The story of Ricardo Gareca in the Argentine national team: from being directed by Menotti and Bilardo to the goal that won a World Cup and a pending score

The story of Ricardo Gareca in the Argentine national team: from being directed by Menotti and Bilardo to the goal that won a World Cup and a pending score
The story of Ricardo Gareca in the Argentine national team: from being directed by Menotti and Bilardo to the goal that won a World Cup and a pending score

Gareca’s goal against Peru became historic: it was a decisive step to reach Mexico 86

“Applaud, applaud, don’t stop applauding, Gareca’s goals are coming”. That cry, which was a flag for Boca fans for several years, in the post-Maradona era, after his magical time with the blue and gold in ’81; and he continued in the stands when the National Team played, in the founding and controversial times of Carlos Salvador Bilardo’s cycle. 40 years have passed, and now is the time for the once great scorer to face Argentina again, now for the America Cup. There is a story between Ricardo and Celeste and Blanca, four very intense years, lived under no less than the technical direction of Menotti and Bilardo.

His first contact with the National Team had been in the traditional Toulon Hopes tournament, in 1979. He was part of a squad with good names, which was quickly eliminated and barely entered on some occasions in the second half. Two years later he was going to receive the call for the Major: “I knew that Menotti was looking for forwards and he called me up in October ’81 for some friendlies, in the final stretch towards the World Cup in Spain. What surprised me about Flaco was the calmness he had and the clarity in transmitting the concepts to you. In addition, there was a very good group, which included almost all the ’78 champions, who received me excellently and I felt very comfortable. There were only a few months left and it was like a test without much margin for error and I must admit that it didn’t go well and I couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. They were two friendlies on River’s field. The first against Poland, in which we lost 2-1 and I started, but for the second, against Czechoslovakia, I was on the bench. After the game against the Poles, we went to have coffee with some friends and I had not realized that Beto Alonso was in that same place, who approached the table and after greeting everyone, sat next to me. . I had never met him and he told me: ‘I was on the court. You have to be calm, because your stage has just begun.’ That stuck with me, because he was already a huge figure and he had that great gesture.”

Self-criticism, that card that is not usually played on the cloth of life in general, and football in particular, leaves us a trace of the character, of whom one has been lucky enough to interview and record his experiences in light blue and white. He is always affable, correct and with a vision that is not usually the usual one. Remembering That initial contact with Flaco had an impact that stayed with him: “What caught my attention the most about Menotti was his ability to reach the player, through conversations and conviction. At no time did I see a blackboard to mark specific things about the game, which was something that was very popular. He based his strategy on the ideas he had and on talking to each of his players, individually or in groups. In practice he constantly asked for mobility and control of the ball. Fundamentally prominence and practically no mention of the rival.”

The goal against Peru that calmed Argentina. The classification allowed us to reach the World Cup in Mexico where the National Team won the second medal

Gareca debuted in Boca’s Primera in 1978, but he never managed to establish himself in the first team, until at the beginning of ’81, he went on loan to Sarmiento de Junín, which marked a break in his career. There he felt like a starter, he gained confidence, and six months later, like a prodigal son, he returned to join the team that had just become champions. Post World Cup ’82, Argentine football was hit, somewhat in tune with what was being experienced in society, after the Malvinas war. The elimination in the World Cup had been tough and there was an inevitable exodus of the best, such as Maradona, Passarella, Kempes and Ramón Díaz, among others. There, Gareca began to stand out, thanks to his goals and overwhelming power, which established him as one of the figures at the local level.

In March ’83, Bilardo announced his first squad list and Gareca was a fixture. This is how it happened, being one of the 18 chosen ones who started a process that would have more than one stone in the way: “From the first moment we realized that Carlos was obsessive in several aspects, especially with videos, because he was capable of calling you to make you watch them at any time. Also in field work, where you could be doing 200 throw-ins in a row (laughs). I recognize that I did not have to share many things with the most picturesque Bilardo, the one of the anecdotes, but rather that of a distressing stage, in the beginning, when the reviews were terrible. “I remember very well the first game of the cycle, which was against Chile in Santiago, where we tied 2-2 and I was lucky enough to score the second goal.”

In the days of César Menotti as coach, Brazil had become a kind of shadow, an impossible mountain to climb. In August ’83, they met again, at the Monumental stadium, within the framework of the Copa América, which at that time had a different format. A spell that had already lasted 13 years was broken, thanks to a goal from Gareca, on a very special night for him: “It was one of the most important moments of my career, without a doubt. And perhaps the highest event in my time with the National Team. There was a lot of expectation in the run-up, not only because of what the classic itself entails, but because of the amount of time that Argentina had not been able to beat them. Since we went out on the field, I saw her very connected to the people, a favorable climate was present, which is something that the player or the coach immediately perceives. Among us, on campus, we felt something similar. The game was tied and Burruchaga gave me a perfect pass towards the penalty spot, when I faced the goalkeeper, I scored high and with that goal we won 1-0.”

