At the age of 59, Alejandro Sabella is poised for the biggest opportunity of his short career as a head coach: leading Argentina at a FIFA World Cup™. A cool, composed thinker who eschews the spotlight, Sabella was handed the Albiceleste hotseat in 2011 following his successful tenure at Estudiantes de La Plata, where he won the league and the Copa Libertadores as well as giving Josep Guardiola's Barcelona a run for their money in the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup final.
An admirer of Marcelo Bielsa, Sabella is a plain talker and a skilled man-manager who excels at getting his ideas across. In the words of veteran midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, "He's a consummate worker who pays great attention to detail. He gets on well with the older hands and the youngsters because he says precisely what's required in any given situation."
Many of the seeds of Sabella's blossoming coaching career were sown during his playing days. Born in Buenos Aires on 5 November 1954, he was a diminutive midfielder with a classy left foot who made his name through technique and brains rather than brawn – an approach he continues to instil in his charges today. He won three titles after rising through the ranks at River Plate, where he was known for making the difficult look easy, shaking off defenders with his twinkle-toed footwork and always picking out a team-mate when in possession.
After a three-year spell in England, Carlos Bilardo convinced Sabella to return home and sign for Estudiantes, where he picked up another two league titles. Having hung up his boots in 1989, the very next year he got the call to join Daniel Passarella's coaching staff alongside another World Cup winner, Americo Gallego. The trio worked together at River Plate and for the Argentinian national team, whom they led to the quarter-finals at France 1998.
Sabella subsequently served as Passarella's No2 during his stints at the helm of Uruguay, Parma, Monterrey, Corinthians and River for a second spell. The pair parted ways in 2007 and the former assistant took his first head coach position at Estudiantes in 2009. After leaving the club, he was on the brink of accepting an offer from the United Arab Emirates when he landed the Argentina job.
Pachorra (Slowcoach), as he was affectionately dubbed as a player, swiftly set about making his mark, naming Lionel Messi captain and building the team around him. Over the course of qualifying for Brazil 2014, Sabella rang the changes at the back, handed Sergio Aguero a starting berth and boosted the team spirit. As a result, la Albiceleste qualified in first place, with the best attacking record in the group and the second meanest defence. Now, with a whole country watching on expectantly, the publicity-shy coach's brief is simple enough: return Argentina to the pinnacle of world football.