"Get ready because the story I'm going to tell you happened exactly one year ago, it was real and it had never happened to us before. Beautiful anniversary, isn't it?" Guillermo Francella's voice-over and catchphrase, unmistakable, serve as the intro to the film Muchachos, one of the recently released documentaries about the first birthday of one of the happiest moments in Argentina in recent times.
The curious thing is that there are still nine days to go until the world finishes turning since that unforgettable coronation of the National Team in Qatar 2022 and, strikingly, the Scaloneta that achieved glory in Lusail is in the repair shop, trapped in an apparent crisis with no way out, since Lionel Scaloni to announce in the conference room of the Maracanã that something or someone had cut through the sweetness. It was without anesthesia after another sporting hit by one of the best teams in history. No one saw it coming.
The anniversary, in fact, isn't that beautiful, is it?
What happened to make harmony so extinguished out of nothingness? None of the protagonists cares too much about clarifying the scores, perhaps hoping that time will extinguish the annoyances. However, as we know, sometimes it is not enough to move incessantly from the hands of the clock. It is clear that certain situations that led the technical director to feel an uneasiness that is impossible to tolerate or conceal must change. Not surprisingly, more than two weeks have passed and Scaloni is still detained "in the instance of thinking".
The coach said after having gone to Miami on Thursday to participate in the draw for the Copa America 2024 in a clear sign that his position of doubt is far from intransigent and can still be reversed: "What I said after Brazil is that it was a personal moment to think and I am still in that moment of thinking. It's important to do it after everything we achieved, but there's nothing to define, I'm thinking."
He continued: "There's nothing unusual. The players are doing very well, the team is doing very well, and they need a coach who is up to them. I still think the same thing. Anyway, I think you have to dismiss a lot of things that are being said: the relationship with the president was always perfect. It's my own decision."
The image of the delegation of the Argentine National Team completes in Miami, with Chiqui Tapia and Lionel Scaloni at the center of the scene.
Scaloni said all this without saying too much. It gives signals that it is still in office. Not only because he was physically present at the James L. Knight Center where the Conmebol event was held. But also because Luis Martín, physical trainer of his coaching staff, was observing possible locations that would serve as a bunker for the team during the Copa America.
However, despite those signs, Scaloni is biting his lips. It doesn't seem possible/believable that he doesn't feel at the level of the players he led to the top of the world less than 365 days ago. If he was able to put together "a signature team in his first experience", as Marcelo Bielsa praised him at the Bombonera, it is strange that Pujato's coach and his luxury team (Pablo Aimar, Walter Samuel and Roberto Ayala, among the most recognized) are not motivated by the challenge of sustaining themselves over time and reversing themselves if necessary.
When you repeat in a loop that the players need a coach who is up to their standards, do you say it from above – call it non-negotiable demands to move forward – or from below – lack of energy or resignation? Have you observed behaviors or situations that did not fit you too well in the last double date of South American Qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup during the defeat against Uruguay and the triumph -without shining- over Brazil? Will he understand that everything that comes in this second half is too uphill?
Relationship with Chiqui Tapia
The questions, for now, have no answers. It is clear that Scaloni is trying to defuse suspicions. Not only by praising the players, but also by saying over and over again that he has no problem with Claudio Fabian Tapia, whom many accused of being guilty of all the ills. "I almost have a friendly relationship. It's not going that way at all," he said.
And hours before, at the inauguration of the AFA offices in Miami, Chiqui himself uttered a phrase that did nothing more than deliver double readings. "Titles are not only won by sport, but also by working," said the head of Argentine football. Was it an encrypted message to the coach?
Tapia's sentence came seconds after Paraguayan Alejandro Domínguez, head of CONMEBOL, threw a container of flowers at his fellow leader by highlighting his role as architect of the new AFA: "There was only one person left and that was Chiqui Tapia. He looked to the future, in short, he was champion of America, the most important of all the cups he won because of everything that came after. He was the one who gave the manager the chance, when no one had him in sight. Lionel Scaloni is the great strategist, but the captain of the ship is Claudio Tapia. He's the great captain of the ship." Strong.
Scaloni and the Copa America. Photo: AP
Summit with Messi
Despite the fact that at first it transpired that Miami, the new home of Lionel Messi and the scene of the next Copa America final, would be a kind of soccer Yatasto where Scaloni and Tapia would solve the mistakes of the National Team, everything remains the same.
There was not even a meeting with Messi, who was invited to participate in the draw. Of course, the world champion captain seems to be a key link for this miscalculated soap opera to come to an end. "I spoke with Leo and we agreed to talk in a few days and from there we will make the best decision for the national team, which in the end is what it is all about," Scaloni said.
Apparently, after the disagreements, the summit will be in Argentina, where both will spend the New Year's Eve holidays. One will be in Rosario and the other in Pujato. There is a 30-minute drive between the two Santa Fe cities.
There, surely, Scaloni will show his cards with absolute frankness and will seek the support and opinion of Messi, who will be fundamental with his help to solve the problems that afflict the coach. It is known that the voice of the number 10 resonates strongly in the offices of the AFA. And it's also a holy word in the locker room. Thus, perhaps, the concerns of a coach who evidently saw something he did not like and who chose to stop the ball before it is too late can be addressed.
Scaloni and Messi, together, in the March friendly against Panama. Photo: AFP
The 2024 calendar of the Scaloneta
- FIFA date in March. From the 18th to the 26th, to play friendlies.
- FIFA date in June. From the 3rd to the 11th there is another FIFA date for friendlies prior to the Copa America.
- Copa America. Argentina opens Group A on June 20 against Canada or Trinidad and Tobago in Atlanta. On the 25th they will play Chile against New Jersey and on the 29th against Peru in Miami. The quarter-finals will be played on 4, 5 and 6 July, the semi-finals on 9 and 10, third place on 13 and the final on 14.
- Qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup. In September they will play two matches: on the 5th they will host Chile and on the 10th they will visit Colombia. In October, they would face Venezuela on the 10th away and Bolivia on the 15th at home. In November, they would go to Asunción on the 14th against Paraguay and on the 19th they would host Peru.