The recent news that Jonathan dos Santos was cut from Mexico’s final World Cup squad in favor of Bofo Bautista caused a lot of anxiety for Barça fans who see him as not just another player, but as a cantera gem whose trajectory towards “world class” status could be hindered by his exclusion from the trip to South Africa. I don’t share those specific anxieties, but I do think it’s a volatile situation that, given his father’s absurd remarks afterwards, suggests a player whose career will be highly affected by this moment. Zizinho is not one to mince words, apparently, but he’s also not one to think them through either and that could damage his son’s future as much as the lack of international playing time.
This isn’t a post about walking away, though (Brian Phillips already covered that better than I could), it’s about why one would cut JDS, a 20-year old up-and-comer, in favor of Bofo Bautista, a 31-year old has-been. The prevailing argument for why you would take Bofo instead of JDS (or, really, the argument pretty much comes down to why you wouldn’t take JDS over someone else) is if you’re not going to play him, why take him? It’s a solid point at one level, but at another, there’s Fernando Palomo’s point: “Ni Jona Dos Santos ni el Bofo eran determinantes para este Mundial. Pero Jona lo podría ser por los próximos tres. Aguirre no vio mas allá.” (Neither JDS nor Bofo will be game-changers in this World Cup, but JDS could be for the next three. Aguirre isn’t looking ahead)
It’s precisely that point–that a currently marginal youth player expected to grow into the squad in the future should be included earlier than when he is capable of making the difference in a crucial match–that is most important to us in this discussion. The value of including youth players is, I think, fairly well borne out by the inclusion of Ronaldo at the age of 17 in Brazil’s 1994 World Cup squad. He didn’t play a single moment of that WC, but his future returns certainly make it seem worth it. That single example isn’t, of course, a good reason to include promising youth players at the expense of established stars.
I do think, though, that if you’re deciding between two marginal players, choosing the one with more upside makes more sense, even in the short term. Why? You not only provide a huge confidence boost for your younger player, but you ensure that the future is well laid out. You can always drop the youth player in the future, of course, if a better prospect comes along, but you often can’t resuscitate careers–a factor you don’t need to worry about for an older player whose career is well and truly wound down.
Take Giuseppe Rossi, for instance, whose Italian international career is perhaps over after missing Lippi’s cut in favor of Fabio Quagliarella (Rossi is 23 and will be 27 in 2014–which might be perfect if Lippi is still in charge, actually): Lippi sacrificed youth and creativity for reliability. That’s a decent enough decision on the face of it because Quagliarella is 27 and has been a solid player for years. Bofo Bautista, however, is 31 and has never been a world beater. I would be surprised if he gets playing time and extremely surprised if he sees more than 15 minutes in a single match. What’s the point of taking him, then? The same would be true, in my opinion, if Quagliarella doesn’t play a minute. There are obviously tactical questions (is Aguirre looking to play more of a 4-3-2-1 or 4-2-2-2, in which case Bofo would be more useful?), but for my money, sacrificing youth in favor of experience makes little sense when we’re discussing marginal players and can, in the end, bite you in the ass.
Aguirre, in this instance, obviously wants players he’s used to around him–Bofo, Cuahtemoc Blanco–but he obviously also relies extremely heavily on the younger players to actually get him through the matches–Gio dos Santos, Pablo Barrera, Carlos Vela, Chicharito–which, to me, suggests he panicked and opted for the more familiar rather than the better. Yes, I have a bias towards JDS, but who has Bofo really impressed? He was left off the squad for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups (notably by Aguirre in 2002), so you can’t argue WC experience is a factor. He’s just slower now than he was when he wasn’t good enough to make it 4 or 8 years ago. That makes sense…
I obviously think Aguirre is an overrated manager (he was meh at Atleti, to say the least), but he’s taking the “I’d rather be comfortable right now than possibly be vindicated by the future” approach and that, I think, is detrimental both to Mexico’s 2010 chances and their future. No, JDS wouldn’t be the one making the difference, but, again, neither is Bofo. Fear of the unknown often causes people from all walks of life to opt for the familiar even when the outcome is obviously not as positive; national team managers are no different. If you want to argue that JDS shouldn’t be included because he’s not good enough, fine, but then who is better? Bofo is not.
Don’t forget that I’m covering the Kicking and Screening film festival, which continues tonight with more football film fun. Come join.