The talk with Ricardo about the national team went through all the paths, but he became even more passionate when he evoked the early days of Narigón, in which the player base that was being formed felt that cause as their own, fighting on the most varied fronts: “Bilardo did not start with massive support, even though he had just become champion with Estudiantes, because the controversy with Menotti immediately broke out and everything began to be divided. You had to have a great commitment to the project if you were from Carlos’ National Team, because a part of the press was constantly looking for comparisons. The team had a hard time at the beginning and that led to greater criticism, especially from a journalism sector that was at odds with it and we all fell into the trap. We did a tour in ’84, which started badly and ended well. We started by losing in Colombia, but later in Europe our performance rose a lot, beating Switzerland, Belgium and the memorable match with Germany. In the middle of those games, we had a meeting with Enzo Trossero and other guys with some of the most critical journalists, in which we exchanged ideas, but it was our thing, Carlos didn’t get involved. We were really very committed. There was also another part of the press that defended him to the death, like Víctor Hugo Morales and the Sport 80 group. In general it was a quite traumatic process.”

Now, as coach of Chile, Ricardo Gareca will face the Argentine team

That plethoric idolatry that Boca fans offered him began to crack in ’84, one of the worst years of the institution, with payment problems, debts and the professionals’ strike. Gareca, along with Ruggeri, was at the center of the controversy, because at the end of that season, they should be free of action. The aggressive chants began and the situation had no return. But it was even worse when they both went to River. This is how ’85 began for Gareca, who continued to be a mainstay of the National Team, facing the great commitment, which was the Qualifiers.

However, it would be a tough moment in his career. A certain decline in his performance was also evident in the National Team and this is how he evoked it: “The debut against Venezuela as visitors was very even, we won 3 to 2 and I did not have a good game. For the following week against Colombia, Carlos made the decision to take me out. We had a talk, in which he gave me the explanations, speaking well to me, but I must admit that my reaction was not the best, because my temperament and the enthusiasm I had at that moment were mixed. For that meeting, I didn’t even go to the bank. Afterwards, the classification began to get complicated and he took me into account a little more again. This is how we reached the last match of the Qualifiers, against Peru on River’s field, where a tie was enough for us, but midway through the second half, we were losing 2 to 1 and people began to ask me. I always was and am a type of faith and I was convinced that I was going to score a goal. He called me to come in and told me some words that I will never forget, but that I will keep to myself forever. I will never say it. There was very little left to finish. That cross from Burruchaga arrived and Passarella lowered it with his chest, crossed it right and the ball hit the post, remaining on the line and I pushed it. Since Daniel played a great game and was the emblem of that afternoon, many wanted to give it to him, but I was the author. It was a great satisfaction because we were achieving the goal we had been working towards since ’83.

Not being part of the team that traveled and won the World Cup in Mexico was a thorn that hurt his soccer heart for many years: “Until the last moment I maintained the expectation of being able to go to the World Cup, because there was unofficial talk that I was on the list, but when it came out, I was left out. It was a great disappointment; I think the fact of leaving the country may have had an influence, since after the qualifiers I moved to América de Cali. I did everything in my power to have been there, but it didn’t happen. We met Carlos many times later, but I never asked him, because it was something painful at the time, which I got over as the years went by. There were many similarities with what happened to Palermo in 2009. The same field and rival, we were both centre-forwards, a distressing situation in the Qualifiers, he was also on the bench, he came on and scored to relieve some of his frustration. The difference was that Diego recognized it by taking it to the World Cup.”

The goal against Brazil that ended the 13-year streak without wins against Brazil

The romance with the network continued with the América de Cali shirt, where he became local champion and was a permanent cheerleader for each edition of the Copa Libertadores. However, he had a pending challenge and went in search of his dream: “I had four great seasons in Colombia, scoring many goals and reaching three finals of the Copa Libertadores, but I decided to return in mid-’89, because I dreamed of being in Italia ’90 and Velez had called me several times. It is a club that reminded me of my childhood and a great team was put together, with Coco Basile as coach, and Juan Funes and Pato Fillol also arrived. It was not an easy decision, because there they offered me more money to continue and all the comforts, but I wanted to risk my last chip to be able to be in a World Cup. “It wasn’t given to me.”

One could speak, perhaps, of an unrequited love, which even had an extension in his time as a coach, when he was once mentioned to wear the albiceleste sweatshirt. The dispassionate numbers will say that, in 26 games with the national shirt, he scored 6 goals, but there was one that was worth thousands. And that will forever leave the counterfactual and its doubt: what would have happened to Argentina a year later, if Gareca did not score that goal against Peru in June ’85?

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