29 June 1986 is a very special date in Argentina’s football history, the day La Albiceleste conquered the world at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. One man hoping to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that memorable event on Mexican soil is Oscar Garre, a member of that squad, who will be returning to the country in the next few days as coach of Argentina’s U-17 team, intent on winning the only trophy yet to elude La Albiceleste.
“I was lucky enough to be a world champion and I often say to the boys: ‘If you ever do the same, you’re going to feel like all your dreams came true',” says El Mago (The Magician) in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “But if they’re going to turn that dream into something real, they’ll have to work very hard because they’ll be coming up against teams bringing the best players from their countries. We had the opportunity 25 years ago and we made the most of it. Now it’s their chance and they have to go out there and take it.”
Capped 37 times by his country at senior level, the former left-back is only too aware of Argentina’s failure to finish higher than third in a FIFA U-17 World Cup. “We know it’s something we have to put right, and though you make them aware of it directly, they’re getting to the age where they have to take more and more responsibility themselves,” he adds. “With the way things are now, a lot of them are just a step away from becoming professionals and our job also involves preparing them for that, for the life that a footballer leads. Argentina always try to win or to at least get to the last four, and this tournament is no exception.”
That said, the 55-year-old Garre also wants his charges to enjoy the experience they are about to face: “There’s nothing like a World Cup, and though you want them to make every single one you know that for a lot of them this could be the only one they ever play in. Everything about it is amazing: the pitches, the balls, the hotels, the organisation. It’s an unforgettable experience and though they have to be responsible, they need to enjoy it to the full.”
Responsibility is a key word for Garre, aware as he is of the demands involved in coaching the youngsters of today. “Times have changed and they adapt to them, which means we have to do the same,” he explains. “I want complete respect off the pitch but on it I want them to be rebels. When they’re out there they have to show that desire and pent-up energy against their rivals. They have to beat them the right way, by playing better, working harder, anticipating the play and jumping higher. And that’s something they understand now.”
Argentina start the tournament as the team to beat in Group B, where they take on France, Jamaica and Japan. Garre is anxious to play down their favourites tag, however, and is equally reluctant to name any potential contenders for the title: “Everything’s relative in this age group. Neither Switzerland nor Nigeria, the two finalists from last time, have qualified, and Spain, who were runners-up to Nigeria in 2007, also failed to make it. There are lots of ups and downs with kids this age and as well as physical and footballing factors, psychology also comes into it. It’s very difficult to give you a name right now. We’ll just have to wait until the first few games.”
Assessing his side’s assets, he signs off in hopeful mood. “We’ve got a well-balanced, compact team that knows what it has to do. Maybe we could have done with another warm-up match to help us gel that bit more, but we’re happy and full of confidence. Like I said, the aim is to make the last four. It goes without saying, though, that I’d love to be celebrating again at the Estadio Azteca on the day of the final.”