Last week, the Venezuelan national fútbol team lost for the first time in ten years to Bolivia in an official match, which in turn was the third consecutive defeat for La Vinotinto during its World Cup qualifiers run.
Although it’s still too early to discount Venezuela’s chances for 2018, our embarrassing performance thus far has some wondering if La Vinotinto’s hopes for international glory are nothing but a misguided nationalist pipedream.
Charity begins at home, yes, but maybe we should also start thinking about a solution from abroad.
Look, I think that Noel “the Chita” Sanvicente is indeed the best trainer that the Bravo Pueblo has given birth to yet. His stats speak for themselves. But to deny that our “golden age” of football is over would be lunacy. Spot per spot, we’re a much weaker side now than we’ve been at any given time in the past decade: Baroja is an ok goalie, but he’s no safety net; Vizcarrondo is often erratic and Cíchero’s irreparable temper costs us dearly every now and then. Arango is gone, Ronald Vargas is very prone to injury –making him unreliable-, and Rincón cannot carry the whole team on his own. And so far, Salomón Rondón, Christian Santos and Josef Martínez have scored a total of only one goal in these qualifiers.
In chasing after a Russia 2018 spot, Venezuela has the daunting challenge of cutting it in the most competitive qualifying zone in the world: the South American Confederation (CONMEBOL). Every single one of these teams, except for Venezuela, have qualified at least once before (eight of them in the past four World Cups), and three of them have been World Champions. But Venezuela has no business vying for a seat among the big boys, if it can’t even boast a decent track record at the club level.
The fact is that Venezuela has the weakest football league of any South American nation. The last time that a Venezuelan club made it past the group stage of the Copa Libertadores – CONMEBOL’s Champions League – was in 2009. A Venezuelan qualification to the final round of the Copa Sudamericana, the other international tournament held for South American clubs, has yet to happen. In the 2015 Copa Libertadores, the three Venezuelan sides that took part, Mineros de Guayana, Deportivo Táchira and Zamora played a combined 18 games. They lost 13, drew four, won one. The goal tally you ask? 14 goals for, FOURTY FUCKING SIX against. That’s almost three goals against, for every single game.
In the current edition of the Copa Sudamericana, four Venezuelan clubs qualified to the preliminary round, and only one came out alive. Deportivo La Guaira, that sole survivor, got a proper thrashing at the hands of Sportivo Luqueño (1:1 in Caracas, 0:4 in Paraguay), currently ranked 11th in the Paraguayan First Division.
What’s worse: Venezuelan First Division ranks 9th out of the 10 South American domestic leagues in the International Federation of Football History & Statistics’ (IFFHS) World’s Strongest National League, 2014 edition. In the overall ranking, our Primera División ranks 49th of 170, one spot behind Slovakia and one ahead of the United Arab Emirates.
So it seems to me we should seriously reassess the way our national football league is run before whining about how the Russia 2018 deck is stacked against us.
Evidently, our league isn’t that good at producing decent players, or keeping them around. Yet we insist on the fact that our head coach must be a Venezuelan. Why? What is the benefit of keeping such a closed mind? I understand that sports is a stubborn world, and football more so; but even England, la cuna de la revolución, began experimenting with foreign trainers at some point.
Actually, a full half of all South American national sides currently have a hired foreign gun. Chile won the Copa América 2015 with an Argentinean head coach. Colombia is considered by several as one of the most exciting national teams around, and is trained by another Argentinean. Ecuador, currently in first place of the FIFA Qualifying Stage, also has a foreigner directing things. You might argue that both Argentina and Brazil have locally-sourced coaches. Yes, true. But unlike them, Venezuela isn’t a football superpower with enough talent to be self-reliant. We’re currently dead-last in the standings.
The Venezuelan football model is due for a major overhaul. We must bring in fresher ideas, brighter minds, experienced professionals to teach us how to do things the right way. There is no shortage of talented trainers elsewhere up for the challenge of facing off against some of the most attractive teams on the planet. Several examples worldwide have proven that importing coaches works, among them 2014 World Cup partakers like the United States, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, and Costa Rica.
Training the Vinotinto should be an honor: it’s an exciting team with a lot to be improved from within, seeded with some of the best rivals out there. We might lack the quality, even by our “not-so-high-standards” of two back-to-back sixth places in FIFA Qualifiers. But the chance coach a side with so many people backing it no matter what, in such a competitive region of the world, would truly be a godsend for many out there hoping to fill Sanvicente’s shoes. The Federation did its part: they’ve tapped local talent dry. Now it’s time to look abroad in order to aim high.