Argentina focus on developing youth
Argentina has long been seen as one of the most successful national teams in football. Boasting a proud history that includes two World Cup wins, a lot of the success they have achieved can be put down to their commitment to youth.
Indeed, Argentina has dominated youth tournaments around the world in recent years, picking up five of the last seven U-20 World Cups - including the 2007 version in Canada - and also impressing at the Olympics, where an U-23 squad won back-to-back titles in 2004 and in Beijing this year.
While the South American nation can boast an ever-increasing number of trophies in their cabinet, they can also claim to have developed some of the most talented players in the world through their youth system.
Lionel Messi, Javier Saviola, Juan Roman Riquelme, Diego Simeone, Pablo Aimar, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez all played for the U-20 side before graduating to the full squad; while the gem in Argentina's crown, Diego Maradona, also trod the same path.
Now Maradona is in charge of the national side, it would suggest that the focus on youth will continue and there are plenty of young stars hoping to catch the great man's attention.
One such player is Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain. The 20-year-old scored all four goals for Madrid in the win over Malaga at the weekend, but has never made an impression on the international set-up.
In February, he was called up for a friendly with Guatemala ahead of the Olympics but, despite scoring two goals, he missed out on a ticket to Beijing. Some consider the striker to be better than the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lautaro Acosta, who both made the squad, but he has continued to be overlooked by the Argentine selectors.
Initially shrouded in controversy, Higuain's international future finally appears to be settled. Having been born in France and with a father (Jorge 'El Pipa' Higuain) who starred for Brest in Ligue 1 during the 80s, the striker had the potential to represent either Argentina or France.
Upon his rise to fame with River Plate, both countries sought to bring the youngster into their ranks and France appeared to have the upper hand before the player successfully applied for Argentine nationality in January 2007.
Now keen to make an impression on Maradona's squad, Higuain was told to become "more involved" in games and appears to have taken the coach's words to heart as he has been in great form recently. With Maradona watching from the stands in the Bernabéu on Saturday, Higuain decimated Malaga with his pace and powerful shooting to become Madrid's leading goalscorer with nine.
Yet he has competition to get into the Argentina squad. And lots of it.
The wealth of young attacking talent on show in Maradona's new side is frightening. With 21-year-old Lionel Messi leading the line, he can also call upon the likes of Carlos Tevez (24), Sergio Aguero (21) and Lavezzi (23).
Aguero, in particular, has been one of the form players in Europe this season with his goals for Atletico Madrid; but there are others who have yet to make a single senior appearance.
The 19-year-old Diego Buonanotte, lauded as the next 'wonderkid' despite standing only 5'2'' tall, will surely look to build on the potential he has shown with River Plate; while Mauro Zarate, 21, showed the English game what he has to offer with a loan spell at Birmingham last season and is now to be found setting Serie A alight with some stunning performances for Lazio.
Neither player has made it into the full squad, despite impressing at U-20 level, but that is not a surprise when you consider that the side already contains a host of talent. Obviously there are only five attacking positions on offer with Javier Mascherano sitting in front of the back four, but the depth of options for Maradona is startling.
So where have all these young players come from? And why have Argentina managed to corner the market in young, attacking talent?
Quite simply, it is their deep commitment to developing young talent combined with the quality of coaches on offer. Argentine scouts appear to have a knack of spotting young players at an exceptionally early age, meaning that they are brought into a club's set-up to mature, both as players and people.
Once they have been identified, the screening process is much tougher than in other leagues and from around 150 young players, only 20 make the grade. It is natural selection at its core and only the most dedicated and talented players graduate to the national team.
The desire of the players also plays a part as the unstable economic situation in Argentina allows scouts to find kids from every walk of life. The talent pool is huge when compared to countries where playing football isn't the only way to escape poverty and the game is such an integral part of the national culture and identity that many will dream of playing at the highest level.
In fact, Argentine football has suffered in recent years. The country has become one of the world's great exporters of football talent and has seen 59 players from the top division follow many others out of South America this year.
Ever Banega moved from Boca Juniors to Valencia, only to fail to make an impression and move on loan to Atletico. Fernando Belluschi, a star at River Plate, had his eyes opened by a move to Greece while the likes of Messi and Aguero left before they were 18.
With the majority of Argentina's best players playing away from their homeland, financial pressures gave the impression that Argentine clubs were reluctant to spend time developing their juniors, instead choosing to cash in on promising youngsters before they blossom.
But the opposite is actually true. The effects of globalisation have made Argentine clubs focus all their energies on youth football and, while star players will always be attracted by higher wages, the youth teams continue to grow. Constantly filling the gaps of departing players, the youth of Argentina gets a chance where in other leagues it may not.
Jose Pekerman's impact on the country's youth sides in the mid-1990s also cannot be understated as he moulded an established structure and gave them ideals.
Playing attacking, passing football, his sides picked up the traditional Argentine style. Constantly forming triangles on the pitch, their game seemed tailor-made for the short player with the low centre of gravity.
Look at Messi, Aguero and Tevez. Still developing, but built to withstand tackles and with such a low centre of gravity that it makes it almost impossible to stop them running with the ball. Credit must go to Pekerman's foresight for their development within the national set-up.
"They are kids, but they look like grown ups," was the headline that Argentine sports daily Ole celebrated the latest FIFA U-20 World Cup win with. And it's true.
Pekerman claimed that there was little point in winning if none of the players graduated to the senior squad in the future. In following the foundations laid down by Maradona, who was discovered as a 10-year-old and made his debut for Argentinos Juniors just days before his 16th birthday, Argentina look well placed to challenge on the world stage for years to come.
With a host of attacking talent continuing to come off the conveyor belt and kids learning their trade alongside experienced players, it may not be much longer before the country's 22-year wait for another World Cup comes to an end.