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

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?