Saturday 26 October 2019, 15:49

Aimar: These boys have the same hopes I had at 15

Pablo Aimar was not a complete newcomer to youth football when he was offered the chance to take charge of Argentina’s U-15s by Jorge Sampaoli in 2017. He may not have had any coaching experience after hanging up his boots as a player, but he had worked on analysing the country’s grassroots game.

“I really enjoy coaching young players,” Aimar told on the cusp of participating at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019 – his fifth global showpiece, but first as a coach. “Diego [Placente, his assistant] and I don’t view it as a temporary thing. For us it’s something wonderful.”

Although the tournament will mark the 39-year-old’s coaching debut on such a big stage, Aimar insists his players - rather than himself - will be the focus of attention.

Aimar at World Cups as a player
FIFA U-17 World Cup Ecuador 1995: Third
FIFA U-17 World Cup Malaysia 1997: Champion and adidas Bronze Ball winner
2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan: Group stage
2006 FIFA World Cup Germany: Quarter-finals

Hope is a word Aimar uses frequently, a theme as deep-seated as his aversion to talking about results, title candidates, pressure or the fact that Argentina have never won this particular tournament.

“I don’t want them to think that they’re coming here to win the competition; they’re coming here to gain experience,” he said. “That’s what we’re all here for. They don’t need that pressure, that extra burden. The results you want with young players are for them to grow and improve, and for many of them to get to a World Cup qualifier with the senior team having already played 100 international games since the age of 14.”

Tough group, bold team

As was the case at the South American Championship, where Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil were in the same group for the first time ever, La Albiceleste have been drawn in a tricky pool at the U-17 World Cup. They will face Spain in their opening fixture on Monday 28 October, before clashes with African champions Cameroon and Asian dark horses Tajikistan.

“Spain have been playing very well for a long time and they’ve got players who are technically brilliant,” Aimar said. “I’m sure we’ll see those boys again in a few years in top teams in Spain and around the world. But in terms of the future [of Argentinian football], it’s good to test yourself against very good teams.”

In addition to the experience they will undoubtedly gain at Brazil 2019, Argentina also have reason to approach the tournament with optimism: “We’ve got a good team. They like having the ball, they’ve got character and they’ve done well. The boys always get involved in the game.”