Giustozzi: I told Mati five years ago that he’d win the World Cup again

2 Oct 2021
  • Argentina in search of their second consecutive title on Sunday

  • Giustozzi won as head coach in 2016 with Matias Lucuix as assistant

  • "If I hadn’t been convinced that Matias would be an improvement, then I wouldn’t have left,” he told FIFA.com

Minutes before the final of the FIFA Futsal World Cup™ gets underway this Sunday, there will be someone particularly restless in the stands at Kaunas Arena. "I’ll be on edge throughout, I won’t be able to sit still," he tells FIFA.com.

Two days prior to the event, he will have caught a flight from Murcia to follow an Argentina side full of his dear friends for the grand finale. He will be enjoying the build-up to the final just like any other fan, but keeping his distance from the team, keen not to intervene. His mere presence will give the team a boost, as the confidence and peace of mind he exudes rubs off on every member of Argentina’s travelling contingent.

We are talking about none other than Diego Giustozzi, the coach who led the Albiceleste to the 2016 World Cup title and one of the main architects of the team’s development. Now his ‘little brother’ Matias Lucuix is at the helm, seeking to do Giustozzi’s legacy justice. Giustozzi spoke to FIFA.com about his nerves before the final, how the team have gone from strength to strength, his special relationship with ‘Mati’ and what he expects from Sunday’s match.

FIFA.com: How are you enjoying the World Cup from back home? Diego Giustozzi: I’ve been rolling back the years. I’m just like any other Argentina fan, that’s how I like to experience it. I suffer more than I should, since it was me who put together the entire coaching staff. I spent formative years alongside those players and coaches, so I feel really invested in what goes on.

You were in the stands in Kaunas for the game against RFU, and you looked like you found it tough going… Fortunately, I was at least able to let off some steam, as I was able to shout at the players. I really felt like I was in the middle of the action. I know it's not normal, any former coach ought to be watching from a box wearing a suit and tie, but that’s just not me. People don't get it, but the thing is eight to ten years ago all of this was unimaginable. It doesn’t take much for you to lose your composure and normal way of being.

Do you feel like you’re an important part of this Argentina side’s development? [Pauses to think] I feel that I’ve played a part. When I came in as coach I was never thinking about personal gain. I was focused on us doing the right thing and improving where necessary. I always dreamed of repaying everything my country has done for me, and I think we accomplished more than our wildest dreams. What I did is in the past; now it’s others who are bearing the flag. My role is just to cheer them on and, as I’m so emotionally invested in how things go, it’s a full-on experience for me.

The team is like a family to you, right? Of course! Matias is like a little brother to me. We grew up together, we shared experiences. I know what the players have been through, how wonderful it is to represent Argentina, while not forgetting when things haven’t gone so well. Bringing through the likes of Lucas Bolo, [Sebastian] Corso, [Nico] Sarmiento, [Angel] Claudino, as well as the many lads who were just youngsters back then… the whole experience makes me feel like I’ve been a father figure to them. I always tried to give them their own space, but I feel that this love I’ve got for everyone sometimes clouds my judgement and makes me behave a bit irrationally.

When you started working with the national team, were you aware that while the foundations were there a lot of work was needed? I was aware of all the good things that Fernando Larranaga had done at the helm, as well as where there was room for improvement and how to go about it. There were some fundamentals which didn’t need changing. I came into a positive and healthy environment, it wasn’t like I had to start from scratch, otherwise it would’ve been impossible to achieve what we did in five years. To me there were four principles at work: methodology, youth, competence and empathy. These make Argentina continue to go from strength to strength today and will continue to be their backbone, regardless of whether they win or lose the final. This team draws you in, keeps you hooked and takes you on a really thrilling ride. Nobody understands why Maxi Rescia was able to get to the ball just before Ferrao [in reference to the semi-final on Wednesday], yet I do. When in your work you foster trust, loyalty, and companionship, then anything is possible. These are our great virtues. There are many things behind the scenes which people may not consider as important, but I can assure you that they are. That’s why Argentina are able to overcome great teams.

