I think we all know that Diego Maradona is a, shall we say, rather eccentric figure when it comes to his standing within the international game, and whilst qualifying was hardly smooth sailing after some quite frankly horrendous results, with a 6-1 thumping in La Paz to Bolivia and 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in Quito springing to mind, some hairy moments such as Martin Palermo’s 93rd minute winner against Peru in the penultimate game which went a long way to securing their qualification, and the fact that he’s used just over 100 players in his 18 matches in charge of the Argentinean national team, but it’s in the 30 man provisional squad that he has picked for the World Cup that is most concerning say the least with some eye-catching choices, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Javier Zanetti, a legend within the game, at 36 years of age he still plays with youthful abandon alongside having perhaps the most perfectly coifed hair you are ever likely to see on any male specimen. A firm exponent of the ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ mantra, he would have to rank somewhere in the top 3 when it comes to ranking left-backs in the world, just fractionally behind more youthful adversaries such as Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra.
He will make his 700th Inter Milan appearance in the Champions League final as their Captain, he embodies professionalism, consistency and he has a versatility to his game, having plied his trade predominantly at right back for years and latterly in central midfield, qualities ideally suited to a World Cup competition, yet coach Diego Maradona does not deem these qualities necessary to his sides World Cup bid and has left him out of the squad. To put it quite simply, a baffling decision, especially considering how well he coped with Messi in the Champions League semi-finals.
In qualification Newcastle left midfielder Jonas Gutierrez has been preferred at times there in a wing back role, a fine player though Gutierrez undoubtedly is, he’s not a patch on Zanetti, and the quality of football that the two have been accustomed to this term is vast.
Maradona now seems to have struck upon an idea of what to play at the back – out goes the risky 3-5-2 formation and in comes a staid 4-4-2 one with the man himself stating that “I’m going to defend with four centre-backs, but I’m also going to have full-backs available in case we need to improve coming out of defence.” This makes Zanetti’s exclusion all the more difficult to fathom. It’s clear for all to see that a bit of defensive solidity and consistency in the selection policy would go a long way to helping plug the holes up that are so evident at the back, Zanetti could most definitely help in this area, as would his unquestionable leadership qualities.
Argentina have conceded 21 goals in his spell in charge, 6 of those came against Bolivia, another two against Costa Rica, one against Jamaica and one against Panama, hardly quality opposition is it? This is not to mention the terrible exhibition match result against Cataluyna last December when a strong Argentina side were humbled 4-2 ,with Johan Cruyff in charge of his spiritual footballing home’s regional team. Admittedly a lot of Barcelona players were on show that night, with local favourites such as Xavi, Pique, Puyol, Bojan and Busquets all taking to the pitch, but most were withdrawn at half-time or on the 60 minute mark, making the result even more ridiculous from a neutrals standpoint.
This brings me to the next omission, Gabriel Milito, a player that possesses that rare quality in an Argie centre half these days, the ability to actually head a ball. Obviously Maradona has been more impressed by Fabricio Coloccini’s form in the Championship for Newcastle, Gabriel Heinze who has looked shaky for years at international level and Martin Demichelis a player who hasn’t been able to command a regular place in his club side Bayern Munich’s first team of late, sufficiently more so than Milito at least it would appear. These three are all very similar defenders and none of them commands the back-line quite in the same way like Roberto Ayala used to, or to a lesser degree Gabriel Milito does now.
Admittedly the younger of the Milito brothers has not long come back from a serious ACL injury which ruled him out for just over a year and a half, the same amount of time Owen Hargreaves had been ruled out, yet Hargreaves was up for serious consideration despite only two minutes of league football this campaign, whereas Milito has looked to be getting somewhere close to his best and has made 17 appearances this term in La Liga and in the Champions League since returning in January. On paper at least, Milito looks like he’d be able to provide the perfect foil for Walter Samuel’s robust style, but this looks nothing more than a pipedream at present.
Esteban Cambiasso also somehow misses the trip to South Africa despite being being back to his imperious best of late. There are few better passers of the ball in world football than Cambiasso – Xavi, Iniesta, Pirlo and Sneijder are the only ones that spring immediately to mind, but he has few peers when it comes to dictating the tempo of a match and he’ll be sorely missed. Juan Sebastian Veron has been seemingly preferred for this role, an inclusion which in itself is completely deserving on merit alone, especially considering his age-defying form at Estudiantes, but to not include Cambiasso at all is nothing short of scandalous.
Fernando Gago misses out after an indifferent campaign in La Liga which is surprising considering his consistent inclusion in squads up until now and Maxi Rodriguez somehow finds his way into the provisional 30-man squad despite being patchy at Liverpool since being signed in January from Fulham’s Europa League final opponents Atletico Madrid for a nominal fee.
Maradona has named only four centre midfielders in his provisional squad too, with Juan Bolati and Javier Mercier and Captain Javier Mascherano completing the four alongside the aforementioned Veron. With Mercier likely to be one of the seven cut from the 30, that leaves Mascherano, a 35 year old Veron and an inexperienced Bolati with only 3 caps to his name to man the centre midfield position, should there be an injury to any of them, they’ll be seriously short-staffed in the area. Illogical isn’t it? The decisions to leave Cambiasso, Gago and even Valencia’s Ever Benega out, who has been excellent all throughout this season, is truly as worrying as it is bizarre.
Martin Palermo, a brute and complete and utter donkey of a centre forward finishes the odd inclusions. He’s a regular goalscorer in Argentina for Boca Juniors, a club legend down at the La Bombonera with over 200 goals to his name, but despite boasting a reasonable record of 8 goals in 13 games at international level, the 36 year old has probably been included more out of loyalty for his last minute winner in qualifying rather than any international pedigree or potential to unlock a defence that he may possess in his locker.
Maradona looks to have got it mostly right in the attacking department, but then again with the abundance of talent at his disposal, the likes of Messi, Aguero, Higuain, Di Maria and Diego Milito to choose from, they do kind of pick themselves. The one thing you would say about Maradona’s Argentina, is that they’re not short of a few goals, whether it’ll be enough to launch them to World Cup glory though, I’m not so sure.
Argentina’s squad is packed with quality, but its top heavy from the provisional 30 that have been named. It’s the defence that will ultimately let Argentina down at this World Cup, not any lack of flair that they may have left at home. Argentina won the World Cup in 1986 with a functional, solid and technically limited side built around the mesmerising talents of a certain Mr Maradona, perhaps the Argentina head coach would do well to recall some of those memories, for the barmy exclusions of Zanetti, Cambiasso and Milito smack of poor planning and they do not bode well for their prospects.