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Is there room for Menotti in the modern game?
One of the most enduring images of the 1978 World Cup was of Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti chain-smoking on the bench as he led the hosts to victory.
The Thin One would not be allowed to do it nowadays. Coaches have been included in FIFA’s blanket ban on smoking in stadiums, as Ricardo La Volpe — another Argentine — discovered when he lit up on the bench while coaching Mexico at the World Cup.
But it is not just Menotti’s smoking which has gone from football. His vision of the game is a world away from his younger counterparts with their earphones, laptop computers, designer suits, statistics and emphasis on compactness and organisation.
Menotti prefers the word “ideas” to “tactics” and once described a footballer as “a privileged interpreter of the dreams and feelings of thousands of people”.
Menotti took charge of Argentina in 1974 when the team had earned an unsavoury reputation for violence and gamesmanship.
Under his leadership, Argentina reverted to the flowing, attacking game which they had used until the 1960s, the national team became the priority instead of the clubs and Argentina once again became a major soccer power.
Menotti went on to coach Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in Spain, Boca Juniors in his homeland, Uruguay’s Penarol and the Mexican national side.
Recently, however, he seems to have lost his touch. His last stint on the touchline, with Independiente in Argentina, lasted only nine matches in 2005. In previous jobs, he lasted seven months at Sampdoria in 1997, eight months at Independiente (again) in 1999 and five months at Rosario Central in 2002.
Menotti has now made a surprise return as coach of modest Mexican side Tecos UAG, who have taken only one point from their first four games in the Apertura championship. At The Offside he has been welcomed as “The Maestro”.
At 68, it could be the swansong for a man who is still much admired around the world. Can he reverse his recent trend of failure and prove there is still room for an old romantic in an increasingly ruthless sport?