something essential: he is given Argentinians again the fervour for the blouse.”