Gerardo Martino looking to build as World Cup final rematch looms
As soon as the transfer window slammed shut on Monday, the focus switched from club to international football. National teams are now getting together for the first time since the World Cup, and, somewhat bizarrely, the process gets going with a replay of the final from July 13. On Wednesday, Argentina visit newly crowned champions Germany.
When these sides last met, some six weeks ago in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium, the world crown was at stake. This week's encounter in Dusseldorf is nowhere near as serious. Yes, Germany have to build for the next set of European championship qualifiers, and will move forward without a few senior squad members, who have recently announced their retirement from the international game. But the impression is that, for Wednesday's hosts, the most important aspect of the match will be the opportunity it provides for a party to celebrate the World Cup win.
From the Argentina camp, meanwhile, there is no talk of revenge -- and not just because there is no common sense in the idea of avenging defeat in a World Cup final by winning a subsequent friendly. From the Argentine perspective the most important development since July 13 has been the change of coach -- Alejandro Sabella stepping down and being replaced by Gerardo Martino, last season's Barcelona coach, who took Paraguay to their first World Cup quarterfinal in 2010.
It would appear to be a smooth transition. Martino has made his admiration for Sabella's work very clear. "Not much is going to change," he says. But there will obviously be changes -- there always are at the end of the four-year cycle that culminates in the World Cup. Martino, though, has not yet made changes in personnel. Man for man, he has called up the World Cup squad for this match (though one or two have dropped out through injury).
"Winning this match is not the priority," he said this week, emphasising that the most important task now is to get his feet under the table and construct a healthy spirit between the players and the new coaching staff.
And, to be frank, there is no need for Argentina's coach to be in a hurry. Germany might need to get themselves back into shape for coming competitive matches, but on the other side of the Atlantic the situation is not nearly so urgent. In South America's cycle, this next year (the first after the World Cup), is the silly season.
Things get serious again in June, with the 2015 Copa America -- a two-pronged tournament to be held in Chile. It is a title that teams want to win, but also it is a training ground to prepare the continent's sides for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, which get going soon afterwards.
Until then, the South Americans are restricted to friendlies. But who can they play against? Argentina against Germany is something of an exception. It is not easy to set up matches against high-profile European opponents, since they will soon be using FIFA dates for Euro 2016 qualifiers. Many of the games, then, fall into two categories: either the South Americans play each other, usually in the United States; or they travel to the Far East, most often to play Japan and South Korea, though China is also a possible venue.
Clearly one of the leading priorities here is financial. It also means that the likes of Martino have time to find their blend. Colombia have done the same thing for their forthcoming friendlies, repeating their World Cup squad with the addition of players who missed the tournament through injury, such as star centre-forward Radamel Falcao Garcia (now of Manchester United). Ecuador will have a caretaker coach for the next few months; Bolivia have yet to decide who their long-term boss will be.
Others are being more proactive in building for the future. Brazil have reappointed coach Dunga, in charge between 2006-10. The first squad in his second spell includes just 10 players who went to the World Cup as he seeks to rebuild after the disappointments of June and July. Uruguay have retained Oscar Washington Tabarez, but after Brazil 2014 there was a clear need to add new blood to a squad that essentially had been together for the previous seven years. Six new faces are added to the group that visit Japan and South Korea in the next few days.
This is all very well -- though the European clubs are never happy with their players making long trips to the Far East. The danger, though, is attaching too much importance to the results of these matches. Friendlies can often be deceptive; friendlies in South America's silly season even more so. Over the next few months they can introduce fresh players and shake up the blend -- but the time to start judging the work of the continent's coaches, new or otherwise, will not come round until the Copa America in July 2015.