Rodrigo de Paul had imagined it, however not like this. “We had gone years with out taking part in a Copa América in our nation and we had the prospect to dwell that,” he says. “We all know the fervour Argentinians really feel. We knew stadiums would have been bursting. We knew that each group that got here to play wouldn’t simply be dealing with us however 60,000 or 70,000 individuals shouting. We noticed it in Brazil two years in the past it was like they performed with an additional man. This yr was our flip, with us it was going to be much more highly effective, however …”
However Argentina are heading again to Brazil. The Copa América was supposed to start on the Monumental in Buenos Aires on 12 June 2020. As a substitute, it begins on the Mané Garrincha in Brasília this Sunday; De Paul and his Argentina teammates begin the next evening in opposition to Chile in Rio. Delayed a yr, the competitors was misplaced by co-hosts Colombia amid political unrest on 20 Could. Ten days later, Argentina relinquished, too, due to the coronavirus disaster. The day after, the 2019 hosts stepped in, if not precisely willingly.
The 2019 winners, too. Argentina had been crushed 2-0 within the semi-final by Brazil, Lionel Messi despatched off within the third-place play-off, refusing to attend the medals ceremony and handed a three-match ban for saying the competitors had been “arrange” for his or her rivals, the refereeing “corrupt”. But De Paul insists that Argentina left “proud”.
There was, he says, one thing deeper and extra vital past the frustration: a new period, new hope after the 2018 World Cup, a new era rising beneath the supervisor, Lionel Scaloni, which aspires to success this month. It’s one the Udinese midfielder stands on the coronary heart of – even when, drawing on his mate, he calls himself “a spare tyre”, a telling description that claims a lot about how he sees soccer, a collective conscience to go together with his high quality.
“This course of began with the [last] Copa América,” De Paul says. “With a new cycle of gamers, we had 14 photographs on Brazil’s purpose, hit the bar, the submit. We began a course of then that has adopted the identical path: we beat Brazil, drew with Uruguay, drew with Germany in Dortmund, beat Mexico, drew with Chile, received in La Paz which we hadn’t accomplished for one thing like 20 years. We went 9, 10 video games with out shedding. With each outcome we had fewer doubts, we grew. The virus interrupted it however I feel the method is sweet.”
After which, unprompted, he provides: “And for that course of, we’ve the most effective captain we may have. I’m not going to speak about his footballing degree, as a result of that’s past debate. As a particular person and a information, Leo [Messi] is incomparable. Having him, every thing is less complicated.
“On a human degree, I solely had contact with him as soon as: at Valencia-Barcelona. We’re speaking 2014. Aside from that I didn’t know him. Given every thing he lives via – you’ll be able to’t go wherever; set foot in an airport and 200 persons are there – he may very well be a reserved character, so he surprised me. He enjoys having a mate, enjoys listening to a music, enjoys truco [cards]. We do warmup video games the place you dribble, bounce a hoop, shoot. I say: ‘Leo; I’ll take you on.’ He loves that. That humanises him. You’ll be able to see him as current in one other dimension however he’s a particular person.”
However are you able to win? De Paul laughs. “No, it’s unimaginable. And I might inform you if I did, eh. You’ll be able to attempt to put him off, strive something, nevertheless it’s unimaginable.”
De Paul has received them over, a fixture since Scaloni took cost. Listening to him analyse his recreation is to see why, the depth and perception hanging. “Scaloni understands my despliegue [physical coverage] and the tactical understanding Italy teaches,” De Paul says. “With that, we are able to cowl Leo Paredes and assist Messi. I’ve the despliegue to press the full-back or cowl. How would I clarify my position? I’m a like a spare tyre. Usually essential gamers relaxation on me.”
It’s a fairly unflattering (self-)description for the Udinese captain, amongst the excellent footballers in Serie A, offering 9 objectives and 9 assists this season. “However I’ve no downside placing it like that,” he insists. “And something I’ve to do to put on the Argentina shirt, I’ll do. All the things is available in its personal time: there’s a second to get into the field and rating, to interrupt traces, to assist Leo be contemporary to assault or maintain for Paredes. You complement them.
“Individuals discuss objectives and assists however I used to be searching for stats on ball recoveries the opposite day. I’m on nearly treble the primary yr: it was 150, it’s over 400 now. What I didn’t have then, now I do. So now you suppose: ‘OK, what’s subsequent? What’s lacking?’ The day I cease taking part in for Argentina, will probably be as a result of somebody was higher, not as a result of I didn’t work. I like giving passes greater than scoring and there are moments to throw your self into tackles. I don’t have a downside doing that, nor do I need to be on the entrance pages.”
That has made De Paul a lovely proposition. Atlético Madrid have an interest. The Premier League has known as and can once more. A swiftly deleted tweet final autumn replied to reviews of a transfer to Leeds with a fingers crossed. He went nowhere then; it appears seemingly he’ll, his suitors much more vital and Udinese alert to the market.
“I used to be very honest, very clear with whom I needed to be clear,” De Paul says. “I stated what I believed, what I need. I’m 27 now. I’m not going to talk wherever else as a result of I respect everybody at Udinese, particularly the followers who actually love me.”
One other Copa América, extra strain, extra expectation. Argentina have twice been runners-up, World Cup runners-up too, nevertheless it was not sufficient, Messi portrayed as a failure. “For me, they’re heroes,” De Paul says. “I perceive that individuals in Argentina want a trophy, a victory. As a result of individuals ask of the soccer group what isn’t given in different spheres: authorities, work, insecurity. As they don’t have anybody to demand that from, anybody to unload on, they flip to soccer.
“What issues is to reach on the primary day and attempt to depart the final. In a ultimate, the ball hits the submit. It’s a centimetre. Soccer is moments. You’ll be able to’t base judgments on a missed penalty.”
Now Argentina strive once more, even when it’s not the way in which they needed it, a event mired in disaster for which there’s not the standard enthusiasm. “We’re in a second in life that nobody taught us dwell via and we’ve to be very cautious at each step,” De Paul says. “Followers deliver life to soccer and I need them again quickly, with all my coronary heart. They make it simply as lovely as gamers do. But it surely’s as much as us now to take that happiness into their properties.”