As he approached the end of what had been a successful career, former Argentinian striker Guillermo Barros Schelotto had a very clear idea of where his future in the game lay: "I don’t have much time left. Football is my life. I don’t fancy being an agent and I’ve got my coaching badge."
As he has found out, however, a coach’s lot is a good deal more complicated than it seems, not that Barros Schelotto has any regrets about the occupation he has chosen: “I couldn’t do anything else,” the 40-year-old Lanus boss frankly told to FIFA.com.
One of the most successful players to figure in Boca Juniors’ glittering history, Barros Schelotto retired two years ago and has spent the last year at the Granate helm, not without success. In imbuing his team with a recognisable style of their own, he has also overseen two compelling if ultimately unsuccessful championship challenges.
A twin brother to Gustavo and known accordingly as El Mellizo (The Twin), he has, to the surprise of many, become one of Argentina’s leading young coaches. A matchwinner as a player, and brave, intelligent and combative with it, Barros Schelotto gave no indication that he was cut out for coaching when he was terrorising opposing defences with Martin Palermo.
Responding to that perception, he said: “There are times when I look back and think that I did some pretty immature things, like arguing with referees about decisions.
"I look at those things with a coach’s eye now and think I maybe should have concentrated a bit more and played better. But it used to anger me when someone fouled me intentionally. It might not have looked that way on the pitch, but I was actually a pretty laid-back person.”
An accent on attack
Barros Schelotto made his professional debut in 1991 with Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata, the club closest to his heart, and later enjoyed a ten-year stay at Boca, where he won 16 trophies and played a starring role in the great team assembled by Carlos Bianchi.
He was also something of a prankster in his playing days. During his time at Gimnasia for instance, he was once entrusted with getting the squad up early one morning for a training run but chose not to because it was pouring with rain.
“Now I tell my players that they have to be up no matter how heavy it’s raining,” he said with a smile, failing to mention the many other stunts he pulled with his sibling Gustavo, a former team-mate of his at Gimnasia and Boca and now his assistant at Lanus.
Even as a coach, he retains something of the rebelliousness that marked him out on the pitch, a character trait he holds quite proudly. “Being a rebel in football means taking that extra little bit of risk.”
It is a philosophy that he tries to get across to his players, that and the need to “keep passing the ball, change positions, press the opposition and look to attack in a world where teams work a lot more on tactics and defence”
I would have loved to but there was a lot of competition for places in 1998 and 2002 and a lot of quality players around.
Expanding on that point, he said: “Coaches are under the obligation to play the game the right way. They have to accept that.”
In pursuing his new profession he is applying everything he learned from his coaches in his 20 years as a player, combining their teachings with his own ideas: “The playing style of [Carlos] Griguol, the coach who taught me how to think, the serious approach of Gregorio Perez, who gave me my debut, [Marcelo] Bielsa’s passion for ideas, the pressure that Bianchi’s teams exert.”
It was before the second leg of the 2000 Copa Libertadores final against Palmeiras that El Virrey (The Viceroy) gave him a valuable lesson in how to instil faith in a team: “Bianchi started to give the team talk and it all seemed very defensive. "We’re going to set our stall out like this," he said. "We’re going to defend here, but only after we’ve scored the first goal."
“That gave us a whole lot of confidence. After drawing at home, most coaches sit back and defend when they go to Brazil. We had a lot of support from the coaching staff, which was the key with that Boca team. No matter who we played, we knew we were going to beat them.”
The attraction of MLS
Despite his success at club level, he played just ten games for his country, none of them in the FIFA World Cup finals: “I would have loved to but there was a lot of competition for places in 1998 and 2002 and a lot of quality players around.”
Nor did he ever play in Europe: “I had offers but not from big clubs, and as Boca were always aiming high, I decided to stay.”
One place he did go to, however, was the USA, where he won an MSL title with Columbus Crew. Thrilled by the experience on both a sporting and everyday level, he continues to follow MSL and take English classes, such is his desire to return there one day.
“It’s a league that’s going to end up being very strong. They’re investing in it and it’s becoming more and more professional,” he said. “It’s got the organisation, the stadiums and the training grounds, and it’s up there with the best in Europe. They might lose some big names every now and then but it’s underestimated, and it’s getting increasingly tough to play in. I went when I was 34 and if I hadn’t trained hard, I wouldn’t have got a game.
“They’re not looking for players who’ve retired from European football now. They want young players because they’ve realised that aside from promoting the league through advertising they need to have performances on the pitch.”
The up-and-coming coach is also convinced he will be back at La Bombonera one day: “Before taking over at Lanus I felt I had what it took to do the Boca job.”
For the time being, however, Bianchi is in the hotseat and his former pupil is in no rush: “I never look more than six months ahead,” he said, well aware that his journey as a coach has only just begun.