Sampaoli needs players who can support Messi

?Strategic play

By Shyam Thapa
  • Published 14.06.18
Shyam Thapa

Every World Cup has given us a new style of football, which was discussed threadbare later on. From Hungary of 1954 to Rinus Michels's Holland in 1974, or Tele Santana's Brazil in 1982 to 2014's Joachim Loew-coached Germany we have seen some breathtaking formations.

Not necessary that the coaches who were bold and brave had the last laugh, but the impact they had on the footballing world was huge.

For example, Argentina under the eccentric and brilliant Mercelo Bielsa failed to clear the group stage in 2002. But then Pep Guardiola, the most successful coach of present-day football, regards him as his guru. So success alone cannot define a coach. It's the style of football he imbibes on his players and the mark it leaves which matter.

In the last 20 years, for us, the Indian fans, there has been a surfeit of football. The EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga... and since Neymar's PSG move even the French League, the World Cup qualifiers are beamed live on television! So when the World Cup comes, we generally have an idea about how every team, the players and their style of play.

Like say when Spain won the 2010 World Cup you did not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that Vicente del Bosque was following the Barcelona idea of tiki-taka football. Intricate passing and pressing football up the field. In 2014, Loew treaded Guardiola's path. Like the Spaniard used to do at Bayern, he also used Manuel Neuer as a goalkeeper who doubled up as the sweeper. Loew believed more on teamwork and that's the reason behind his success at the Maracana.

Loew will follow the same formation with may be a little bit of tweaking. But Neuer remains an integral part of his scheme, and so despite being injured for nine months, the world's No. 1 goalkeeper will be wearing the captain's armband in Russia too. Loew's favourite is 4-2-3-1 with newcomer Timo Werner as the single striker.

Now let's talk about Tite. The Brazil coach has been a follower of Tele Santana school of coaching. Brazil play a fluid 4-3-3 with freedom for Neymar being provided by a bulwark of strong, powerful midfielders in Casemiro, and Paulinho. Tite reintroduced flair to a side that's sorely lacked it these past few years without compromising on the solidity that his predecessors struggled so hard to introduce. To me the worst Brazil in terms of style was 2010 under Dunga whereas the most out-of-the-world was under Santana. Santana could not give Brazil a World Cup. Would we call it a poetic justice if his disciple Tite gave Brazil a sixth in Russia?

The most difficult job of a coach is when you have to build a style of play revolving under a superstar. Like say Jorge Sampaoli. Building a team around Lionel Messi is not an easy task. Carlos Bilardo did that successfully with Diego Maradona 32 years back but football now and then is completely different.

One man cannot win a World Cup anymore, so Sampaoli will have to find players who can support Messi. First thing is you need to have players who can give Messi the return ball at the right time in the attacking third.

In Barcelona, there are players like Andres Iniesta, Paulinho or Ivan Rakitic who do that with consummate ease. Will Sampaoli use young and talented Maxi Meza to do that with Messi?

Sampaoli did a wonderful job with Chile taking them to the round of 16 in Brazil and a year later Chile won their first-ever title while hosting the Copa America. Like Guardiola, he too draws inspiration from Bielsa but Argentina haven't been impressive. It could be Messi's last World Cup and Sampaoli's strategy is something I am looking forward to.

Fernando Santos though has cleverly readied a bunch of 10 warriors to support the Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. They Euro 2014 didn't have the finesse but was very effective. Just like the Greece of 2004. Tactically, I do not expect anything different from that of Euro 2014 from Santos.

Wednesday saw the Spanish football association's dramatic decision to sack national coach Julen Lopetegui and replacing him with Fernando Hierro. Lopetegui was announced as coach of Real Madrid on Tuesday and that led to his ouster.

I do not know why Real Madrid announced it on Tuesday. They could have waited till the World Cup. Lopetegui also made a mistake.

And now all the hard work made by the Spanish team under Lopetegui has gone the drain.

How the players will react to this remains to be seen. It is very unlikely that new coach Fernando Hierro will tinker with the system. But one thing for sure, he has found himself in a very unusual situation.