Sa­bella: Messi is ir­re­place­able

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

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 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.

Arsene Wenger

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