The job description of manager in Argentina is far removed from the role in European football. Joel Richards explains why this is causing problems for some of the South American clubs
Carlos Bianchi walked in to rousing applause. Known as "the Viceroy", the most successful coach in Boca Juniors history was back at the Bombonera and the press room was packed. Yet despite his nine trophies in five years at Boca, Bianchi was not being unveiled as the new coach. In his third spell at the club, he would help out his former team-mate and current coach Carlos Ischia, but from behind the scenes. He would be el manager.
Like many expressions, phrases and words that Argentines use when talking about football, they borrow the English term when speaking about the manager. Yet the role is as foreign as the term they use to refer to it. Bianchi wasn't replacing anybody – rather, he was filling a void. "In Argentina," he explained, "the role is usually taken on by the board."
In Bianchi's first press conference as manager in December 2008, as much as replying to questions about Boca's sporting situation, he had to explain what a manager does. Neither fans nor the media seemed comfortable with the role. His $1.5 million (£900,000) wage for doing what club directors had been doing up until then, at a time when the club's serious financial difficulties were made public, seemed overindulgent.
"There are three things which I won't interfere with," explained Bianchi patiently. "Training sessions, team selection and tactics. Everything else that has to do with football is up to me." Yet Boca's experiment with Bianchi as manager lasted just over a year. Coaches and players came and went, and results did not improve. Bianchi clashed with the board over interference in his duties, while his relationship with several first-team players – who he knew from his spell at the club as coach – also compromised him as manager.
Moreover, Bianchi didn't enjoy taking the blame for the club's poor results. "Being manager isn't as much fun as being coach," he admitted. When Alfio Basile resigned after losing a pre-season superclásico with River in January, the board pressured Bianchi into taking over as coach. He refused and quit the club. But Bianchi would not be the only successful coach who didn't last long as manager.
The 1978 World Cup-winner César Luis Menotti tendered his resignation as Independiente manager in September, a little over a year after taking on the role. Menotti opted not to renew Américo Gallego's contract in June, after the team had finished fourth in the league, and was looking to implement a new framework at the club, with him overseeing a young coach who would bring through youth team players. Without a win in the first six games, however, that young coach, Daniel Garnero, soon left, and Menotti followed him. Both Menotti and Bianchi suffered from high profiles and a failure to improve results. But both took on the role in highly politicised clubs where the board were unwilling to relinquish power in the day-to-day running of the club.
Their respective experiences as manager do not tell the whole story of the role in Argentina. Increasingly, clubs are bucking the trend and importing the European model. The manager at Banfield, Héctor Díaz, stressed the importance of long-term planning: "Banfield were on the verge of bankruptcy when [club president] Carlos Portel took over in 1998," Díaz claims. "But he developed a structure at the club – which included bringing in me for this role – that has taken Banfield from near bankruptcy 12 years ago, to being crowned league champions in 2009."
Díaz says that his brief is to pave the way for the coach, Julio Falcioni, to work with minimum concern for the administrative aspects of the club. "A real virtue of how Banfield works is that the club brought me in to do a job, they listen to me and they let me get on with it." It is this chain of command and communication that insiders say was the problem at Boca and Independiente. "The board has to listen to its professionals," says Díaz.
Yet Díaz suggests that Argentine clubs do not necessarily need a manager and says the real issue is the board of directors. "Look at Lanús," he says of Banfield's fiercest rivals. "They don't have a manager but the club is very well 'managed'. Then you get a club like River, which also doesn't have a manager, and is hundreds of millions of pesos in debt. It depends on the board." Bianchi and Menotti would agree.
From WSC 286 December 2010