Marcelo Gallardo Is About To Become Europe's Next Big Manager
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When the casual soccer fan is asked who he believes are the best coaches in the world right now, the answers are usually concentrated. Names like Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Joachim Low, and Jose Mourinho are mentioned. Those names come to mind because they have the most national and international exposure. These coaches are all monumental in their own way, but if you look a little deeper you’ll find there are coaches at every level of soccer setting records and cementing their place in their clubs’ histories. In this context, let me introduce you to Marcelo Gallardo.
Marcelo Gallardo is the 40-year-old coach of the most storied team in Argentina, River Plate. Los Millonarios are at the top of the Argentine Primera Division historical table, having won the most games, lost the fewest, accumulated the most points and goals scored, and earned the best goal differential of any team since the league’s inception in 1891.
Gallardo was a River Plate player during three different stints in Argentina. A diminutive attacking midfielder (like another famous Argentine), he tallied an impressive 63 goals in 262 games in red and white, to go along with thousands of chances created.
He also spent six years in France (suiting up for Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain), pursued a short one-year trial with D.C. United, and finished his career playing for Nacional in Uruguay.
But there would be no off time for Gallardo after his years as a player. He parlayed his final year in Montevideo into a managerial job with the same team he retired from. He followed up a final-year Uruguay Primera Division trophy with another one in his first year as manager. Both finals were won 1-0 against the same rival, Defensor Sporting.
Gallardo wouldn’t bask in the joyous moment too long, though. He left the team as manager after just one season, citing that he needed to be with his family, who lived in Buenos Aires. Two consecutive years in Uruguay left him wanting to spend more time with them. It took two whole years until Gallardo could land a job he was comfortable taking, mainly one that didn’t call for him to relocate and leave behind his family. Thankfully, a golden door from The Greatest One was sent down from heaven itself.
Ramon Diaz, a legendary River Plate player and coach, resigned from his post as manager of Los Millonarios, opting instead to take on the role of manager of the Paraguay National Team. This left an opening for one of the most prestigious positions in world soccer, and the board had its eyes set on one of their former talismen. Gallardo took the job, but he had massive shoes to fill – which is to be expected when taking over for one of the most successful clubs in soccer history.
River Plate was fresh off a season in which they won the Torneo Final and the Superfinal, leaving them as the champions of Argentina for 2013-2014. It had been six years since River had won anything, and within that time was the darkest event of the club’s history: a relegation into the second division. But, after those painful tribulations, River had gotten back on top, where it knowingly belonged. Gallardo had to make sure his former team was there for good.
Gallardo didn’t have the full allotment of players from the successful team of the past year. Important players like Manuel Lanzini, Cristian Ledesma, and Carlos Carbonero were no longer on the squad. But Gallardo made a few shrewd moves that would influence the course of River Plate in a positive way. Two players that were banished on loan by Diaz, Carlos Sanchez and Rodrigo Mora, returned and were welcomed by Gallardo. He also bought Leonardo Pisculichi from the then-relegated Argentinos Junior.
With those players in tow, Gallardo’s first season started off swimmingly. His team carried a previous eight game unbeaten streak (from Diaz’s tenure) and extended it to a whopping 32 games, an all-time record for the club. River led the league for the majority of the campaign, but with a Copa Sudamericana semifinals match upcoming against fierce rivals Boca Juniors, Gallardo opted to play a “B” team against second place Racing in order to rest players. River would lose that game and go on to lose the league title by just two points to that same Racing side. But with his eyes set on an international trophy, his move paid off. River beat Boca in the second leg of the semifinals on a goal by Pisculichi and then beat Atletico Nacional in the final at the Monumental, giving River its first international title since 1997.
Gallardo probably couldn’t have imagined the great significance of those three players in the success of the club for years to come. Since 2014, Sanchez had been a lightning quick havoc-maker on the right wing for Gallardo’s team before he moved on to Monterrey at the end of 2015. Mora has been a dependable forward, always moving toward goal with ambition and setting up teammates when the shot isn’t there. Pisculichi was a cerebral, clever playmaker who could thread passes and swing in crosses from anywhere with his left foot, but just recently left after two years under Gallardo.
While Gallardo has yet to win the Primera Division, he has stockpiled trophies for Los Millonarios. Criticism due to the lack of a domestic league title is fair, but ask any European club supporter if they’d rather win the Champions League or their domestic league and nearly all would say the latter. In two years, he has won the Copa Sudamericana, the Copa Libertadores, the Supercopa Euroamericana, the Copa Argentina, and the Recopa Sudamericana twice. Six trophies in two years, with more probably on the way.
Gallardo is already the most successful coach in the club’s history from an international perspective. River Plate President Rodolfo D’Onofrio (along with several thousands of online fan voters) has labeled him as the best coach ever to manage the club. He’s done that in a short span of time, and it’s gotten the attention of some big clubs around Europe.
He won’t leave until next year, but Atletico Madrid fancies him as the eventual replacement for Diego Simeone, who might leave in the near future. Fellow La Liga side Villareal is also rumored to want him as their lead man, but it’ll be a tough ask if more big-clubs continue to line up. Simeone’s shoes will be incredibly tough to fill, but if there’s any man for the job, it’s Gallardo. He’s already taken on high expectations and exceeded them at one of the most historically successful clubs on the planet. Anything is light work for El Muneco.