One his way to France for tomorrow's friendly, el Coco passed through Madrid and sat down with Juan Castro of Spanish daily Marca. Here is a rough translation of that interview.
You were born to be a coach, to be involved every day. How does it feel to be with the national team?
At a club, it's day to day. For the national team, you stop being a coach and are more of a tactician. You only get the players for two days, and you don't know what condition they'll show up in. It barely gives you time to talk, try out some dead ball situations, and then you go out and play. You don't have time for more than that.
Do you lament the fact that so many players leave Argentina when they're still so young?
Yes, I think it's terrible, but money talks. One year you have a squad, the next you might have a completely new one to work with... To win in Argentina, you need to be lucky when it comes to your players. At Boca we were champions because we were able to keep a core group together. The circumstances were just right.
[Diego] Simeone won the Apertura championship without much experience. Do you think he'll be a good coach?
Yes, without a doubt. Furthermore, he's one of the players I brought into the senior [national] team. I have no doubt that one day he'll be the coach at Atletico [de Madrid]. He's very intelligent...he's a strong leader. He's tough and is very good at managing the game, similar to how he was as a player.
Do those characteristics apply to [Fernando] Gago?
He's a different kind of player, he's a little more refined. I have him as my number 5 [defensive midfielder] on the national team. For me, it's wrong to have him play more offensively, or with another player alongside him. I see him as a pure organizer, who participates constantly, pressuring the ball and winning it back.
So no playing with two defensive midfielders?
A lot of teams play with two like that in the middle. But with Gago, it takes space away from him, takes away his ability to be a protagonist. When you have two players occupying that space, they have to divide it evenly and then neither one knows when to go or stay.
Do you see it as excessive, the pressure that's been put on Gago to be [Real] Madrid's "saviour"?
The kid has a lot of personality. At Boca there's a lot of pressure and he handled it well. He's always looking for the ball and asking for it, never hiding. When you talk about players being anointed the saviour, sometimes they don't know what to do once they get the ball...but with him, he's intelligent enough to know what to do with it. One touch: it's gone and the team is moving forward.
So is he like [Fernando] Redondo?
Technically speaking, they're similar players. Differences? One was left-footed and Gago, right-footed. One was tall, the other, not so much. But in quality, they're very much alike. Of course, Gago has just gotten started and Redondo was the best midfielder I've ever had play for me.
What about [Juan Roman] Riquelme? Is he a crack [phenom]?
I don't throw that word around loosely. For me, there really aren't that many cracks out there. Recently: [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldo, Romario...players that could win a game for you by themselves. Roman, for me, is a great player, excellent at measuring a game and finding out what's needed to make a difference. There are a couple of players like that right now, like [Wayne] Rooney, [Frank] Lampard, [Thierry] Henry... It's a bit sad having to see what's been happening to Roman lately. And sad for the national team as well.
The match between France and Argentina will be shown live tomorrow at 2:55pm ET, on Setanta.
Alfio Basile Interview (in Spanish) [Marca]