Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina tenure spluttering to an inevitable conclusion
Jorge Sampaoli arrived a year ago as Argentina manager, but he could never get his team to jell. If his time as Albiceleste boss is over, it will be a conclusion that saw him confused, lacking authority and alienated from his players.
Argentina's elimination in the round of 16 at the hands of France spells the end for many of the side's players. The same could also be said for Sampaoli himself.
A little over a year ago, the Casilda native was introduced as Argentina manager. The announcement sprung new hope, but that was slowly chipped away and then was wasted in Russia. Saturday's defeat was the last straw in a forgettable process.
Its beginning was auspicious. Sampaoli debuted with a win over none other than Brazil, 1-0, with a goal from Gabriel Mercado. Then a "practice" win over an unheralded Singapore side.
However, the CONCACAF qualifying phase saw Argentina struggle until securing a must-win final game. After a draw in Uruguay, followed by two more at home against Venezuela and Peru, Lionel Messi came to the rescue with three away goals against Ecuador for the World Cup berth.
Later, in the lead-up friendlies, a 1-0 win over Russia and a 4-2 loss to Nigeria drew concerns. Those questions intensified after a catastrophic 6-1 loss to Spain that followed a positive 2-0 result over Italy.
The rout of Haiti in Buenos Aires was more a farewell to Argentina's faithful, rather than a serious test to Argentina before the World Cup.
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Under a cloud of doubt -- many doubts -- the side arrived in Russia. The first-round performance was clearly one of the worst for Argentina since their early exit from the 2002 World Cup.
A manager who seemed overwhelmed and insecure, who changed lineups and schemes frequently, who confused his players and who never made the fundamental fixes that his team called for will probably finish his tenure without much bite, evidenced by a "double command" system with his players.
Critics demanded a change of players in his lineup as well as to his system. Sampaoli acquiesced, losing authority in doing so. With that outlook, it was difficult to see a successful long-term future for Argentina.
The loss to France, predictable even with the illusion that the late goal provided, will likely put an end to Sampaoli's cycle. He is under contract through 2022, and he affirmed after the loss that he has not considered stepping down, but his charge seems clearly untenable after so many missteps and the broken bond that exists with his players.
Anything is possible when it comes to Argentine football, however. There's nothing left to do but wait to see what happens to the manager responsible for such a giant failure.