Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli has been relieved of his duties after he oversaw their departure in the Round of 16 with a loss to France. According to multiple reports, first by Hernan Castillo of TNT Sports, the decision was made after Sampaoli met with Argentina FA chief Claudio Tapia on Sunday.
Sampaoli began as Argentina manager only last June with the team struggling in World Cup qualification. He saw them qualify in the final guaranteed CONMEBOL spot with three draws and a win in his four matches in charge, but the team was far from solid.
The World Cup for Argentina was a disaster, and Sampaoli was at the heart of their failures. Lionel Messi was left on an island for nearly the entire tournament, and Sampaoli had no answers, chopping and changing the starting lineup hoping that something would stick. He took numerous tactical risks, and changed things significantly with each game.
The results spoke for themselves. After an opening round draw with Iceland where the Argentina attack was almost completely stifled, they were comprehensively walloped by Luka Modric and Croatia. With qualification on the line, they required a late winner from defender Marcos Rojo to save them from group stage elimination. Still, they were overwhelmed by France in the Round of 16, beaten 4-3 in a game where the scoreline flattered them somewhat.
After the loss to France, Sampaoli admitted he wasn’t able to support Messi with the help he needed. “On a personal level it is a great frustration,” Sampaoli said. “We had the best player in the world and we tried to put him in a position to score. We tried to surround him with the right players to take advantage of that talent, it is a talent that no other team has.”
While Sampaoli will still be a highly coveted manager thanks to his success with Chile, his most recent stops at Sevilla and with Argentina will give some prospective employers reason to consider other options.
Sampaoli is the second manager to depart his post after defeat in the 2018 World Cup, following Egypt boss Hector Cuper.
The World Cup is all about moments – moments of triumph, moments of heartbreak, moments of relief and weight lifted. On Tuesday night in Saint Petersburg, as Argentina secured a knockout round spot with a thrilling win over Nigeria, one moment stood above them all.
Not Lionel Messi’s first 2018 World Cup strike, a masterpiece of movement and high-speed ball control woven by the world’s most brilliant goal craftsman. Not Marcos Rojo’s winner, a life-changing howitzer launched from the most unlikely right boot.
No, the lasting image was beleaguered Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli heading down the tunnel alone immediately after the final whistle, leaving his players to celebrate the triumph without him on the field.
His disappearance was beautifully symbolic of his World Cup performance leading the tournament’s most disappointing blue blood (that is, until Germany faceplanted its way to group stage elimination) considering he had hardly bothered to show up in the first place. Argentina is set to take on France in the knockout stage not because of Sampaoli, but in spite of him.
Chile’s 2015 Copa America knight errant has somehow become Argentina’s floundering jester with absurd lineup choices and tactical experiments that would make even Jurgen Klinsmann cock his head in confusion. Sampaoli has proven so clueless at the helm that a group of senior Argentine players even reportedly attempted a full-on coup, desperately pleading with FA chairman Claudio Tapia not for Sampaoli’s dismissal, but simply for control of the starting lineup. That reportedly fell short, but it proved to the world the former Sevilla boss is on an island.
The biggest and most glaring issue for Sampaoli’s squad selections have been the midfield, where he has proven utterly lost. In Argentina’s opening game against Iceland, Sampaoli started international veteran Javier Mascherano alongside fellow deep-lying midfielder Lucas Biglia in a central midfield pivot that proved redundant, leaving Lionel Messi on an island further up the field. With Manuel Lanzini injured in the buildup to the tournament, Sampaoli turned to little-known Independente playmaker Maximiliano Meza on the wing opposite perpetual international dud Angel Di Maria, leaving Messi completely isolated with the creative load on his shoulders. Meanwhile, electric Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, passing wizard Ever Banega, and midfield link Giovani Lo Celso were left to contemplate their thoughts among the substitutes. Argentina dominated Iceland in every facet of the game, but, as they have on many occasions throughout the last few years, produced no end product.
While that result was disappointing, it provided Sampaoli with all the answers he needed to make changes for the better moving forward. 34-year-old Mascherano looked a step behind the play, and partnered with Biglia the midfield was static. Yet the boss failed to draw from the fountain, sprinting in the opposite direction completely. Instead of benching Mascherano (admittedly a bold move to make with a team leader) and introducing Lo Celso and Banega to patch the holes and give Messi some creative help, he threw common sense to the wind with the incomprehensible decision to press Croatia into oblivion.
