In part two of his exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella looks back at his previous FIFA World Cup™ experience, assesses Brazil’s form going into the world finals and ponders how the Brazilian climate might affect Europe’s contenders, all this before signing off with one of his trademark replies.
FIFA.com: You have already been to one FIFA World Cup, as Daniel Passarella’s assistant at France 1998. Can you compare the build-up to that tournament to this one?
Alejandro Sabella: It’s totally different. There’s always pressure but there’s more on the coach than on his assistant. All I did before was try to help the coach and be on hand to give him what he needed, but now I’m the one who’s making the decisions and has to live with them. It might be the same tournament but the job I’m in now makes everything else totally different.
Is there anything that happened on that occasion that you’d try to avoid this time round?
I’d make sure the players save their energy at certain times of the tournament. We had a problem at that World Cup. A day after the Netherlands beat Yugoslavia in extra-time we beat England on penalties. The adrenaline was flowing because they’re old rivals of ours, and there was extra-time, a shoot-out and everything. We really celebrated because it’s hard not to with a win like that. Then three days later we went and played the Dutch in over 30-degree heat. If the same thing happened again this time, I’d try to calm the players down as much as possible and let them get their energy levels back up quickly.
In an interview with us two years ago you said that Spain and Germany were the best sides in the world at that time, before adding Brazil to that list. Would you give the same answer today?
I’d put Brazil on the same level as Spain and Germany now. I wasn’t surprised by how well they did at the Confederations Cup. They never surprise me, in fact. There’s a reason why they’re five-time world champions. If you look back at history, then you can see that they’ve always been the best. They’ve got the lot: physical ability, athleticism and fantastic technique. They’re always favourites and even more so this time, with them being hosts.
The pressure of playing at home didn’t seem to affect them.
That was the one thing I wasn’t sure about. Being at home is a double-edged sword and it tests the character of players. While it’s always better to be the home side, there are times when it can work against you. They had that pressure on them at the Confederations Cup and they handled it really well. [Luiz Felipe] Scolari had a big part to play in all that and I think they can perform just as well at the World Cup.
It’s traumatic to have to think about telling someone who has that dream that they’re not going.
Some people are already thinking about the possibility of a Final against Brazil at the Maracana. Can you sense that at all?
I know it’s there and the question always comes up. And if you look at the draw, there’s a chance it could happen. I can’t get involved in all that, though, because I’ve got other things on my mind right now. Even so, I hope it happens, obviously.
There are a few European teams in among the favourites. Do you think the Brazilian climate will be a factor during the tournament?
It depends. Playing in North and South America is not the same. It’s one thing to play in Mexico, where heat and altitude come into it, and another to play in Chile or Argentina, where World Cups are held in the winter. Brazil is in between and it’s almost a sub-continent in itself. There are venues where the temperature is 24 or 25 degrees, which is not the same as getting 33 or 34 degrees with high humidity. Maybe players won’t feel it on the day but they will in the next game. It all depends, then, on how they respond over the tournament as a whole.
Let’s move on to a specific issue with the Argentina team right now, which has to do with the form the goalkeepers are in, with Sergio Romero, Mariano Andujar and Agustin Orion all seemingly off their game a little. Was it not a big risk to name them in the squad so early?
The thing is I haven’t named them. What I said was that those three were “almost certain” to make the squad. And the situation hasn’t changed: they’re almost certain to be the three. They’re all good keepers and it’s a position where you have to give them a little bit more confidence. You need to have healthy competition in every position, though, and you can’t go from one extreme to the other. You have to show faith in the first-choice player without making him believe that he’s always going to play, because that can lead to a lack of competition within the squad.
When it comes to finalising your squad, how do you go about the job of telling a player you’ve been working with that they’re not going to the World Cup?
The way I am it’s very difficult to prepare for that. It’s tough, and don’t forget that I was a player too. It’s traumatic to have to think about telling someone who has that dream that they’re not going. But it’s just another of the responsibilities that come with the job, and I knew that when I came into this.
Is it too early to ask how you’d like to be remembered in the history of Argentinian football?
(Pauses) Well, I don’t know if it’s too early for that. I suppose I’d like to remembered as a professional, a hard worker, as someone who tried to do the right thing and got it right sometimes and wrong others, who tried to bring people together rather than keep them apart and who devoted his energies to football in everything he did.
Would you like them to write it before or after the World Cup?
Whether you like it or not, they always write it at the end of your career.