That may not be entirely fair on a man who has, in the past eight years, done two things that had long been considered impossible – leading an Ecuadorian club to the Copa Libertadores and leading San Lorenzo to the Copa Libertadores – but it is also revealing.
In part Bauza’s accession seems underwhelming because all things in Argentinian football will until Lionel Messi reverses his decision to retire from the national side. In part it seems underwhelming because the mess in which the Argentinian Football Association finds itself is so great that a change of coach feels pointlessly cosmetic. And in part, perhaps rather proving Harry Lime’s point about chaos and creativity, Bauza seems underwhelming because Argentina has such a wealth of high-class coaches.
The great stream of playing talent that brought Argentina five under-20 World Cups between 1995 and 2007 may be drying up – Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María stand at the end of that great tradition, but Argentinian coaching has arguably never been stronger. Five of the quarter-finalists at the 2015 Copa América were coached by Argentinians; six were this year. The great surge of Conmebol’s Pacific nations described by Sergio Levinsky in Issue 18 of The Blizzard is built on Argentinian expertise.
And it’s that, of course, that makes the 23-year drought since their last trophy so galling. It’s painful not because Argentinian football is bad – it hasn’t stumbled into grouchy senescence like Brazil; it’s painful because it’s so good and, realistically, the good times can’t last for ever.
If there was ever a good time for Argentinian football administration, it is long forgotten. It will be some time before the present AFA extricates itself from the shadow of its former president Julio Grondona, who died shortly after the World Cup in 2014 and so avoided a range of corruption charges. Even on the day of his funeral, AFA’s offices were raided by financial investigators. No permanent president has been appointed to replace him, an election last December producing a 38-38 tie despite there being only 75 delegates. A Fifa normalisation committee is in charge.
Armando Pérez, the head of the normalisation committee, insisted Bauza was the best of the candidates interviewed, although he rather undermined his claim by forgetting Bauza’s name. Bauza is not Marcelo Bielsa, who perhaps was never a realistic candidate, and he is not Jorge Sampaoli, who might have taken the job had he not been appointed so recently at Sevilla, but he is an experienced coach with a recent history of success. In the context of the modern game, in which international management tends to be for the old, the inexperienced and the patriotic, it could even be argued that at 58, he is nearer his peak than many.
Bauza is also a realist, something evident in the pragmatic football his teams tend to play, but also in his willingness immediately to address the Messi issue. Although Bauza hasn’t spoken to Messi yet, he said he was “optimistic” about his chances of persuading him to return. “Hopefully the talk I have with him will help him to continue in the national team,” he went on. “I want to explain to Messi my ideas.”
Those ideas are relatively easily summarised. In his playing days at Rosario Central, when he gained the nickname “el Paton” – Bigfoot – Bauza was heavily influenced by his coach Carlos Griguol, a pioneer of video analysis noted for his beret and his habit of slapping players before they left the dressing room. He specialised in getting the best out of smaller sides, winning the league with Central and Ferro Carril Oeste. “I am among those who think that everybody has to attack and everybody has to defend,” Bauza said. “Football today is like this. You can defend in the attacking half if the pressure is high. But it’s easier when you have quality players like the Argentina team. The options they offer are many.”
That, perhaps, hints at the biggest concern. Bauza is not used to options. Like Griguol, his greatest triumphs have come when triumph has not been expected, when players have been prepared to stick to a system – even if his San Lorenzo had a reputation for being a little slower and more traditional than the general mass of clubs in Argentina’s post-Bielsa era. He may argue that Messi is used, at Barcelona, to close down space, but he no longer does it with the ferocity he used to and, besides, it’s one thing to follow instructions from Luis Enrique at Barcelona, quite another to buy wholly into the plan of somebody whose highest-profile jobs have been at San Lorenzo and São Paulo.
But then, as Euro 2016 demonstrated, basic solidity garnished with a little flair can go a long way in international football. Bauza may not be the most charismatic or exciting of choices, but against the background of chaos, he may not be the wrong choice either.
Jonathan Wilson’s history of Argentinian football, Angels with Dirty Faces, will be published in two weeks
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010