BUENOS AIRES - Alejandro Sabella once
filled a vacancy meant for teenager Diego Maradona.
Now, 33 years later, he has followed the football great into
the position of Argentina's World Cup coach following the
sacking of Sergio Batista, who beat him to the role in 2010
after Maradona left but failed to deliver the Copa America last
Both were skilled players but there any similarity ends
between the outspoken and volatile Maradona and the 56-year-old
Sabella, a quiet and patient tactical thinker.
Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam visited Argentina in
the late 1970s hoping to sign the young Maradona for his club,
then in the English second division.
When Maradona turned out to be too expensive, Haslam looked
elsewhere and took Sabella, then overshadowed by Norberto Alonso
at River Plate.
Sabella, whose move coincided with the far more heralded
transfer of 1978 World Cup winners Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo
Villa to Tottenham Hotspur, spent three seasons in England.
He earned a move to first division Leeds United but the
player whose slow pace had earned him the nickname Pachorra -
sloth, or slowcoach in Argentine slang - was unable to
complement his fine ball skills with the rigours of the English
A move back to Argentina sparked his long and far more
successful association with Estudiantes de La Plata.
He was signed by Carlos Bilardo - who would go on to become
Argentina's 1986 World Cup winning coach with the help of
Maradona's genius - and together they won two Argentine league
titles with Estudiantes.
Sabella won a handful of caps under Bilardo before
re-emerging in the mid-1990s as an assistant coach to former
River Plate team mate Daniel Passarella with Argentina's 1998
World Cup side.
This experience stood him in good stead when he took his
first and only job as head coach at Estudiantes in March 2009.
Sabella, an unassuming but intelligent coach, steered
Estudiantes to their fourth South American Copa Libertadores
title with the help of one of the club's greatest players, Juan
Sebastian Veron, upsetting Cruzeiro in the second leg of the
final in Brazil.
Estudiantes played Barcelona in the Club World Cup final in
Abu Dhabi in December 2009 and led 1-0 until the 88th minute before
conceding an equaliser and losing 2-1 in extra-time.
In the Argentine league championship, Sabella's Estudiantes
were second in the 2009/10 Clausura championship before
winning the Apertura in the first half of the 2010/11 season
Then Sabella suddenly quit, days before the start of the
Clausura in February, apparently due to differences with the
club board over new signings though the exact reasons were never
However, Estudiantes' loss will be Argentina's gain if
Sabella can do what Maradona failed to in South Africa last year
and turn some of the world's most talented players into a team
and win another major trophy in Brazil - the 2014 World Cup.
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