Sensini: There's only one Diego
In the course of a career spanning two decades Roberto Nestor Sensini racked up an impressive amount of games for club and country. Sporting the blue and white of Argentina, the defensive stalwart appeared in three FIFA World Cup™ finals and a Men's Olympic Football Tournament, and at club level he won the league title with Newell's Old Boys, the outfit that discovered him, before trying his luck in Italy.
In a fruitful sixteen-year stay there Sensini formed part of a Parma side that picked up two UEFA Cups and two Italian Cups. Then followed a spell with Lazio, where he won the Italian title, and a move to Udinese, where he finally retired at the age of 40.
Today, two years on from ending his playing days and following his brief tenure as Udinese coach, the seasoned Sensini finds himself in the hotseat at Estudiantes. Having now spent nine months in the job, the man they call Boquita sat down with FIFA.com to discuss his fledgling coaching career, his FIFA World Cup experiences and the progress being made by the current Argentina team.
FIFA.com: Roberto, coaches in Argentina are always expected to provide instant success. How are you coping with that?
Roberto Sensini: I'm getting used to it. Last season was pretty good for us. We came third and there was a lot of credit in that. But it's not just here in Argentina where coaches have to be successful from the off. Look at England, for example, where things are supposed to be different. The ex-Chelsea coach (Avram Grant) was fighting for the league right till the end last season and took his team to the final of the Champions League and he was still sacked. In Italy Inter won the championship and (Roberto) Mancini went too. But there's no doubt that here you only have a few weeks in which to win and prove yourself. Sometimes you get things wrong because of that, although I do think Argentinian coaches, and players for that matter, can adapt to anything.
What is the biggest difference between being a player and a coach?
As a coach, as soon as one game ends, you have to start planning for the next one, check on how the boys are, see who can play. You have to run the team in the best possible way and try and find solutions. When you're a player you tend to think about yourself more.
You played under some of Argentina's leading coaches, including Marcelo Bielsa, Carlos Bilardo and Daniel Passarella. Who made the biggest impression on you?
It's hard to say because I learned something from each of them, although Bielsa and Bilardo were probably the ones who made most of a mark on me. Carlos taught me how to play in every position in defence, for example, and that came in really useful for me in Italy. Of course, it's up to you how you take these things on board and get them across to your players, which is the hardest thing, but I value all the coaches I've had, even some of the less well-known ones.
Let's look back now at the three FIFA World Cup finals you appeared in. What are your memories of Italy 1990?
We had a lot of problems going into the tournament, such as the injuries to Diego (Maradona), whose ankle was in really bad shape, and (Jorge) Burruchaga. It was our strength as a group that got us to the Final. And while it's true we didn't play like the Argentina of 1986 and we weren't as good to watch as the 1994 team, you have to remember we knocked out Brazil on the way and the hosts Italy. To then go and lose the Final against Germany to a penalty six minutes from time was very painful.
In the penalty incident you were adjudged to have fouled Voeller. Will that haunt you for the rest of your life?
No. It did affect me for a long time but I managed to get over it. I still believe it wasn't a penalty, while the referee that day, (Edgardo) Codesal, maintains that it was. The fact is, though, it's not worth arguing about. They've tried to get me on radio programmes with him but I didn't see the sense in that because everyone's got their own opinion. We need to forget about it and move on.
At USA 1994 Argentina played some excellent football until Maradona was suspended. Why were the team unable to overcome his loss?
. Without Diego around teams played differently against us. He made the rest of his team-mates grow in stature but without him we were held back somehow. That said, we only lost to Romania because we missed a lot of chances. Many people said that was the game of the World Cup.
And what happened at France 1998?
We lost out in another fantastic game of football. Netherlands beat us right at the end but it could just as easily have gone our way.
As an international for 16 years why do you think Italy won at Germany 2006 and not Argentina?
Let me see (pauses). We Argentinians often think we're the best at everything. And to be the best you have to prove it. The Italians, however, sometimes doubt their capabilities. They won the World Cup at a very difficult time for them because of all the things that were going on off the pitch. At one stage it looked like they might not qualify from the group, but they buckled down and showed that you can win even when you're not playing your best football.
How do you think the team are shaping up for South Africa 2010?
With the ones that won gold in Beijing and the team who played in Belarus the core of the side is there. History dictates Argentina should always finish in the top four and qualify but we have to take things slowly and remember there are others who can be just as good, if not better, than us.
Is Messi the man to lead the way, just as Maradona did in 1986?
We shouldn't be looking for Messi to become another Maradona because there's only one Diego. He's definitely going to get close but I don't think he'll ever match him. It would be counterproductive to put all that pressure on him. There were a few others who also did well in Beijing like Riquelme, Mascherano, Gago, Aguero and the boy Di Maria. We've got more than enough quality but, and I'll say it again, we need to take it slowly.
Would you like to take charge of the national team one day?
Mmm (smiles). When you start playing you want to prove yourself in a club, no matter how big or small it is, and then go on from there. It's not enough just to perform well - you want to go to a bigger team and win things. After that, you want even more, and that means playing for your country, and then you want to go to Europe. This job's exactly the same and we've all got ambitions.
One last question. What is your biggest dream as a coach?
To keep on developing. Things might work out well or badly for me but what I want in the end is to have an identity of my own and to be recognised for that.