The compliments and praise justifiably rained down on Pep Guardiola of Barcelona on Wednesday night after winning the Champions League to secure an unprecedented treble. At 38 and in his first year as first team coach the achievements are even more remarkable. In Argentina a coach ten years younger than Barca's has quietly and effectively led his side to the top of the Primera Division.
Luis Zubeldía, 28 is the man in charge of CA Lanús who are based at the southern end of Greater Buenos Aires. One of the less well known teams in Argentina the Maroons have only one domestic title to their name, an Apertura won in 2007. The former Lanús midfielder played 57 times for the club before being forced to retire early at the age of 23 after enduring years of treatment on an injured left knee. During his convalescence he also studied for a qualification in sports journalism. Lanús steadfastly stuck by their man throughout and offered him a coaching role in the lower reaches of the club. He became assistant to Head Coach Ramon Cabrero and the two bagged 2007's Apertura. When Cabrero stepped down in 2008 Zubeldía took his place and has demonstrated that age is merely a number. Lanús narrowly missed out on the play off for Clasura '08 on the final day and at time of writing are top of the league. There is however still much work to be done as the good form of his young team hasn't yet transferred to the continental stage, they finished bottom of their Copa Libertadores group although 4 of the 6 games they played ended all square.
The success of Zubeldía has gone some way to exploding the myth that good Assistants rarely make effective Head Coaches, particularly at the same club. He highlights his relationship with the players and his ability to empathise on a personal level as one of his most effective management tools 'I understand if a player is having a bad day or is annoyed because they don't play, they're not machines' he told El Grafico magazine. Very much the modern coach he attaches equal importance to training and exercises that stimulate both the body and mind together with the tactical and technical aspects of the game.
Make way for the youngster Pep!