Not only did Sampaoli’s tactics fail miserably, his team selection proved he learned nothing from the first 90 minutes. He left Mascherano in and paired him with Enzo Perez, another static midfield duo. He sat Di Maria and replaced him with an even more confusing wing pairing of Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna. Instead of withdrawing Max Meza, he pushed him even higher up the pitch in a creative yet undefined role. He started a back three that included full-back Nicolas Tagliafico chosen over Roma standout and natural center-back Federico Fazio, who was ranked by Squawka as the 6th best defender in Serie A this past campaign. The result was a gloriously chaotic mess as Luka Modric carved Argentina to bits on the counter. Here’s the Sparknotes version:
Lionel Messi was completely and utterly wasted. Arguably the world’s best player had one shot on goal, which was blocked. He completed two take-ons in the attacking third. He created two chances. Meanwhile, Croatia sliced Argentina’s midfield to pieces on the counter, as Mascherano again had a miserable showing and the rest of the players were too scattered to make a difference. Willy Caballero made another mistake in goal, and the makeshift back three was torn to shreds.
With Argentina staring down the barrel of group stage elimination, Sampaoli was given a vote of confidence from management and turned in another flop in a do-or-die scenario against Nigeria. The 58-year-old scrapped the back three and deployed Manchester United bruiser Marcos Rojo into central defense, again leaving Fazio on the bench. He organized a flat 4-3-3 with Mascherano behind two central midfielders, which admittedly was better than anything he flung onto the pitch in the previous two games. He gave Ever Banega a deserved start, but Mascherano again made a fool of himself on multiple occasions, complete with blood streaming down his face. He continued to utilize Perez, who put in a laughably useless shift on the wing with 25 of his 32 passes backward or square despite living on the same side as Messi. Di Maria came back into the team and was again invisible. Sampaoli handed perennial punchline Gonzalo Higuain the start up front in favor of the insubordinate Sergio Aguero, and he did what he’s come to do best – send one to the moon in a huge moment down the stretch. All this while Dybala, Lo Celso, and Christian Pavon rotted on the bench, while Mauro Icardi laughed himself silly on the couch at home.
And finally, #ARG vet Javier Mascherano had 5 failed passes in their own half, including that UGLY one that almost gifted #NGA a goal. Those 5 = Otamendi, Tagliafico, Mercado, Banega, Di Maria and Perez combined. Undroppable? Hope not. pic.twitter.com/LGn0LpDzU9
Nobody has seen their stock plummet quite like Jorge Sampaoli this World Cup. In a tournament full of moments – ones on the biggest stage that shape our image of players and coaches more than any others in the game – Sampaoli has managed to dismantle his reputation from Copa America hero to World Cup goat. No, this Argentina team isn’t very good, but it certainly isn’t this grotesque.
Messi ended up on the shoulders of Rojo after the defender’s magical moment against Nigeria, and he hugged every teammate and staff member on the pitch after the final whistle. Truthfully, it should have been the other way around, because the magical maestro has willed his team to the knockout stage despite the repeated failures of his manager, and that truly is a feat worthy of recognition. Jogi Löw certainly made mistakes with Germany en route to their massive failure, but it also felt as if he still possessed a talented roster that simply didn’t gel. Argentina – unlike Germany – is still kicking this summer, but because of the boss; they’re still around in spite of him.
There is also the photo above of Messi at half time in the tunnel area where he looks to be giving a team talk. It’s not too uncommon for players to congregate in the tunnel area at half time and have a quick chat before they head back out onto the pitch, but this did seem quite organized.
And before Cristian Pavon came on as a substitute some of his teammates seemed to be giving him very clear instructions from the bench on what to do.
It was all, well, very odd.
Several reports state that Sampaoli has very little control over team selection and that specifically his players want to play with a solid back four instead of a three-man defense.
They also believe that Sampaoli’s one-dimensional tactics of high-pressing do not get the best out of their experienced squad and so the word is they pleaded for a back four and then tried to get as many attacking players on the pitch as possible during the win over Nigeria.
It worked, somewhat, and Ever Banega was especially key in central midfield as his control of the tempo of the game allowed Messi to roam, create and ultimately deliver further forward in more dangerous areas.
Sampaoli will continue to be under plenty of scrutiny in the coming days as Argentina prepare to take on France in Kazan in their last 16 clash, as it appears that the players are indeed calling the shots during their World Cup campaign.
Reports out of Argentina say manager Jorge Sampaoli has lost the team, who is now making decisions on their own ahead of their World Cup group stage finale against Nigeria.
Argentina drew Iceland in its opener before being embarrassed in a 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the second match, one in which Sampaoli’s lineup choice, tactics, and in-match decisions were skewered in the media.
Sergio Aguero was among the players to bristle at talk of the coach after the game.