Netherlands vs Argentina: Alejandro Sabella bids to complete his football journey - but he was nearly overlooked for Diego Maradona

Argentina coach will have the support of Sheffield United after he joined the club back in 1978, but his then manager Harry Haslam wanted Maradona instead

Alejandro Sabella will carry the hopes of a nation and a corner of South Yorkshire on his shoulders as he attempts to lead Argentina into the World Cup final.

LIVE: Netherlands vs Argentina latest

The 59-year-old will send his troops into battle with Holland in Sao Paulo on Wednesday evening with the biggest prize in football firmly in his sights.

It is perhaps not something he might have envisaged the day he wrapped himself around a radiator at half-time at Hartlepool's then Victoria Road home and refused to subject himself to the icy blast of a north-east winter.

But he will do so with a his former comrades in the red and white half of Sheffield firmly in his corner as he bids to complete a journey which has taken him from Buenos Aires via the Steel City to the pinnacle of the international game.

Sabella arrived at Sheffield United during the summer of 1978 as an unknown, at least on these shores, 23-year-old with manager Harry Haslam extending his search for fresh talent to South America.


The story goes that Haslam's initial target was a 16-year-old Diego Maradona, who even then ultimately proved to be outside his price range.

Former Blades team-mate Tony Kenworthy told Press Association: "As far as the players were concerned - and he did tell us the story, Harry himself - he was going to go for Maradona.

"He had seen Maradona and he was interested in him, but it was Alex that he opted for because Maradona was just a little bit too much."

Read more: Di Maria absence forces Argentina to think again
Argentinians begin to feel fate is on their side
Aguero passed fit for semi-final

The newcomer was thrust into the Blades dressing room as something of a novelty, but was soon assimilated, thanks in part to the presence of Uruguayan Danny Bergara.

Kenworthy said: "Football bridges a lot of gaps and it's easy, it's a universal place to come into - but it's an unforgiving place if you're not up to scratch.

"But Alex came in and he was such a nice guy that you couldn't help but like the fella, and the icing on the cake was that he was fantastic technically as a footballer.

"He was a pretty intelligent sort of a guy because he picked up the language, albeit pidgin-fashion, pretty easily."

Foreign imports have been credited with introducing greater professionalism into the English game in recent years.

However, Sabella's contribution on that front was negligible to the point that he refused to train on Fridays and left his preparation for games until the very last minute.

Kenworthy said: "At 2.30pm, where we would have had our massages and our ankles were strapped and you go through your routine, you would look across and Alex would be looking at the pictures in the programme.

"You'd look again at 2.40pm and Alex would still be in his suit; you'd look back at 2.45pm and he'd be changed, he'd be ready, socks rolled down, boots on ready to go out. That was Alex."

Read more: Di Maria likely to miss rest of the World Cup
Netherlands v Argentina match preview

The English weather too proved something of a culture shock for a man who was quick to seek out the best source of heat in any dressing room.

Kenworthy said: "He hated the cold. At half-time, he would wrap himself around any radiator he could find in the dressing room.

"We played at Hartlepool and he didn't come out for the second half. He wouldn't come back out. He was too cold. We had to make a substitution at half-time."

But, whatever his idiosyncrasies, the Argentinian possessed a rich talent and, in his two seasons at Bramall Lane - he went on to have a third with derby rivals Leeds - proved to be a match-winner.

Kenworthy remembers a man who came to life when his side was on the ball, even in the white heat of an infamous Sheffield derby in December 26, 1979.

The full-back said: "When we were defending, he wasn't any part of what we were trying to achieve because you couldn't rely on him. But once we won the ball, we would try to get him on it as much as we could because of his talent.

"Many a time, he'd have to put up with a man-to-man marker, and it wasn't like today. You could be heavy with your challenges and your first one was always free, so it was always the free one on Alex.

"We played Sheffield Wednesday on that Boxing Day and he came past me horizontal at eye level at one point.

"He was going to get it, but lads in the dressing room tried to look after him on the pitch because he was your little diamond. He could turn a game for you."

Sabella made his mark on and off the pitch during his time in the Sheffield, and the bonds he forged there remain intact, ensuring support from afar on Wednesday and beyond.

Kenworthy said: "What a fantastic lad. I can't say enough about him. It can't be England, so we are all hoping it will be Argentina. Once a Blade, always a Blade."


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn