Sometimes in football, doing the simple things can be the hardest. One man who never struggled in that regard was the Argentinian Osvaldo Cesar Ardiles, an intelligent midfielder whose skill and tenacity brought him a FIFA World Cup™ winner’s medal in 1978 and subsequent acclaim in England. There he not only became one of the symbols of a successful Tottenham Hotspur side during the early and mid '80s, but he helped pave the way for foreign players coming to the English league. FIFA.com traces the eventful past of this globe-trotting Argentinian and finds a man with ambition still burning today.
Born on 3 August 1952 in Bell Ville in the province of Cordoba, Ardiles got his first taste of professional football with Instituto de Cordoba in 1973, the club’s first ever season in the Argentinian top flight. The following year he moved to fellow Cordoba side Belgrano, but it was only after his switch to Huracan in 1975 that his career really began to take off.
Though not the most arresting player physically, being slim and just 1.69m, he more than made up for it with his astute play in the centre or right side of midfield, where he proved himself as adept at breaking up play as he was in instigating it. “My position was a little hard to define: half of my job was to create, the other half to defend. I wasn’t a wide-man like the type you see today, but rather a pure midfielder who you rarely saw in either area. My task was to free up the playmaker to give him the time and space to create,” he tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
This twin role quickly saw him stand out at Huracan, and it was little surprise when then Albiceleste coach Cesar Menotti called him into the senior squad in 1975 ahead of the FIFA World Cup on home soil three years later. “I learned more from Cesar than anyone else in football. He was an integral part of my development and he imbued me with a playing philosophy that valued the importance of trying to entertain and play good football,” says El Pitón (The Python), a moniker given to him by his brother because he felt “I weaved around the pitch like snake”.
Menotti stood by the midfielder in the build-up to the finals despite calls for his replacement. “I never defended his selection: he earned everything by dint of his character and talent,” the coach would say years later. And it was to be a judicious decision by Menotti, with Ardiles emerging as a key member of the side that triumphed at Argentina 1978, a tournament in which he managed to play all but one game despite carrying an injury throughout.
Breaking down barriers
Such was his impact at the showpiece event that he and fellow international Ricardo Villa were signed by Tottenham Hotspur for a reported £750,000 in what was a groundbreaking transfer at the time. “The idea was to play a few seasons and then return, but we never imagined the impact we would have. It’s said that our success paved the way for more foreign players to come to England, and there is some truth in that. I believe the influx would have happened anyway, but our accomplishments accelerated that process,” he says from his home in England.
Ardiles came to represent a whole era at Spurs, with whom he won the 1981 and 1982 FA Cups (although he would miss the latter final because of international duty) and the 1984 UEFA Cup. Over ten years at the club, ‘Ossie’ as he was affectionately known in England, played 311 times, netting 25 goals – quite a figure for someone “who rarely got into the box”. Today he remains an ambassador for the club and a proud member of the Tottenham Hotspur Hall of Fame.
Ardiles’s popularity in his adopted home hit new heights in 1981 thanks in no small part to his participation in two artistic projects. The first was his appearance in the blockbuster movie Escape to Victory alongside Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pele and Bobby Moore; and the second was his part in the video Ossie's Dream (Spurs are on their way to Wembley), a cup-final song recorded by the Spurs team alongside folk duo Chas & Dave that reached the dizzying heights of No5 in the nation’s pop charts.
The player’s international career ended when Argentina surrendered their world title at Spain 1982, an episode Ardiles calls “the biggest failure” of his career. After a loan-spell with French side Paris Saint-Germain in 1982/83, coinciding with the conflict between England and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, the player returned to Spurs. In 1987, towards the end of his time in North London, he briefly added the role of caretaker manager to his playing duties “as a favour to the club”.
When he finally bade farewell to White Hart Lane the following year, he enjoyed short spells with Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers as well as USA outfit Fort Lauderdale Strikers, before returning to England in 1989 to take up a permanent position of player-manager with second-division Swindon Town. “I picked myself for the first two games and then dropped myself (laughs)! Although the functions were compatible, I wasn’t going to play. Going into management made my retirement from playing less traumatic and it was natural transition,” he says.
To date, Ardiles has coached no fewer than 14 teams in places as far flung as Mexico, Argentina, Syria, Israel, Croatia, Japan and Paraguay, where a brief spell with Cerro Porteno in 2008 marked his last managerial position. And while he has only tasted league title success in Japan, he is fondly remembered in his homeland for his time in charge of Racing Club and Huracan, both of which he steered clear of the relegation zone with a brand of entertaining and attacking football.
Nowadays, as well as being kept occupied by his grandchildren, Ardiles is busy in his role as ambassador for England’s bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup and that of TV football pundit. For all that, the 58-year-old is still keen to practice what he considers to be his vocation, as he tells us at the end of our interview. “What interests me is coaching. I’m aware that I haven’t had the same success in that field as I had as a player, but it is still my goal to take on the challenge of building a team, then getting it to play well and win things.”