What ever happened to? Alejandro Sabella

In 1978 charismatic Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam travelled to Argentina in order to sign an Argentine player. Initially a £180,000 bid was made for Argentine teenage sensation Diego Maradona, but that was rejected by his side Argentinos Juniors.

Having gone to all the effort of travelling to Argentina, Haslam felt he couldn't come back to England without a skillful Argentine player, he eventually settled on River Plate's 23 year old midfielder Alejandro Sabella for a fee of £160,000.

Alex Sabella in Sheffield United kit.
Sabella played two seasons for the Blades in the old Division Two, scoring 8 goals in 76 league games, his last appearance came in 2-1 win against Sheffield Wednesday in the final of the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Cup. His sale was necessary as United had suffered relegation to the third tier of English football. He eventually signed for Yorkshire rivals Leeds United for £400,000.

After a single season at Leeds in which he scored 2 league goals in 23 games he returned to Argentina.

He signed for Estudiantes de La Plata, who had spent a decade of mediocrity after their glory days of the late 60s and early 70s when they had won three consecutive Copa Libertadores championships and beat Manchester United in the final of the 1968 Intercontinental Cup.

Sabella played an important part in helping the club to win their first silverware since 1971, the Argentine league championships Metropolitano 1982 and Nacional 1983. He played 149 league games for Estudiantes, scoring 10 goals.

He made four appearances for the Argentina national team during the Copa América 1983 but never really had a chance to establish himself in the team due to the wealth of Argentine midfield talent at the time, such as Burruchaga, Bochini, Borghi, Batista and of course Diego Maradona.

Towards the end of his career he had short stints with Grêmio of Brazil, Irupuato of Mexico and Ferro Carril Oeste back in Argentina.

After retiring as a player Sabella took up coaching and worked as assistant to Daniel Pasarella with Agrentine giants River Plate, the Argentina national team, Uruguay national team, Monterrey of Mexico and Corinthians of Brazil.

The pair returned to River Plate in 2006, but they parted company after Pasarella's resignation after River were embarrassingly knocked out of the Copa Sudamericana 2007 in the semi-finals by Argentine minnows Arsenal de Sarandí.

Sabella is currently the manager of
Estudiantes de La Plata back in Argentina.
Sabella took up his first position of head coach back at Estudiantes de La Plata. He took over and led them into the final of the Copa Libertadores 2009, where his captain Juan Sebastián Verón recreated the glory days of his father's generation by lifting an international trophy for the club for the first time since his father's team back in 1971.

Sabella then came within minutes of leading the club to the World Club Championship, but was denied by a late equaliser by Barcelona's Pedro and then an injury time winner from Lionel Messi.

Following the resignation of Diego Maradona after the 2010 World Cup, Sabella was discussed as a possible replacement as the Argentina manager by many reputable commentators and actually announced as Maradona's replacement by less reputable sources.

Another of the players that kept him out of the Argentina teams in the 1980s, Sergio Batista was given the job on a permanent basis, but were Argentina to fail to win Copa América 2011 on home soil, Batista would almost certainly be out of a job and Alex Sabella could be one of the favourites to replace him.

Sabella is already the most successful manager in recent years to have played in the second tier of English football, if he does get the Argentina job he will join the likes of Charles Bunyan Sr. and Peter Withe as ex-Blades players turned international football managers and the likes of Don Revie, Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles, George Ainsley, Terry YorathNigel Worthington and Brian Flynn to have gone from the Elland road pitch to international management.

Part of the What ever happened to? series.


  1. Someone translated my article into Spanish:


    There are a lot more comments there than there are here ;)

  2. Estudiantes de La Plata, the best of the word!!

  3. His stories about Alex Sabella are extraordinary, Yorkshire Enigma!. Thank you very much!
    The translation of the post is a credit to Silvia Sedano. Thanks to her.

    (This could be a mistranslation. I hope not :))