When Marcelo Bielsa finally put Chilean football fans out of their misery and confirmed that last month’s friendly against the USA was indeed his last in charge of the national team he left a rather large hole in their footballing, one that needs to be filled quickly and by the right person.
From an Australian point of view, Bielsa’s impact on Chilean football has been much like Guus Hiddink’s impact here in this country, albeit Bielsa’s tenure being much longer. Both men qualified their teams for the World Cup after long absences before being knocked in the Round of 16 in their respective tournaments. However more importantly and I guess obviously is that their legacy will have fans reminiscing for years to come. Australian football fans constantly pine for Hiddink and his successors have always lived in his large shadow. The same will apply for whoever follows in the crazy footsteps of Marcelo Bielsa.
With the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel all being regulars for La Roja many would consider this one of the golden generations of Chilean football. Marcelo Bielsa during his time in charge gave belief to a team that hadn’t come close to World Cup qualification since 1998 and with the 2014 World Cup being in Brazil qualification will not be expected, it will be demanded. It is however the Copa America that is to be held in neighbouring Argentina that looms large on the radar and that is why a replacement needs to be found soon in order to ensure a proper preparation.
In the aftermath of Bielsa’s resignation many names have been put forward, most of them from Argentina. José Pekerman, who was both an early favourite of the press and of mine as well, pulled out early saying that he wanted to concentrate on club football. Carlos Bianchi according to reports was also approached but declined the offer. Those decisions leaves three candidates for the position in Argentineans Claudio Borghi and Alejandro Sabella and Chilean Ivo Basay.
At this stage it would appear that Claudio “Bichi” Borghi is the favourite for the position. Not only has Borghi had experience of playing in Chile where he had stints with Colo Colo, O’Higgins, Audax Italiano and Santiago Wanderers he has also been highly successful as a manager leading Chilean giants, Colo Colo to four consecutive titles between 2006-08. As an added bonus, during that period he had under his tutelage many of the players that are currently making their name for the national team.
Following his departure from Los Albos he won the 2010 Clausura title with former club Argentinos Juniors, but this effort was sandwiched between unsuccessful stints at both Independiente and Boca Juniors, both of which ended prematurely. A plus for many fans would be that Borghi would continue the attacking philosophy that so defined the reign of Bielsa.
Given his recent departure from Estudiantes many pundits believed that Alejandro Sabella had been “tapped up” by the Asociación Nacional de Fútbol (ANFP) as a replacement for Bielsa before “El Loco” actually announced his departure. Sabella, who for a long period of time worked alongside Argentinean great, Daniel Passarella, struck out on his own at Estudiantes in 2009. It was a period of relative success with Estudiantes winning both the 2009 Copa Libertadores and 2010 Clausura titles during his time in La Plata and in the process building a formidable team in the process. Whilst he doesn’t have the attacking mentality of say Borghi or even Pekerman, his winning mentality may be just the thing that gets him over the line.
The dark horse amongst the field of candidates would have to be current O’Higgins manager, Ivo Basay. Basay, who only took on the O’Higgins job at the start of the year, has also managed at Santiago Morning and Unión San Felipe, a team that he returned to the top division of Chilean football after an absence of five years. Whilst relatively inexperienced, something that will work in Basay’s favour is that he was in charge of the Chilean U20 team that came third at the 2007 U20 World Cup in Canada. That was a team that comprised the likes of the aforementioned Vidal, Medel, Sanchez and Isla amongst others.
With fans still angry over the way that the whole Bielsa debacle was handled, the ANFP will need to mend those broken bridges and the choice of who will be in charge of their national team will go a long way to doing that.