• Conor O Donoghue


Why a young Argentine coach is about to take the world by storm

Suppose I told you that your favourite football club should be looking at a young Argentinian manager with a nice suit. Your attention would head toward a man in charge of a team in the San Blas-Canillejas district of Madrid or a bloke in charge of that team in the Parc des Princes.

It is neither Diego Simone nor Mauricio Pochettino, and you're forgiven for thinking it was either. The young Argentinian manager with a nice suit is River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo.

Nicknamed "The Doll" or Muñeco in his native land, Gallardo is the latest South America manager who is tipped to make a long-awaited switch to Europe.

Gallardo will be well known to French and South American fans. The former attacking midfielder broke into the River Plate team in the 90s and played alongside Ariel Ortega, Hernan Crespo, and Enzo Francescoli.

Marcelo Gallardo isn't a household name in most of Europe, but his work is well known in professional footballing circles. Pep Guardiola waxed lyrical about the Argentine in an interview with Argentinian outlet TNT Sports:

"Some things are inexplicable. Every year three coaches are named as the best in the world and he's never among them. I can't understand it. It's as if there's nothing else in the world apart from Europe."

He has been linked to the Barcelona job, and Lionel Messi was also rumoured to have wanted him to replace Ernesto Valverde, when Valverde was on the verge of being sacked. The Barcelona playmaker voted Gallardo 3rd in the best men's coaches category in the world.

Gallardo has often turned to his academy and given many young players their senior debuts. These include Manuel Lanzini, Juan Fernando Quintero, and Giovanni Simeone, son of Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager.

Giovanni Simeone said, "he'd never seen" a coach with "the desire to win" possessed by his father's former international team-mate."

Marcelo started his coaching career with Uruguayan side Nacional and won the league in 2012. But the call of his homeland was too great, it would be the first club to give him a debut in 1993, and would eventually grant him his first big job in South America. This club was River Plate, one of the two largest football clubs in Argentina.

The smartly dressed tactician would go on to win a Copa Libertadores, a Copa Sudamericana, and a Recopa Sudamericana in the first 14 months of his time as River Plate manager — the equivalent of winning a Champions League, Europa League, and European Super Cup in the first year and a half for a manager in Europe.

Gallardo has become the most successful River Plate manager of all time by winning 11 titles in six years, a feat that had never been done. Ahead of the 2020 season, Gallardo averaged a trophy every six months and 1.82 games. River hadn't won a continental title in almost 20 years.

Gallardo credits Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola's possession-based football and Argentine Marcelo Bielsa's high-pressing football as the significant influences on his footballing philosophy.

Tactically astute and can switch formations without any notice make his River Plate side a formidable opponent to face. His first year saw a 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 with his defence taking priority. The 4-2-3-1 has since then evolved into a 4-2-2-2 under Gallardo.

His team have also gone with a 4-4-2, a narrow 4-4-2 with a more profound double pivot or a 3-4-1-2 as seen in the Copa Libertadores semi-final second leg against Palmeiras.

It's not just his ability to switch up and use various formations that have made Gallardo a household name in South America. The Argentine fundamentals require relentless energy and physical output levels from his players. A requirement also utilised by a very successful German manager. His team's severe intensity makes Jurgen Klopp's Gegenpressing look relatively tame.

River Plate under Gallardo plays with a change of pace to launch attacks by rapid ball movement, counter-pressing, and dominant possession. The transitions from defence to attack are just as intense as an attack to defence.

When River Plate are defending players are required to press in the advanced territory, and to make quick recovery runs to return to the original shape they left if they lose the ball to an opponent.

Pressing starts from the front with two forwards Matias Suarez and Rafael Santos Borré, two high-energy strikers who counter-press the opposition team with great intensity.

River plate and other South American teams have had to deal with their best players leaving for Europe. River Plate in recent years have lost the likes of Exequiel Palacios to Leverkusen in Germany, and this forced Gallardo to use the formation 3-5-2, which requires the River players to play both short and long passes into the wide channels to create width. His fundamentals have never changed.

Enzo Perez has taken on the Palacios role and can often spray the ball behind the defences for forwards Matias Suarez and Rafael Santos Borré to run in behind or send it wide into fullbacks Milton Casco and Gonzalo Montiel.

Gallardos finest moment came in the Copa Libertadores when his River Plate side played fierce rivals Boca Juniors. This game is known as the Superclásico.

The first leg Gallardo decided to use a back three instead of his favoured back four - the game ended 2-2. In the second leg, he agreed to go to a 4-5-1, which would ultimately hand the young manager his second Copa Libertadores title as River Plate manager.

Marcelo Gallardo's team will often go to war for him and it's often reflected in the way he plays. His desire to win while developing a deep bond with his players is a match made in heaven and perfectly reflects the South American do or die mentality in all its essence.

If I had to sum up Marcelo Gallardo, I'd say he is Diego Simone if Simone decided to go all-out attack instead of remaining compact and disciplined. He will make a move to Europe eventually, and it would not surprise me if it were one of Spain's big three that came knocking for the 43-year-old very soon. It would be no surprise either if he is a huge success when that time comes.