Argentinian talent

Argentina's 19-year-old Carlos Albert Tevez (foreground) scored five times for Boca Juniors and was named as best player of the final in the Copa Libertadores tournament. — Pic. ALEX LIVESEY/GETTY IMAGES-Argentina's 19-year-old Carlos Albert Tevez (foreground) scored five times for Boca Juniors and was named as best player of the final in the Copa Libertadores tournament. — Pic. ALEX LIVESEY/GETTY IMAGES

NOT even Carlos Bianchi, consistently successful manager of Boca Juniors, believes that Carlos Albert Tevez, aged 19, is likely to be on parade when Boca contest the Toyota Cup in Tokyo on December 14.

NOT even Carlos Bianchi, consistently successful manager of Boca Juniors, believes that Carlos Albert Tevez, aged 19, is likely to be on parade when Boca contest the Toyota Cup in Tokyo on December 14. And it seems almost unlikely that the 22-year-old attacking two-footed left back, Rodriguez, will be present.

Bianchi was once a prolific centre forward in France with Reima. As a manager he has had astonishingly consistent success in his native country though he did fail in a short, unhappy experience as the manager of Roma. Four times has he won the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the European Champions Cup, thrice with Boca Juniors, always the most popular club in the country and beloved by Diego Maradona (with whom Franz Beckenbauer himself has compared Tevez) but also with the far less fashionable Velez Sarsfield. An achievement he ranks as the best of the lot.

Recently in the Libertadores final, Boca beat Santos 2-0 away and 3-1 at home. No mean feat given the fact that the Brazilian club has its best team since the high old times of Pele, with several dazzling youngsters. There was criticism of Bianchi when, Tevez having returned from playing for Argentina in the Under-20 World Cup, he dropped him into the reserves. But there was method in his seeming madness. He wanted, he later explained, to take the pressure off the young striker and it seems to have worked since Tevez in the Libertadores scored five times, and was named as best player in the Final.

Bianchi took over Boca last year and immediately changed the system, placing three defenders in the centre and deploying two attacking wing backs. He does not want to try coaching in Europe again, he says, but would rather stay with his family in Buenos Aires. This though he knows that the desperate situation of the Argentine economy means that as soon as a local player excels, he is off to Europe. Meaning that Bianchi will yet again have to rebuild a successful team with a group of youngsters.

Yet there seems no end to the teeming talent produced by Argentine football. Even Emerson Leao, former goalkeeper and coach of the Brazilian national team, now the manager of Santos, had to express his admiration for the "inferno" which Boca's all action tactics and constant pressing engender. Look around the major European clubs, and you will find one shining example after another of Argentinian talent, occupying key roles.

At Valencia in Spain for example. Little Pablo Aimar is surely one of the cleverest, most elusive and inventive attackers in the world, whether you play him up front, where he can play ducks and drakes with the opposition, not least when it is English, or slightly behind the attack. Cutting his teeth with River Plate of Buenos Aires, he is still only 23 and we may not even have seen the best of him yet.

Roberto Ayala is 30 and remains one of the best centre backs in the game. Had he been fit to play against England in Japan in the 2002 World Cup his country might well have not lost though it is only fair to say that the 18-year-old Michael Owen left him standing to score when the two countries met in Saint Etienne in the 1998 tournament.

Then there is the rapid left flank attacker Kily Gonzalez, just 29. He had a spell at home with Boca Juniors but began with Rosario Central. He doesn't score very often, but his pace and left foot are formidable.

Claudio Lopez used to play for Valencia too, the rapid and incisive centre forward affectionately nicknamed The Louse as a boy player in the streets, because he seemed to pop up here, there and everywhere. Valencia sold him for a fortune to Lazio of Rome in 2000. He is another 29-year-old with plenty of goals to come.

Hernan Crespo left the hard up Lazio for Inter in 2002; a striker who kept Gabriel Batistuta — a veteran now complaining of Press criticism and seeking his fortune in Arabia — out of the Argentina line up for many months, in the World cup qualifying competition. Just 28 years old, Crespo has power and pace in abundance. Another star to begin his career with River Plate.

Not forgetting still another ex-Lazio player in the playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron, suddenly coveted by Chelsea after a hugely expensive transfer and a couple of disappointing years at Manchester United. I have never felt Veron himself, whose talents I much admire, was truly to blame. Rather would I indict the clubs manager, Alex Ferguson, for buying him so expensively when he already had the dominating central mid-fielder, Roy Keane. True they are very different kinds of players, Keane what you might call a greatly robust wing half who can break forward with great effect but is hardly a creative figure, Veron the classical midfield general.

Last season in Cardiff I was delighted to see Veron play exquisitely well in a friendly against Wales, making delightful use of the ball, deploying his abundance of skills. No, he wasn't a success in the ensuing World Cup, but I've never ceased to doubt his abilities, nor has his former manager at Sampdoria, Sven-Goran Eriksson, currently in charge of the England team but bruited as the man who recommended Veron to the Russian billionaire new owner of Chelsea, Roman Abramovich. Though Veron was reported as being greatly eager to play on at Old Trafford and prove his true worth.

There is as we know a dark side, a violent side, to Argentine football and there always has been. In the quarter-finals of the World Cup at Wembley in 1966, Alf Ramsey the England manager accused the Argentine team of "acting as animals" after a torrid game when the Argentina players went berserk in the dressing room tunnel. Notorious too were the brutal tactics of the Estudiantes team which won Libertadores and Intercontinental Cups but literally reduced football to an unplayable game for its opponents. Yet in Alfredo di Stefano, inspiration of Real Madrid which won the first five European Cups, and the storm tossed but remarkable Diego Maradona, Argentina have surely produced two of the greatest footballers of all time. Indeed, I would rank the tirelessly versatile Di Stefano, all-purpose centre forward, as second only to Pele. And Maradona not far behind.