“Scaloni has flexibility, he is not a dogmatic technician”

“Scaloni has flexibility, he is not a dogmatic technician”
“Scaloni has flexibility, he is not a dogmatic technician”

We think we know everything about Lionel Scaloni, but few could name the clubs he played for during his football career. Already a reference in current sports journalism, Alejandro Wall did it again with his new work, Scaloni Revolution, a journey through the training of the world champion coach. No one will know Scaloni until they finish reading this book.

–Argentina has won a Copa América, a World Cup and is in the semi-finals of another Cup. Only Spain from 2008 to 2012 achieved that trilogy, but with different coaches. Where does Scaloni rank among the great coaches?

–It is one of the questions I start with. Above all, how can Scaloni look at himself in the mirror of Bilardo and Menotti, the other world champions with Argentina. It is true that Scaloni also adds the Copa América and the Finalissima with Italy, and also a high-level performance for three years, something difficult to find in previous national teams. That he is sitting at the table of the greats is beyond doubt. Perhaps it is difficult for us now to understand the dimension not only because we lack perspective, but because he is a coach who began his career the opposite of everyone else, at the top, in a national team, winning a World Cup. With all that on top of it, Scaloni is a young coach, who is just starting out, who still has a long way to go. Then there is the other factor, what will be his influence on others. Bielsa and Pekerman did not win the titles that he won but they set a standard, they trained coaches. The years will put Scaloni in a place of reference.

–How did Scaloni define himself as an ecological leader?

–The first person to describe it to me like this was Jorge Valdano. He spoke to me about environmental leadership. Matías Manna, a member of the coaching staff, also referred to Scaloni’s leadership style with this concept. Because of how he listens, how he speaks, how he connects. And I found it interesting because what Scaloni did as soon as he took over was to detoxify the environment in which the team lived after Russia 2018. It had become a hostile place. And he insisted on working to change the climate. Players from the first squads told me about these small decisions, from having free time to building spaces for coexistence. When Messi joined, he did so in an environment that was already more pleasant, with new players, whom he did not know or knew little. Even when Scaloni himself was a player for the national team, he had this idea, that the team should be a brotherhood.

There is no more revolutionary coach than Guardiola, but Scaloni did not fall into the temptation of imitating him and referred to Ancelotti as his role model. What does this double choice tell us?

–It may seem countercultural but it has a logic. When Scaloni arrived at the national team he had an idea of ​​a more direct football. He was not a worshipper of long possessions. He had seen France in Russia 2018 and understood that football was going in that direction. And that was what he tried in the first matches, up to the Copa América 2019. Then he understood that the players Argentina had needed to change, to play a different tune, to get closer to the idea of ​​having the ball, of accumulating passes to generate situations. There you have the first side of Scaloni as a coach, which is his pragmatism, his plasticity in ideas, he is not dogmatic. And that leads him to have Ancelotti as a reference. In addition, he woke up as a coach when he played in Italian football, and although he did not have Ancelotti as a coach, he only faced him, it is logical to look to him. And what he has in common with Ancelotti is, as Valdano says, the ability to simplify. The calm leadership, as Ancelotti’s book is called, is replicated by Scaloni. He also exercises calm leadership.

–Little is known about Scaloni’s career as a player. There are even conflicting versions about his departure from Newell’s. What happened?

–What is clearest is that it had to do with the fact that Mauro, Scaloni’s older brother, was not playing. And Chiche, the father, was demanding for him. That led to a fight with the Reserve coach and then he decided to ask for the transfers of both. Another version says that it was the club that decided to let them go. What does speak of Chiche’s personality is that he did not confront any manager but Eduardo López, a heavy guy who leaned on the bar. Chiche, who was a football guy, manager and coach of Sportivo Matienzo, the Pujato club where Scaloni started, acted as a representative father. He marked Lionel’s career. From Newell’s he took him to Estudiantes, and there Mauro also went, and he did not debut either. Even so, when Lionel went to Deportivo La Coruña he also went with his brother. They were presented together as reinforcements but Mauro only played for Fabril, the Deportivo reserve team.

–In the book it is clear that Scaloni, without being a clown, already looked after the human health of the groups during his time as a player. Before the 2006 World Cup he paid special attention to an 18-year-old and injured Messi.

–He was the cheerleader of each team, the one who led the jokes, the one who made jokes. Perhaps very different from the profile we see of him as a coach. But he understood football and how to manage coexistence. He said that he transmitted joy so that long concentrations were more bearable. Or he accompanied the players who perhaps had a slump. “You will never see me sad,” he said. The coaches, including Pekerman, valued that role. His diagnosis of how Messi should be handled in his first World Cup, the only one that Scaloni would play with the national team, is interesting. He knew everything, that Messi was coming from an injury, that he should not rush his maturation, and that he had to have fun on the field. He spoke a lot with Messi at that time. It is striking to know how Scaloni thought at that time because you see a lot of what he later applied as a coach.

–One of your initial decisions was to give the players some breathing room. What you had seen in 2018 as Sampaoli’s assistant, could it have been the failure that the national team needed so that the new coaching staff would have clues to find the right direction?

–I don’t know if it was just about what the result of that World Cup produced. Beyond the conclusions about Sampaoli’s management, what happened in Russia 2018 was that idea that the new was not finished being born and the old was not finished dying. A replacement had to be carried out that was slowing down. Scaloni found himself with a team that had the field open to look for new players. And so Cuti, De Paul, Lautaro appeared, not to mention Enzo and Alexis. Mascherano, who was the natural leader, had retired. And that also set up Messi, who until then had not quite found his place as captain. But Scaloni, within Sampaoli’s coaching staff, also recorded very well what happens with the team, the poor communication, the tables separated from the players, and then he works on that. He understands what not to do. And it also goes back to what he, like Aimar or Samuel, had learned from Pekerman in the national team. In the first press conferences he repeated that they wanted to convey the sense of belonging that they had imbibed during their time as players.

–Did his threat to resign surprise you? It was strange because, if a coach is usually on the sidelines, that night he overshadowed a historic victory.

–It was surprising for everyone, even for the players. One interpretation could be that with that exit he put his situation above everything else, but at the same time, and given how the events unfolded afterwards, he had to make noise, generate a warning. Because beyond the hypotheses about what happened, the salary issue or the organizational one, it ends up being clear from what he himself was saying that he needed to keep the players’ flame lit, to transmit that the bar was high and nobody could relax. Scaloni illustrated it with the image of stopping the ball, but it was also a blow on the table.

–How will Scaloni manage the current Messi, 37 years old and in a less competitive league, perhaps more prone to injuries?

–Based on what we saw with Ecuador, he is still on the same path. Talk to him and let Messi decide if he can play or if he has to leave. It is a consensus but Messi has the measure of what his body gives. With Ecuador he did not seem to be at his best. Scaloni noticed it because he asked him several times if he was okay. Messi said yes and continued. He is the only player who has that power. What comes next will depend a lot on what Messi wants and how he manages his minutes. Scaloni knows that this is part of the dialogue with the player.

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