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September 17, 2014
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Why do they play so badly?

File photo of Juan Román Riquelme from his Boca Juniors days.
By Eric Weil / Sportsworld
Foul if you cannot play soccer

Now that Juan Román Riquelme has left Boca Juniors and is unlikely to play in Argentina again, who is going to play soccer here? The real question is: why do others play so badly? An obvious and well known reason is that Argentina is a leading exporter of talent (together with Brazil) with promising young players going abroad too soon before reaching anywhere near their potential, but this will only change when, if ever, we get a different breed of club officials, so let us leave this reason aside.

A poll of most top division coaches has one common denominator: There is too much pressure to get results quickly and coaches are not given enough time even to form a team. Lately, matches have been close, because no team, or coach, wants to give anything away. Defence, and stopping the opposition, is more important than attack. Ricardo La Volpe, no longer coaching here, mentioned that he wastes time teaching players what they should have learnt in junior divisions... but then in the junior divisions there is also too much pressure to win, win and win by any means.

This columnist agrees with all the above, but also points out that there are very few players here today who actually learnt how to play the game properly, so they resort to fouls and rough play to stop opponents — the only way they know how — which causes so many injuries. The few who try to play properly are at the receiving end of constant fouling. One of them, Racing Club’s young Adrián Centurión says he is getting used to ending every match with a lot of pain and no help from referees. It could shorten his career. Racing should not sell him, although it might be to his advantage. Referees may need more help, as mentioned repeatedly, but even then there is the too lenient disciplinary committee. A good example of this was Boca Juniors defender Rolando Schiavi who left at the end of the Initial Championship to play in China. Every time I saw him play, he could virtually only stop opponents with fouls. Not only was he excused from giving away many penalties which would have resulted in Boca Juniors finishing much lower in the table, but on the few occasions he was sent off, the disciplinary committee was far to lenient in suspending him.

Fans have got so used to the mediocre play that a team is judged to have played well merely because they played better than their rivals. Rarely does one see more than two passes in attack. There is too much running and too little thinking. To pause like Riquelme did was not acceptable.

Possibly all this is because of the two short championships of 19 games each instead of one long championship of two rounds as was the case over 20 years ago. Argentina FA (AFA) chief Julio Grondona thought so too. Yet two short championships in which teams have to avoid losing too many points, make the season more interesting and, after all, professional soccer is supposed to entertain.

ARSENAL, VÉLEZ SÁRSFIELD. Arsenal and Vélez Sársfield were deserved winners of last year’s two local championship because they were better than the rest, although in the case of Arsenal, Tigre, another modest club with whom they fought for top place until virtually the last minute, were perhaps just as good.

Arsenal were 75 percent effective in passes (227 average per match) and had 44% possession in winning ball in the 2011/12 closing championship. The successful passing average is very good, while it shows you need not necessarily have to have more of the ball to win matches. Arsenal had an average of 13,05 goal shots per match while having 11,6 against. Defender Guillermo Burdisso (now with Boca Juniors) was among the leading headers with an average of 10.46 per match, while defender Lisandro López had a leading match average of 18.6 balls stolen from rivals.

Overall, the goal shots per match average was only a low 12 per match, while San Lorenzo’s average of 14.3 was well above, but shots at goal do not mean goals. As for passes, the overall average was 285, but Vélez Sarsfield were well above that average with 408 which does seem a lot.

These details were obtained with the electronic Prozone system which some coaches swear by — in Barcelona, for example — and others do not bother with, but figures of the recently finished 2012/13 season Initial Championship were not available. But it is easy to see why in the latter Vélez Sársfield were better than the rest.

Vélez Sársfield is arguably the best run club in Argentina and therefore about the most successful in recent years... and without the financial worries of most others. They state that 95 percent of the players who reach the first team started at the club’s infant divisions with boys of 9 to 10 years — among them Jonás Gutiérrez, Mauro Zárate, Leandro Gracián, Damián Escudero and Nicolás Otamendi.

Club officials do not get desperate as at other clubs when looking at results. Vélez Sarsfield is the club least involved in the transfer market. They hardly buy players and only sell them when they have an adequate replacement which means fewest team changes. Another example of stability is that their coach Ricardo Gareca recently coached his 200th top division game at Vélez Sarsfield.

What it boils down to is that a better organized club and team can win the title without having the best players. But other clubs will rarely take note.

Anything good to say about local league soccer? It is exciting, on and off the field!

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