GENEVA (Reuters) - Former Argentina forward Hernan Crespo says he is not sure whether coach Jorge Sampaoli has enough time to impose his ideas on the national team as they prepare for this year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Crespo, 42, told Reuters that, with Sampaoli having only been in charge since June, he is still waiting to see whether they can adapt to the coach’s whirlwind style.
“I have a lot of belief in Sampaoli but he doesn’t have much time to impose his identity,” said Crespo, Argentina’s fourth highest scorer with 35 international goals.
“He’s working very hard with videos, visiting players... but at the moment, we don’t know what sort of identity the team will have and unfortunately, there’s very little time.”
With players such as Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala to call on, Argentina’s squad is the envy of most others in terms of individual talent.
Yet the team has struggled in the last two years, lurching through the South American World Cup qualifiers and only making sure of qualification by winning 3-1 in Ecuador at the end of their 18-match campaign.
They employed three coaches during the competition with Sampaoli taking over for the last four matches after Edgardo Bauza was dismissed in the wake of a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia.
Argentina’s first three qualifiers under Sampaoli all ended in draws — away to Uruguay and at home to Venezuela and Peru — before the win in Ecuador.
Since then, they have beaten Russia 1-0 in a friendly but then lost 4-2 to Nigeria in a match which cruelly exposed Argentina’s defensive failings.
“It’s all a bit of a mystery... we know the players and we know Sampaoli but we need them to be together and to see if the players can understand Sampaoli’s ideas quickly,” said Crespo. “That’s what we are curious to find out.”
Sampaoli made his name by leading Chile to the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup and then winning the Copa America the following year, their first-ever major title, all with a high-tempo pressing game.
He achieved that by squeezing the most out of a relatively limit group of players. With Argentina, however, Sampaoli will almost certainly have to leave out some big names, providing a different test of his coaching abilities.
“Is it fair to leave out any of those (big names)? I would say no... but, on the other hand, can they all play together?” said Crespo. “That’s difficult because you have to have a balance... so he is going to have to take difficult decisions, painful decisions.”
Argentina finished as runners-up at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, losing the final to Germany. They have been drawn against Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in this year’s tournament.
The Europa League is often regarded as the poor relation to the Champions League but Crespo said he had fond memories of the tournament and its predecessor, the UEFA Cup.
“I remember watching the final when Napoli won with Diego Maradona (in 1989), and ever since then I dreamed of playing in Europe and winning the same competition,” he said.
Crespo achieved his ambition with Parma 10 years later, scoring the first goal as they beat Olympique Marseille in the final.
“It’s true that the Champions League has very big power in terms of sponsors, publicity... but you mustn’t forget the UEFA Cup with its history,” he said.
Crespo, however, said he was not convinced by the current format in which teams which are eliminated in the Champions League group stage drop down to the Europa League.
“I agree that the big names add prestige, but this also suggests that it is a second tier competition,” he said. “It needs its own identity, its own value — it should not to be the little brother of the Champions League.
“It doesn’t deserve to be seen as the second choice.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge