Sabella: Messi is irreplaceable
In ensuring La Albiceleste earned qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, Alejandro Sabella achieved the first objective set for him when taking on the Argentina job in August 2011. Lying ahead of him now is the even tougher challenge of bringing an end to the two-time world champions’ 21-year wait for a major international trophy.
With just two month remaining before his side steps out against Bosnia -Herzegovina at the Maracana, Sabella was his usual calm and thoughtful self as he spoke at length to FIFA.com. In this the first of a two-part interview, the coach shared his views on the strains and stresses of the job, his contingency plans should Lionel Messi suffer an injury and the selection issues he has to face as Argentina coach.
Hand on your heart, are you more or less nervous than you thought you would be about the upcoming FIFA World Cup?
Alejandro Sabella: I don’t tend to think too far ahead. I focused on the qualifiers first of all, then on reachying Brazil, then on the last two games against Peru and Uruguay, and then on the friendlies and the Final Draw. It’s hard to give an answer, though I can say that I am getting more and more nervous as the
tournament draws closer.
Do you talk about the World Cup with you family and friends?
Not that much. I try to stay off the subject at home and my family help me with that because they know the pressure I’m under. Though you work from home more than you do when you’re coaching a club, they leave you in peace. At weekends, for example, I’m in the living room watching one match after another. I’m really wearing the armchair out! (laughs). With my friends it’s more or less the same. They know that I like to relax when I’m at home.
I’m going to quote to you a couple of things that people are saying a lot right now, just to gauge the mood in the camp: ‘Argentina have got an easy group’ and ‘there are no easy teams at the World Cup’. Which of the two best sums up that mood at the moment?
(Pause) Well, I’m going to give you a third option, which is in between the two: we are our own biggest enemy. If we’re on top of our game, we can make the group easier than it is. If we’re not 100 percent and as focused as we should be, then every team will make life hard for us and it could become a really tough
How do you feel when you watch your players in action for their clubs?
Nervous! Sometimes I have to share matches out with my team because a lot of games are played at the same time. We all think exactly the same thing when we watch them though: that none of them are going to get injured. It’s not as if I get a headache or anything, but I do get worried if I see one of the players go down. If they get up quickly, that’s great. And if they have to go off, we try to find out why as soon as we can. I do suffer a little bit with them. You’re looking for them to be playing well, but the most important thing is that nothing happens to them.
The risk of injury is always there and there’s a question that always gets asked: do Argentina have a Plan B for players like Lionel Messi?
You always have to have a Plan B. The thing is that we’re talking about top players here. You have to have some kind of list in your head and have some possible replacements in mind. The thing is, there are times when Plan B is pretty similar to Plan A, and there are times when it isn’t. That’s when you have to adapt.
Have you got one lined up for
We’ve played a few games without Leo, but the fact is that he’s irreplaceable. There’s not a club or national team in the world that could play the same with or without Messi. We rely on him so much that when he’s not there, we notice it. If it did happen, we’d have to see how we’d handle it and look at the match in question. We do have an idea, though. In fact, he wasn’t there when we played Italy in Rome and neither was [Sergio] Aguero and yet we still managed to adapt to the situation. We’re never going to be the same, but we’d do it again if need be.
What was it like for you when he was recovering from his last injury?
Well, it wasn’t as bad as when he started playing again. He was here for a month and I was able to keep a close eye on him. It was when he was back in action that I got all jumpy again.
Some sections of the media have been campaigning for Carlos Tevez to return to the side. How do you assimilate that?
In the same way: everyone’s entitled to their opinion. And like I said before, I read, listen and watch and then I draw my own conclusions. The current Barcelona squad has a great deal left to give and there is no need for a sweeping overhaul in the close season, captain Carles Puyol said yesterday.
Barca coach Gerardo Martino and his players have come in for some sharp criticism following last week’s Champions League exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid and Saturday’s shock reverse at Granada in La Liga.
Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has been accused of failing to bring in sufficient squad reinforcements over the past couple of years, with the lack of a centre back to replace the ailing Puyol seen as one glaring omission.
A FIFA ban from the transfer market for the next two windows could also complicate life for the Spanish champions if their appeal against the sanction, over a breach of rules on the transfer of foreign under18 players, is unsuccessful.
Puyol, who turned 36 this week and has barely featured this season because of injury, said he and his teammates were with Argentine Martino, who is just under halfway through a two-year contract, “to the death”.
“I don’t think there needs to be a revolution depending on the results,” Puyol told a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s King’s Cup final against Real Madrid, when record winners Barca will be chasing a 27th triumph in the competition.
“You have to have a working method, not just according to whether you win one or two trophies,” added the centre back. “The team is hungry, it wants to win and keep making history.”
Puyol and teammates like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi are some of the most decorated and experienced players in soccer history but Barca have stumbled in recent weeks against defence-minded teams, especially on the road.
Lionel Messi of Argentina clashes with Lee Young-Pyo of South Korea during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group B match at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.