The selection is the nation

“Who wants to stop being a coach? No one.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
28 November 2022 Monday 23:33
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The selection is the nation

“Who wants to stop being a coach? No one. We all want to be there, winning and losing, reading in the press that we don't know anything about football..."

Sven-Goran Eriksson, former England manager

The most important task of the selector is, as the name suggests, to select. It is not a small thing when a World Cup arrives. British historian Eric Hobsbawm was right when he wrote that “what makes football such an exceptionally effective medium for instilling national sentiments is that the imagined community of millions feels most real when reduced to a team of eleven people with first and last names.” ”.

Exact. During a World Cup the selection is the country. Those eleven people with a first and last name embody both the nation's desire for prestige and its fear of failure. They carry a terrible weight, and so does the person responsible for choosing them. The selector possesses a power that is frightening. That is why some lose their temper, blind and fall into errors of judgment that all other members of the "imagined community of millions" see, but not them.

I think, with special compassion, of the coaches of England and Argentina, two countries whose citizens pour more collective desire into the World Cups, more eager to succeed and more afraid of failing, than any other. The English, well, because they are like that, because they continue to believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that they are the true owners of football and that the rest are impostors. Everything is mixed with the spirit of Brexit, of course, a cocktail of contradictory emotions that combines the inability to reconcile the loss of an empire with the terrible truth that after leaving the European Union your country is sinking. Never has an English coach, in this case poor Gareth Southgate, suffered more pressure.

The Argentine coach, Lionel Scaloni, has it worse. For the Argentines the World Cup is more important than for the English. It's been that way ever since the country that has everything started to go to shit in the 1960s. Chronic progressive underdevelopment, it's called. However, Argentines, as the rest of Latin America knows, have an opinion of themselves that far exceeds the disastrous reality. The only thing they can cling to to imagine that they have an international prestige commensurate with their pride, is football, specifically their national team.

If the team wins, they briefly vindicate themselves. If it fails, they have no choice but to look in the mirror and see themselves as they are. With the English, the same, but not so much. They have other things, like globally renowned bands or shows like The Crown. If the English lose any consolation they have. But as long as they continue in the World Cup, the national team is the only thing that exists.

Which brings us back to recruiters, who shoulder a responsibility similar to that of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in times of war. If they are brave and hit the mark, the glory is theirs; if they are cowards and make mistakes there is no forgiveness. Southgate, the Englishman, is perceived today by his compatriots as a guy with the vertebra of a worm and the football judgment of a banana. The 0-0 draw against the USA on Friday gave it away as such. With half an hour to go he replaced his most dynamic midfielder with his most immobile midfielder and never took the brightest English striker of the century, young Phil Foden, off the bench. The national consensus around Foden would be absolute if he were not for Southgate, the only one who does not see it.

In other words, so much is at stake for so many millions and Southgate shows himself to be less qualified to occupy his position than an average 5-year-old footballer. The same with Scaloni in the most ignominious defeat in Argentine history last Tuesday. Against a Saudi national team to which he should have scored seven goals, he fell into the double nonsense of choosing an absurdly defensive midfield and not starting the best Argentine defender, by far, Lisandro Martínez. And he only found out that he had a gem of an attacking midfielder, Enzo Fernández, when he was up to his neck in the second half of the game against Mexico on Saturday. Let's see if Scaloni absorbs what should be a very easy lesson in time for the decider against Poland tomorrow. Let's see, for God's sake, if the selector learns to select.