Guillermo Barros Schelotto is back in MLS. The former Columbus Crew SC playmaker, who led that team to the 2008 MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield double (and whose performance in the 2008 MLS Cup is probably still the single best showing any player's ever had in that particular event), was appointed as the new head coach of the LA Galaxy on Wednesday.
This is good for the Galaxy. This is GOOD for the Galaxy.
Schelotto retired as a player in 2011, then spent about six years as a manager in his home country of Argentina. The first three were with Lanus, a traditionally middle-tier club with modest means and expectations. He led them to multiple top-5 finishes in the league, which, while it doesn't sound amazing... gang, it's tough to explain the upheaval in Argentine soccer, up to and including the number of clubs in the top flight (at one point it was 30, and is now down to 26), the format of the championship, the always-dodgy economic conditions of just about everything involved, etc. Getting consistent play from a mid-tier club in Argentina is damn near impossible even in the best of circumstances, and the first half of this decade can not, at all, be considered the best of circumstances.
The bullet-pointed version of that:
- GBS took a consistently meh team and made them a consistent title threat in domestic play
- while actually winning a title (2013 Copa Sudamericana) in continental play
- and at the same time they sold a bunch of players along (including Diego Valeri and a handful of other MLSers)
What Schelotto did was take a club that lacked stability, in the middle of a situation that lacked stability, and give it a sense of rock-handed stability over the course of multiple years in multiple competitions, all while integrating young players and coaxing improvement out of veterans. Galaxy fans, are your hearts all pitter patter at the moment?
Just as that resume would be good enough for almost any MLS team, it was also good enough for Boca Juniors, one of the two greatest clubs in Argentine soccer history. They beat everyone else to the punch to hire Schelotto in early 2016 (after then-Serie A side Palermo had tried and failed to get him for the job).
Managing Boca Juniors is different from managing Lanus. Boca have, every single year, one of the two most talented squads in the league. And every single year, they have the expectations of a large and loud and rabid fanbase that wants at least one piece of hardware. They are expected to win, they are expected to sell their best players, and they are expected to replace those players with stars both from within and without. And if it doesn't work, the manager gets fired.
Schelotto, who spent 10 years at La Bombonera as a player, did not get fired – he spent almost three years managing Boca and mostly delivered on expectations. He helped guide the team to a Copa Libertadores semifinal appearance in 2016, then won domestic league titles in 2017 and 2018. It was the first time they'd won back-to-back league titles since the 2005/06 Apertura/Clausura.
If there was a disappointment from his team, it's what happened this past month. For the first time in Copa Libertadores history, Boca Juniors faced their hated rivals, River Plate, in the final. Boca probably had the better, more talented team. At the end of two legs, River had the trophy.
Had Boca won, Schelotto would probably be regarded third behind only the great Carlos Bianchi and Juan Carlos Lorenzo in the pantheon of managers at the club. And he most certainly wouldn't have been available for the Galaxy to hire.
But they didn't win, and so the manager became a free agent after both parties decided it was time to move on. Those are the expectations Schelotto has dealt with over his brief managerial career thus far. "Forged in fire" is a good way of thinking about it.
And I will add one more bit: GBS can even check the "managed a mercurial veteran striker with a global profile" box, since he'd been minding Carlos Tevez with Boca for the last few years. Tevez is no Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he's probably harder to manage in more than a few ways.
Given all that – his experience winning titles, his experience managing expectations great and small, his experience managing players great and small, his experience building from within, his experience developing and selling players, his experience in MLS, his profile both in the Americas and Europe – I honestly can not imagine a better hire for a Galaxy team that's clearly in need of a cultural reboot.
New general manager Dennis te Kloese is already doing his part to show LA's academy products that the club intends to do business differently off-the-field:
@uly_soccer7 was at the LA Galaxy 4 years and never recieved a Jersey I always wanted a LAG Jersey with my last name on it and the new boss at the @LAGalaxy made it happen he is going to make things happen at the @LAGalaxyAcademy thank you Dennis love the Jersey.THIS IS LA pic.twitter.com/yvHWax9On4— Sr. Ulysses Perez Llanez (@ULlanez) December 24, 2018
Schelotto will now be tasked, at the third stop on his managerial career, to do that work on the field. Nothing I've seen from him over the past six years suggests he'll come up short.