A few days ago, Matias Lucuix mentioned that carrying on from where you left off was a matter of course. [Pauses.] I still feel part of them. I don't like to place greater importance in myself over the greater good, and less so now that we’re doing so well anyway. Without people who bought into my ideas, it would’ve been impossible to have shaped this team. I think they’re all here for a reason. Matias wasn’t chosen out of pity after his injury saga, but because he has the connection, the heart and the honesty that we were after. The same goes for the coaching staff and the players. I’m just a small cog in the wheel, but at the time I tried my utmost to contribute and leave the groundwork for my successor to improve upon.

Back then were you convinced that Matias would improve what you’d started? I’ll be straight up with you: If I hadn’t been convinced that Matias would be an improvement on me, I wouldn’t have left. After what I’d put in place and won with Argentina, I felt that my work was done, and I chose to move on because of that. Matias told me that I’d left him in a predicament with the high standards he had to match. I told him in no uncertain terms: "Relax Mati, you're going to win the World Cup again." We had this conversation five years ago and again last year. I remember how it all started – I showed him that books, computers and whiteboards aren’t the key to coaching, it’s what you feel in your heart. We chatted while he was going through his injury saga, and I kept asking him to come and work with me. I told him that I was going to move on and that he’d be my replacement. I’m happy it’s worked out the way it has. It’s not just about winning the cup though, as Argentina have already done that. We can’t forget who we are and what has changed over the years.

As for the World Cup in Lithuania, what will the lead-up to the final be like for you? Will you be pulling on the Argentina No.4 jersey? I'll tell you a little story about that shirt. It’s from Mauro Taffarel. He’s a player who spent his whole career in Argentina and won the Copa America with us. Before the 2016 World Cup, the only one he had a chance of playing in, I had to leave him out of the final squad, and even so he gave me his shirt. [Takes a breath] You can only imagine what it means to me. It’s my most treasured possession and it means more to me than the trophies I’ve won. How will I experience the final? [Smiles] Just the same as I did the other day, that’s what I’m like! I’ll be on edge throughout, I won’t be able to sit still.

What were the keys to Argentina overcoming Brazil in the semi-finals? Argentina's ability to deal with being under the cosh. As much as we’re reigning champions, we’re aware of our limitations and we’re humble. We knew that we’d be under the cosh, we were aware of how to deal with it, and we played a very intelligent game, fully believing that we’d win that way. There’s no way you can beat Brazil at their own game, but we’re very confident in our strengths: we snuffed out the threat of Ferrao, we set our stall and the match went in our favour.

What are your thoughts on Portugal as final opponents? They’re one of the best teams in the world, always in with a shout of winning both the UEFA Futsal Championship and the World Cup. Jorge Braz and the Portuguese league have helped Portugal take a step forward and give the team what it was lacking in terms of quality and mental fortitude. This has come to fruition and they’re a force to be reckoned with, and they’re very much at ease in these scenarios. They’re blessed with quality players, tactical nous and have the requisite mindset to deal with these tough situations. We’ll have to give the best account of ourselves, but we know how to set ourselves out against any opponent.

What are Portugal’s biggest assets? Their biggest asset and what is the greatest cause of concern for me is their potent mixture of youth and experience. They’ve got four or five players who are well-versed in these kinds of games such as Bruno Coelho and Ricardinho, as well as youngsters who play with self-confidence, smiles on their faces and who know how to improvise. They’re adept at game management and are keen to make amends for the previous World Cup. It’s sure to be a very tough game, but Argentina are capable of dominating the mental side of the battle and making games work in their favour. We’re going to see a great spectacle, as both countries are leading the pack in world futsal right now.

Have you thought about what you’ll do if this team so dear to you wins their second World Cup on Sunday? I’ve got no idea what state I’ll be in. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I’m sure I’ll feel pure ecstasy, as well as a lot of pride and quiet satisfaction. I made a difficult decision when I left the team, but I feel great peace of mind knowing that my work has endured. All of these different emotions will come to the forefront, but I’m not sure if it’ll be agony or ecstasy though. Just seeing all the players and the coaching staff hugging each other in celebration would be an unforgettable sight.

CALI, COLOMBIA - OCTOBER 01: Diego Giustozzi the coach of Argentina is seen with the winners trophy during the FIFA Futsal World Cup Final match between Russia and Argentina at the Coliseo el Pueblo Stadiumon October 1, 2016 in Cali, Colombia. (Photo by Ian MacNicol - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)