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Argentina split between Big Nose, Thin One

Written by: Staff

FRANKFURT, June 6 (Reuters) Carlos Bilardo once seemed to imply he had offered Brazil contaminated water in a World Cup match and another time to have supplied heat rub for one of his players to smother into the eyes of opponents.

Cesar Luis Menotti prefers the word ''ideas'' to ''tactics'' and once said that a footballer was ''a privileged interpreter of the dreams and feelings of thousands of people''.

The two men, whose respective nicknames Big Nose and the Thin One make them sound like a slapstick comedy duo, were in charge on the two occasions Argentina won the World Cup.

Bilardo led the South Americans to victory in Mexico 1986, eight years after Menotti steered them to the title on home soil against the backdrop of an unsavoury military dictatorship.

But that is where the similarities end.

The two fell out in 1975 when Menotti took exception to criticism from Bilardo and have not spoken for more than 30 years.

Even when fate put them on the same plane during the 2004 Copa America in Peru, where they were working as television commentators, they declined to exchange niceties.

POLITCAL ROOTS The two men are different in almost everything.

Bilardo is said to like steak and chips, listens to Julio Iglesias and is politically on the right. Menotti prefers French food, Joan Manuel Serrat and has his political roots in left-wing Peronism.

But it is footballing philosophy that really sets them apart and their influence is such that, for a long time, Argentine football was ideologically split into ''Bilardistas'' and ''Menottistas''.

Bilardo, who also coached Argentina to second place at the 1990 World Cup, has long been synonymous with ruthless gamesmanship, 1-0 wins and tough defence while Menotti is associated with flowing, attacking football and fair play.

The reputation of Bilardo goes back to his playing days when he was a defensive midfielder in a notorious Estudiantes team which won three successive Libertadores Cups between 1968 and 1970.

South American soccer legend has it that Bilardo would carry a needle on to the field and stick it into opponents.

CONTAMINATED WATER As a coach, he turned to other methods.

Former Boca Juniors forward Ernesto Mastrangelo remembers an incident in a game against Colombia's Deportivo Cali in 1978. ''One of Cali's players came up to me from behind and stuck his hands in my face,'' Mastrangelo, now coach of Paraguay's under-20 team, told Reuters. ''Suddenly, I felt this stinging sensation. The player had heat rub on his fingers.

''Their coach at the time was Bilardo.'' But the most talked about incident was in the 1990 World Cup second-round tie against Brazil when Branco, Brazil's left back, said he felt dizzy after drinking from a bottle of water offered by Argentine players.

The mystery resurfaced last year when Bilardo appeared to imply in an interview the water was contaminated. But he then said it was a misunderstanding.

Sebastian Lazaroni, the Brazil coach at the time, demanded an investigation.

But perhaps the most lasting impression of Bilardo's Argentina were the hysterical protests as they had two players sent off and lost 1-0 to West Germany in 1990, the worst final in World Cup history.

MILITARY COUP The chain-smoking Menotti is seen as representing the nicer side of Argentine football.

The country was still a democracy when he took over as coach in 1974 but he chose not to flee when the military staged their 1976 coup, believing he would simply be handing over control of football to the army.

Under Menotti, Argentina reverted to the flowing, attacking game they had used until the 1960s, the national team became the priority instead of the clubs and the country once again became a soccer power.

In recent years, the divide between the two styles has become less clear although Alfio Basile's team in 1994, Daniel Passarella's outfit in 1998 and Marcelo Bielsa's 2002 have borne more of a Menotti stamp.

Jose Pekerman, the incumbent coach, played down the difference in an interview with Reuters last year.

But his past record as under-20 coach, winning three World Youth championships with teams routinely at the top of the Fair Play rankings, suggests Argentina's darkest days are in the past.

''Nowadays there is not such a sharp division in the thinking of the Argentine fans,'' he said.

''They've always appreciated good football but they also value a team which gives everything, fights hard, has character and plays with speed.

''All this is part of Argentine football.'' REUTERS

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