Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

“Nhe wanted to take over the national team,” admits Nicolás Tagliafico. It was the summer of 2018 and Argentina was eliminated early from the World Cup. They lost against the eventual champions France, true, but they knew it was coming. we had just dated, the rope was around our neck, and although you always believed that anything could happen, we were going to be defeated at some point,” says bek. “It was the end of an era.”

“There are so many problems in Argentina that we don’t know what’s wrong,” wrote Jorge Valdano at the time, quoting a “crisis of talent”, “lack of leadership”, “lost patience”: “he’s not even a genius” [Messi] it can compensate for many failures, problems of “this size”. When Lionel Scaloni was appointed interim manager, it was his first job as head coach and not an enviable job. “He had the guts,” Tagliafico says. Yet four years later, Argentina is starting another World Cup among favourites, among Copa América winners and undefeated in 36 games.

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That’s 34 more than Scaloni should have gotten. “It was like we were starting from scratch and it wasn’t easy for any coach,” says Tagliafico, one of the seven remaining players from 2018. [the] assistant. He had recently retired and was closer to the players, a kind of intermediate, neutral zone, a zone somewhere between the players and the coach. He had the courage to help. And this keyword: Help.

“He knew it wouldn’t [permanent] ram. He would even tell us that. “I’m here to help you redefine the people on the team, to help you grow.” The expectation was low, and we could start building without having to win, win, win, win. Things started to happen to look more beautiful. A few more games, a few more games, and he – and we were too – started to realize that you don’t need a lot of experience to be a coach; What you needed was someone to help everyone come together. So it started.”

Tagliafico says Argentina’s 2-0 loss to Brazil in the 2019 Copa América was a “big mistake” in the semi-finals. But when he looks back on this four-year transformation, this is the moment he sees most important. They also lost for the last time. “There was a new generation and an old generation. We lost, but we learned, we got to know each other, ourselves. We were growing. there federation hooked up with the manager. There have been ups and downs between 2019 and the next Copa América, but we felt something was being built. Fortunately, we’ve also had results that ensure nothing breaks.

“You’re convinced of the next Copa America. Everything’s in place. But if you lose, this can happen. Something may break. A relationship. Or maybe Leo decides to stop. The win puts a pound on it. We haven’t won anything in a long time. This is also Although it created anticipation, it released the pressure. For players like Leo, [Ángel] Reaching the finals and not winning, Di María was something else entirely. Emotionally, it was the best that could have happened. When we came back with the trophy, it was Covid days, but the streets were packed, it was like the end of the world was coming.”

When asked to explain why Argentina is responding to football this way, he pauses. “Football changes our lives,” he says at the beginning of a long explanation, a social analysis. Then, finally, he stops, laughs, and says, “Well, that and the fact that we’re all crazy, obviously.”

Nicolás Tagliafico receives treatment during training for Argentina in Doha.
Nicolás Tagliafico receives treatment during training for Argentina in Doha. Photo: Amr Alfiky/Reuters

Tagliafico acknowledges that success brings pressure, but acknowledges that this is a liberated team. “The Copa América to go on for too long without losing means to be there. is is Expectation,” he says, “but you know there’s a reason for it.”

Is that the reason Messi? “It’s not just him,” says the 30-year-old Lyon defender. “Of course he’s the most important player, plus, but we’ve built a very, very strong group. If you look at it, we’re not big names, but we’re strong as a team, we’re as good on the court as we are on the field – and sometimes it’s that important.”

For Messi too, he looks more comfortable in the national team than ever before, just as the nation feels more comfortable with him and embraces him like never before. “I feel it inside, too, he enjoys it more,” Tagliafico says. “Winning the Copa América liberated him, but I felt that even before that. I could see that he was comfortable and that’s what we wanted: for him to have complete freedom. Because when he’s free, when he’s enjoying it, we see what he does.

“It’s hard to explain why. I think she’s starting to understand vote not forever and he needs to enjoy it. Maybe being a dad changes you, maybe he saw that he had to play for his children, not people. I always felt that burden was on Leo’s shoulders: ‘I have to win for Argentina.’ Fortunately, the Copa América gave him what he so longed for; he is calmer he knows he has it and luckily he still has this World Cup – maybe more.

“Leo is the best. Maybe we still don’t fully understand it because we’re playing with it; Maybe in 20 years I will. Hopefully he can win the World Cup and end the legend that said he had to win to be like Diego. What surprises you is his calmness, his modesty: he may even seem shy at times, but he is a normal person, you can talk about anything. Sometimes I think you don’t know how big it is, what it produces in the world.

“It’s crazy to think that there are people who criticize Leo anymore. And why? Because he didn’t win the trophy. They’re ignoring her four finals, which isn’t easy. Made it easy. However, he was criticized for failing to win. Now, that has changed. Maybe we learned. We learned about the hits, the bad moments, how things really were, how hard it was. And those who criticized him eventually regretted it. This was unthinkable, but we are learning.

Nicolas Tagliafico

“Obviously we won’t say we’re favourites. there are teams they are very, very powerful. Sometimes you lose and it could be for a silly reason. We don’t need to create this expectation: we need to focus on what we can do. We know that Saudi Arabia has been working together for a long time, today is the first day and we only think about this match. The best start to a World Cup is to win. And one thing I learned at the last World Cup was this: Don’t look ahead by following the path. If you assume, it won’t.

“We’re in good shape and we’ll be there with the big countries, but the favourites? No. Your feet are on the ground. Whatever happened: those unbeaten matches, Copa América. We come in feeling strong and competitive. We have the will, we have the confidence and we know where we come from.”