Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina
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Jorge Sampaoli: 5 things on the inbound Marseille coach

Publish on 26/02/2021 at 09:08

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Jorge Sampaoli is set to be appointed as the long-term successor to André Villas-Boas as Olympique de Marseille coach. A Copa America winner with Chile in 2015, what else is there to know about the Argentine tactician?

1) Old Boy before his time

 

Sampaoli was born in Casilda, a small town in the Argentine province of Santa Fe, in 1960 - the same year as a certain Diego Maradona. Like his compatriot, Sampaoli was passionate about football from the start; but unlike the man who would go on to become a national hero and cultural icon through his feats in the sport, Sampaoli was never able to pursue the game beyond youth team level.

 

Sampaoli did make it onto the books of Newell's Old Boys some 16 years earlier than El Pibe de Oro, playing for their youth teams between 1977 and 1979, but Tobogan de piojos - as he was known on account of his premature baldness - endured something rather more difficult earlier than most: an injury-induced retirement at the age of 19.

 

2) Part-time banker to continent-hopping coach

 

Top-level playing career no longer a possibility, Sampaoli was variously a banker and physical trainer but never gave up on his dream of making a living from football, and when Mario Bonavera - the manager of local team Alumni de Casilda - was indisposed in 1991, Sampaoli got his first taste of coaching in his absence. It was an opportunity he seized.

 

Sampaoli spent much of the next decade bouncing around the lower reaches of Argentine football before kick-starting his career further afield. He spent four years in Peru and two in Chile before two seasons with Emelec in Ecuador, but it wasn't until he returned to Chile with Universidad de Chile in 2010 that things really began to take off.

 

The continental treble of Apertura, Clausura and Copa Sudamericana were sealed before 2011 was out - a first in Chilean footballing history - and the next season Sampaoli took los Azules to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, where they fell to Boca Juniors. The Chilean FA had seen enough, and gave him the national team job at the end of 2012.

 

3) Red Hot Chile Manager

 

To say Sampaoli was a success as Chile manager between 2012 and 2016 would be a gross understatement. La Roja had been faltering before his appointment, despite boasting a golden generation of players which included Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel and Carlos Bravo, with qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil hanging in the balance.

 

But he took those star players and got them functioning together in a high-pressing 3-3-1-3 system, steering the side to three wins in their next four qualifiers, and, ultimately, punching their ticket to the Finals tournament in Brazil. Chile then beat defending champions Spain on the way to the last 16, where they were edged out on penalties by the host nation.

 

There was no stopping Chile on home turf the following summer, though. Sampaoli's side beat Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Peru on the way to a Copa America final meeting with Lionel Messi's Argentina. Maradona's heir and Sampaoli's home country were left disappointed, and Chile sealed their first major trophy with a penalty shoot-out victory after a goalless draw in Santiago.

 

Sampaoli left his post in January 2016 with the highest win ratio - 69.8 percent - of any coach in Chile's history.

 

4) Better than Bielsa?

 

It's fair to say that Sampaoli and current Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa share more than a few things in common. The Argentine coaches have both been in charge of Chile and Argentina with Marseille to follow; and Sampaoli's preferred formation and style has been viewed as a clone of Bielsa's by many onlookers. Bielsa, though, rejects the claim - in deference to his compatriot.

 

"I don't think Jorge is a disciple of mine," he said. "First, because I'm not comfortable with that word, and second, because I've actually noticed he's better than me, and I don't say that out of false modesty. One of a coach's best virtues is flexibility, not falling in love with their own ideas. I don't relent with my ideas and that's not a virtue - it's a flaw. Sampaoli does compromise because he has the power to adapt, unlike me. That definitely makes him better than me."

 

Marcelo Bielsa, Lille

 

5) Reforging a reputation in France?

 

He may have delivered unprecedented success to Chilean football at club and national level - and he also ended Zinedine Zidane's 40-game unbeaten streak as Real Madrid manager during a single season with Sevilla - but there has also been some rough with the smooth

His stint as manager of Argentina came undone after the World Cup in Russia in 2018, with the Albiceleste knocked out by France in the last 16, leading Messi and Maradona to both publicly criticise him. Sampaoli has been in Brazil, with Santos and Atletico Mineiro, between then and now, and although respectable league finishes followed, there is a feeling that there is something left to prove at the 10-time French champions.

Given his previous highs, it wouldn't be safe to bet against him.