Ruggeri helps save Argentina

TIM KEEBLE, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 1:44 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- If Argentina lifts the World Cup four years from now in Brazil, Oscar Ruggeri will be able to take some of the credit.

No, Ruggeri is not a fleet-footed winger capable of scoring bags of goals, or even a stalwart defender who will help to shore up a leaky defence.

Ruggeri was a coach on manager Diego Maradona's staff during the 2010 World Cup for Argentina, and he is partly to blame (or praise) for Maradona not being retained.

All indications over the past few weeks pointed to a four-year extension for the legendary Maradona, which would run through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Argentinean Football Association president Julio Grondona was firmly in Maradona's corner, but he wasn't as pleased with some of Maradona's coaching staff.

Ruggeri in particular came under scrutiny since he was the defensive coach who watched his side concede four goals in a quarterfinal loss to Germany earlier this month.

However, Maradona was adamant that he would need to be able to retain all of his staff if he were to continue, telling El Show del Futbol with typical boldness:

"If they touch a hair of one of my guys, even if the masseur or the kitman, I'm going. "I want to continue the adventure but not with (just) anyone. I chose these people. I want to continue working with them."

The problem is that some of the other board members did not agree that Maradona's staff warranted another chance, and he was instead let go in order to make way for a new coach.

"I would be a hypocrite if I didn't admit there was a general disliking of several aspects of the cycle that ended with the World Cup," general secretary Jose Luis Meiszner told cable channel C5N. "We did not see any intention to show humility, to say things should have been done better. There was no evaluation, no review, no conclusions. These are the things you have to think about in order to think about the future."

Humility has never been one of Maradona's greatest attributes, and if he had been retained as manager for another four years, Argentina would have many entertaining press conferences to look forward to, but no real chance at winning its third World Cup.

Maradona's appointment as manager in October 2008 was met with plenty of skepticism. After all, here was a man whose coaching resume consisted of a pair of one-year stints as a coach with smaller clubs in Argentina, making him grossly underqualified to take on such a big task.

Essentially, Maradona was a teenager with a learner's permit who was given the keys to a race car and asked to compete in the Daytona 500.

He got off to rocky start in qualification with an embarrassing 6-1 defeat at the hands of Bolivia, while also losing matches against Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay.

In fact, qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was not secured until the final two games, as Argentina needed late goals to beat both Peru and Uruguay.

Maradona and his team were heavily criticized for such a poor showing, but they still had enough talent to be a factor in South Africa.

The one thing they were missing was an experienced coach on the bench, and that fact became horribly apparent in their quarterfinal thrashing against Germany.

After winning four successive games to start the competition based on having superior talent alone, Argentina came up against an equally talented German side, but Maradona was in no position to match wits with his German counterpart, Joachim Loew.

Germany was able to score an early goal, and from there, Loew had his team sit back and soak up the pressure from Argentina before finding openings on the counter attack.

It was a plan that worked to perfection, as Argentina time and again tried to break down a well-organized German defence, only to be turned away and punished on the break.

It was a bit like watching someone run headfirst into a brick wall over and over again, and hoping that the outcome will be different the next time they try.

In a situation like this, Maradona the player would simply drop into midfield, collect a pass and dribble through six defenders before scoring a wonderful goal.

However, Maradona the manager was only able to stand on the sidelines and clap his hands while shouting encouragement to his befuddled players, looking as confused and lost as they did.

Instead of making a tactical adjustment Maradona watched as Argentina continued to hit its head against the wall by attacking in the same manner over and over again.

The end result was not pretty; a 4-0 defeat and a plane ticket back to Buenos Aires.

The one area in which Maradona did excel was taking the focus off of his players and soaking it up himself.

Prior to the Germany match he engaged in a war of words with some of the German players, and while the ability to deal with pressure is a good quality for a coach, it is just a small part of the job.

Maradona clearly was in over his head tactically, and with such a gifted side at his disposal, it was a shame that they lacked any real direction.

You would have thought that the result against Germany would have been enough to convince Argentina's board that Maradona needed to be replaced, yet still they were ready to offer him four more years.

However, the poor performances of coaches like Ruggeri have now saved Argentina from making a terrible mistake and have given the board a chance to redeem itself by finding a qualified coach capable of taking the reigns.

Maradona's playing career is no less brilliant despite his failings as a coach, and his loyalty to his staff is admirable. However, he is clearly not the right man for the job, and thanks to Ruggeri, Argentina can now search for the man who is.


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