The term ‘golden generation’ usually applies to a team, and usually retrospectively, after its star has waned and commentators cast a wistful look back to better bygone days. The latest in this line is Chile, as a team comprising talents like Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo, who led Chile to consecutive Copa América titles, fell to a 3-1 defeat in Brazil and thus failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia this summer. The moment the game had ended, the adiós to the golden generation began.
On the other hand, a case could be made for pointing to an Argentine ‘golden generation’. It does not concern a team or the past, or the current side boasting the prowess of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Paulo Dybala.
Argentina’s golden age is arguably here and now, but on the touchline rather than on the pitch, a born more or less within a decade of each other. Although Argentina’s touted golden generation on the pitch has under-delivered, losing three major tournament finals in as many years between 2014 and 2016, it is to the touchline that our attention should be drawn to truly appreciate an Argentinean golden age.
Mauricio Pochettino: 45 years old
Pochettino’s reputation is only going up with Tottenham Hotspur, but his managerial achievements date back to well before he arrived in England. He saved Espanyol from relegation when he joined in 2009, beating city rivals Barcelona in the process – a feat that Espanyol fans cherish given how rare it is.
When he arrived in England to take charge of Southampton, much of the media was flabbergasted. Nigel Adkins had been doing a respectable job of keeping the then newly promoted side afloat in the Premier League before his surprising and sudden sacking, only to be replaced with a fairly unknown entity from La Liga who could not speak a word of English and needed a translator at all interviews.
But time would prove everyone’s doubts wrong. Southampton went from strength to strength, avoiding relegation in 2012/13 and then finishing eighth next season, the Saints’ best ever top-flight finish.
Then came the spell with Spurs. Pochettino has made Spurs genuine title contenders in consecutive seasons now, even if not quite there, as the 2015/6 implosion towards the season’s end hinted at residual, authentically ‘Spurs’ deficiencies.
Nonetheless, Pochettino has taken Spurs into the Champions League, third and then second in the Premier League, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli blossoming into some of the world’s top young talent in that time. And they finished above Arsenal in the league for the first time in decades, perhaps underlining his achievements more than anything else among Spurs fans.
Diego Simeone: 47 years old
‘El Cholo’, as he is affectionately known, will undoubtedly go down in history as Atlético Madrid’s greatest ever manager alongside Luis Aragonés. After winning the title with Estudiantes de la Plata and managing River Plate in Argentina, his European exploits with Madrid’s less glamorous team have truly earned him a place among Europe’s managerial elite.
Taking charge in 2011, he won a Europa League and Super Cup double in 2012. The longstanding jinx against capital rivals Real Madrid was finally broken when he guided Atlético to the Copa del Rey victory in 2013, beating Real in extra-time.
The crowning glory came the following season when Atlético broke La Liga’s Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly, snatching a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Barcelona at the Camp Nou to win the league on the final day.
Atlético’s place among Europe’s top clubs has not been totally without pain. Under Simeone they have reached two Champions League finals, only to lose heart-breaking matches to their bitter rivals from across Madrid on both occasions, the first time in extra time and the second on penalties.
But the fact that they got there shows Atlético’s huge development under El Cholo, as well as the emergence of star talent under his guidance such as Agüero, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and now Antoine Griezmann to add to a resilient and consistent defensive core of Jan Oblak, Diego Godí, Juanfran, Filipe Luis and Gabi. He is a living legend at Atlético, who will perhaps be admired fully after he departs.
Jorge Sampaoli: 57 years old
Chile’s title-winning golden generation owes a lot to an Argentinian, Jorge Sampaoli. Between 2012 and 2016, he developed an exciting team of flair under Marcelo Bielsa – another Argentinean managerial giant – into one that could challenge for and win titles.
The apotheosis came in 2015 when, in Chile’s national stadium no less, Alexis Sánchez struck the winning penalty in the shoot-out to send a nation into raptures and end a century of trophy-less disappointment.
The core of the side established under Sampaoli – Sánchez, Vidal, Gary Medel, Eduardo Vargas, and others – then went on to reclaim the title in the USA in 2016 – again against Argentina. Sampaoli boats an impressive 62% win record as Chile manager and added steely determination to the eye-catching flair that had already existed before his arrival.
Joining Sevilla in 2016, he restored the Andalusia club to the Champions League after leading them to fourth in the 2016/17 La Liga season and ended Real Madrid’s record-breaking unbeaten run.
It is no coincidence that he now holds the reins of the Argentinean national side, whose under-achievement is his job to arrest, and straightaway he has ensured that Messi and co will be going to Russia in 2018 to try and achieve the success becoming of such a talented squad.
Eduardo Berizzo: 47 years old
Berizzo picks up where Sampaoli left off at Sevilla and joins this list of fairly young and talented Argentinean managers. With O’Higgins he won the Chilean title in 2013 and a Supercopa in 2014 before moving to Spain with Celta Vigo that year.
The Galician club’s fortunes took a massive upturn under his management as Balaídos became one of La Liga’s most difficult places to travel. Iago Aspas, remembered in Liverpool as one of the biggest flops, has now developed into one of La Liga’s best offensive players, and it was Berizzo who coaxed the best out of him, particularly in the 2016/17 season, which saw him gain his first caps and a goal for the Spanish national side.
Celta also went on a long run in Europe, reaching the Europa League semi-finals before succumbing to Manchester United. Nonetheless, at Sevilla, Berizzo’s rising stock can attain new heights as he seeks to guide them through the Champions League and book their place in next year’s competition via a strong La Liga campaign.
Mauricio Pellegrino: 46 years old
Pellegrino’s appointment as Southampton manager – following in the footsteps of Pochettino – might not have set Saints fans’ pulses racing. But then neither did the appointment of Pochettino in 2013.
In fact, Pellegrino has emerged in recent times as a manager who can over-achieve with modest resources, which would accurately summarise Southampton’s six consecutive seasons in the Premier League.
Last season, managing newly promoted Alavés, Pellegrino did not only keep them away from relegation, but he kept them up impressively, as the club were one of La Liga’s surprise packages alongside Eibar. Moreover, a staggering cup run saw them reach the Copa del Rey final, which no-one could see coming with a modest squad possessing modest resources. Who is to say he cannot do a similar job at Southampton?