Estudiantes La Plata
2014 FIFA World Cup
Previous Clubs: Estudiantes de La Plata
Honours: Copa Libertadores: 2009; Primera Division Argentina: 2010 Apertura
Alejandro Sabella was born in Buenos Aires, and began his playing career for River Plate, where he played second fiddle to legendary playmaker Norberto Alonso. In 1978, following the World Cup (which he missed out on), he was transferred to Sheffield United. The move, detailed in Matthew Bell's book "Viva Sabella!," was part of the scouting trip that took Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa to Tottenham Hotspur, and which was to thus have a major effect on British football.
After spells with Sheffield United and Newcastle United, he returned to South America, where he had two spells with Estudiantes de La Plata and one with Ferro Carril Oeste in his homeland, as well as brief periods with Gremio in Brazil and Irapuato in Mexico, before retiring to go into coaching.
As manager, his CV is short, but what he lacks in pedigree as the main man he makes up for as an assistant. As No. 2 to Daniel Passarella, he had roles with Argentina (including the 1998 World Cup), Uruguay, Parma, Monterrey, Corinthians and River Plate, before taking an assistant position at Estudiantes, the club he'd been closest to before his retirement as a player.
Estudiantes, with an ageing Juan Sebastian Veron as captain and key player, had had a disappointing start to the 2009 Torneo Clausura and the Copa Libertadores. When Sabella took over -- his first management position -- they'd recorded two defeats and one victory in continental competition. The transformation was instant; he got them into the knockout stage, and went on the win the competition as well as rescuing a respectable sixth place in the Clausura.
Six months later, Estudiantes -- featuring a mix of older players who wouldn't return to Europe and a few who would go on to have unremarkable spells overseas -- led 1-0 in the Club World Cup final against a Barcelona side who many considered the best of all time. It took an 89th minute equaliser from Pedro to take the game to extra time, before Lionel Messi won the trophy for the Catalans.
Sabella added the 2010 Torneo Apertura with Estudiantes and after Sergio Batista's Argentina were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America on home soil, Sabella was offered the national team job.
Since taking charge of Argentina, the man known by foreign fans as Alex -- thanks to his spell in England -- has brought balance to a side previously managed somewhat anarchically by Batista and his 1986 teammate and managerial predecessor Diego Maradona. Sabella has lost just two competitive games as national team boss. In spite of the multitudes who continue to believe he's too cautious, Argentina seem to be in good hands.
Strengths: He gets more out of his players than they give other managers -- Estudiantes collapsed with essentially the same squad after he left. Maradona gave Lionel Messi confidence and Batista gave him a central place for Argentina, but it's Sabella's management that's brought the very best out of the Rosario-born genius for his country.
Weaknesses: Some Argentines feel he's too defensive in his outlook. Of course, Argentina's defence is their weak point, so perhaps that's by necessity more than anything.
Career high: Three months into his first role as manager, he was crowned champion of South America, with a club whose last Libertadores win had been in 1970.
Career low: His managerial career has been so short (and successful) it's hard to name one. Arguably, his second competitive match in charge, which brought Argentina's first ever defeat to Venezuela (previously they'd met 18 times, and Venezuela had never managed so much as a draw). That defeat was, however, followed by a two-year unbeaten streak.
Tactics: Versatile. 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in matches Argentina should win, switching to a back three or five when they need to be more cautious. Full/wing-back is where Argentina have the most issues; elsewhere, they're formidable.
Quotes: "We'll have to get Iran scouted." Post-World Cup group draw, Sabella modestly implies what most of his supporters already knew; that he's perfectly familiar with Nigeria and Bosnia's strengths and weaknesses. He leaves nothing to chance.
Trivia: He still speaks fluent (if heavily accented) English following his time in Sheffield and Newcastle, and interrupted a slow-speaking interpreter to answer a Bosnian journalist's question in English (the language it had been posed in) prior to a friendly against their group stage rivals in St. Louis.
Words: Sam Kelly