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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 11:19 GMT
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

A glorious era for football in Argentina came to an end last week when Hugo Tocalli resigned as co-ordinator of the country's youth sides.

Lionel Messi, Hugo Tocalli and Juan Roman Riquelme
Tocalli (centre) has overseen the development of the likes of Lionel Messi (left) and Juan Roman Riquelme (right)

Tocalli had been involved in the process since 1994, first as assistant to Jose Pekerman, then stepping up after Pekerman took over the senior side.

In these 13 years Argentina won five out of seven World Youth Cups - tournaments for players of 20 and under.

It is a superb track record, made all the more remarkable by two facts.

Firstly winning titles was never the primary objective, and secondly all the silverware does not even come close to explaining the achievements of the Pekerman-Tocalli project.

The success story starts with an idea, as simple as it was brilliant. In 1994 Jose Pekerman was a surprise choice to take over Argentina's youth sides.

But he was given the post because he had a clear vision of what the future would bring.

The globalisation of football meant that Argentina's players were inevitably going to be moving abroad at an ever younger age.

Pekerman and Tocalli consistently kept faith with the most positive aspects of Argentine football identity

In this context the only way to secure them for the future of Argentine football was through the youth sides.

Backed up by his friend Tocalli, Pekerman scoured the country for young talent, groomed it and gave it an intensive course in the identity of Argentine football.

The list of players who have come up through the ranks of the Pekerman-Tocalli process is quite remarkable.

It includes almost the entire current senior squad, with such top players and future hopes as Riquelme, Gago, Mascherano, Milito, Cambiasso, Messi, Tevez, Aguero and Saviola.

This is the proof of the success of the project - there would be not the slightest point in winning youth titles if the players did not subsequently prove their worth at senior level.

Youth work is much more about learning, improving and picking up experience than it is about accumulating titles.

And there are also the fundamental questions of how the youth titles were won, and of what type of player they have been grooming for the senior side.

It is here that football owes Argentina, and Pekerman and Tocalli in particular - a sizeable debt.

Hugo Tocalli and Jose Pekerman share a word in training
Tocalli and Pekerman changed the face of Argentine football

The rush towards ever greater athleticism threatens to transform football into a game for giants - bigger and stronger than ever before, running faster in order to crash into each other as soon as possible.

But Pekerman and Tocalli consistently kept faith with the most positive aspects of Argentine football identity - the idea that the game can be wonderfully interpreted by skilful little players, who use their talent and low centre of gravity to avoid the challenges and keep the ball moving.

In recent times Argentina have not won the senior titles to go with those World Youth Cup wins.

Even so, the artistic, thoughtful football they played in last year's World Cup and this year's Copa America has stood out and won the admiration of neutrals all around the planet.

This can be traced directly back to the work started by Pekerman and Tocalli in 1994.

And now their era comes to a close, appropriately enough, on a point of principle.

Tocalli was offered a new contract to continue in his post as head of Argentina's youth sides. It was a position he very much wanted to retain.

But no new contract was offered to his assistant, Miguel Angel Tojo, so in solidarity Tocalli stepped down - a noble and fitting end to a project that was as inspirational as it was successful.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

What do you think of Sergio Aguero and how important do you think he will be for Argentina and how will he develop in the future?
Zohaib Shaikh

A truly sensational little striker - the wonderful two goals he scored last week for Atletico Madrid in the Uefa Cup reinforced my view that he's the closest thing I've seen to Romario - terrific lower body strength, pace and skill in tight spaces, cool finishing and can link the play too.

He obviously has a huge future with the senior Argentina side. He's in the squad though he's not yet first choice.

In the recent World Cup qualifiers the best things I saw from the Argentina attack was when he came on against Chile - I thought he linked up with Messi better than Tevez had been doing.

Your assertion that the "domestic Brazilian game lives off scraps that Europe leaves behind" is, I have to say, an insult to common sense.

It wrongly suggests that European clubs would have bought all Brazilian players had they been deemed as "good enough" - whatever this means. This is just plain erroneous, you have to admit.
Sergio Sousa

I admit no such thing. European clubs (and those from elsewhere) do indeed buy up all Brazilian players they deem "good enough".

With very, very few exceptions every Brazilian player wants to go - a total of 981 players left Brazilian football this year.

The stand-out players currently in Brazil are mostly those who have already been to Europe but for whatever reason were not able to make the breakthrough (Kleber, Thiago Silva, Diego Souza, Ibson, Miranda, the Chilean Valdivia) or promising players surely on their way to Europe (Breno, Guilherme, Alex Silva, Hernandes).

We all might wish it were different, but there's no hiding place from the realities of the global market in footballers.

Tim Vickery column
22 Oct 07 |  Internationals


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