May 25, 2013
Will others learn Arsenal's lesson?
Last Sunday was like old times when local soccer was more organized — when all top division matches were played at the same time and fans were able to watch their teams always...and on top excitement ran high with title and relegation in the balance and finishing with an unexpected champion, at least until a week before the end. This was a one-off situation. Don’t expect it to happen again ... at least under the present management.
Few people, outside some of their own fans, believed Arsenal could be champions until they surprisingly beat Boca Juniors' full team 3-0 in the penultimate match. Yet Arsenal may have an outstanding striker like Luciano Leguizamón who has caught the eye for some time and it was only fitting that he should score the goal for the title in the 1-0 victory over Belgrano. Arsenal also had one of the best goalkeepers in Cristian Campestrini, but most of their players are rejects from other clubs like Colombian striker Carlos Carbonero, on loan from Estudiantes de La Plata, whose soccer virtually changed their style. He is now due to return to Estudiantes because modest Arsenal cannot pay the purchase price.
But the real secret of success — which is really no secret at all — is that they have had the same coach, Gustavo Alfaro, for two years and he has patiently built a team which surpassed others with team work — a team which assumed its own limitations to their advantage. Meanwhile, only eight of the 20 top division teams ended the closing championship with the same coach they started it with. The last coach to be shown the door, just as the season ended, was Gabriel Schurrer at Lanús. Yet his record was 31 won, 22 draws and 19 lost. Does Lanús really think they will have a better record under the next coach?
Another modest club, Tigre, also deserved the title and even on Sunday it looked as if they would have to play off for it with Arsenal. Under coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena they taught another lesson — that even if you are fighting to avoid relegation you can play good, attacking soccer (the best according to Juan Román Riquelme) and they had easily the tournament's top scorer in Carlos Luna with 12 goals. And fight against relegation all season they did, even until Sunday's last game. Perhaps it was this constant strain — not physical, but more mental — which stopped them from beating Independiente. Tigre also had a fair share of rejects from other clubs.
This match was an example of the kind of drama also at other stadiums. At 3.31pm, Luna's goal kept them in the title fight, but could still force them to play in a relegation playoff. Six minutes later, San Juan's San Martín went one up against San Lorenzo and still left Tigre as champions, but definitely in a relegation playoff. A minute later, Lisandro López puts Arsenal ahead which left Tigre due for a title playoff and a relegation playoff: 3.39pm. San Lorenzo equalized, leaving Tigre still in a relegation playoff. Four minutes after half time, Patricio Rodríguez equalized for Independiente, leaving Tigre temporarily second and six minutes later he scored again, leaving Tigre in relegation danger. With 10 minutes to go, Tigre equalized to retain some title hopes, but due for a relegation playoff which finally they avoided.
Yet Tigre came closest than ever to winning the title and being relegated at the same time, highlighting the Argentine FA's (AFA) ridiculous system. As mentioned before, there is an even better chance of it happening next time when three bottom clubs (one more) in the relegation averages table go down ... unless, of course, the AFA, especially its president, Julio Grondona, comes to its (his) senses and scraps the system.
BOCA JUNIORS. After topping the table virtually from the start of the closing championship, Boca Juniors threw their remaining title chance away on the last day by fielding a complete reserve team which lost to All Boys (another modest team which had its best season finishing joint third). Why? Because they reserved their first team players for a Libertadores Cup semifinal three days later. It should be possible for professionals to play two championship matches a week, but as mentioned before, it seems impossible here. The league and cup double has only been achieved four times in a year when the two competitions were not played at the same time.
After running away with the season's opening championship, Boca Juniors tried to play a more attacking game and were more vulnerable than before. They also had problems with dead ball situations. That they retained a chance in three competitions — closing championship, Libertadores and Argentine cups — was because of good, experienced reserves. Now they are already in the process of selling some. They say they need the money, but with such a potential for playing success, membership (of 100,000), sponsorship and marketing, there must be something wrong with its administration.
INDEPENDIENTE. As the season ended, Independiente still had 54 professional players on their books, a luxury not even rich clubs like Manchester United and City could afford. So it is no wonder that they cannot pay them on time and are bankrupt. Many have no transfer value, but the club is in the process of selling one who has — striker Patricio Rodríguez, one of their best remaining players. They start next season with the worst relegation average (jointly with Newell's Old Boys) which means they will have a fight on their hands to stay up. Meanwhile, Independiente received embargos for debts (accrued by the previous administration) almost daily, in some cases stopping them from buying and selling players.
In the meantime, no news has been received of a court case starting against previous president Julio Comparada who has a lot to answer for. The un-united "soccer family" are blaming current president Javier Cantero for "wasting his time" in his lone fight against the club's hooligan gang while the team is close to relegation (which is also Comparada's fault). But if the hooligan gang ever really supported the club — which is hardly the case — they should disappear. That will give Cantero respite, or perhaps by next season the many people who offered him support, which has not been forthcoming, will realize the need to fight hooligans.
We will look at the rest of this season's soccer next week.