December 5, 2013
Questioning Boca and River
And the trouble with Avellaneda clubs
Last season 21,773 teams affiliated with the Argentine FA played 432,374 matches in 38,552,310 minutes with 563,445 players travelling 9,626,360 kilometres across the country — interesting figures, but the most attention is still focused on the most popular Boca Juniors and River Plate, although of the last 14 national championships, Boca have only won two and River one. But this does not tell the true story: that generally teams are more intent on not losing than on trying to win, helped by the coaches’ fear that a few defeats will lose them their job and also aided by referees who do not stop rough play enough.
After only six games, three coaches from the 20 top division clubs have already bitten the dust, but Boca’s Carlos Bianchi is safe although the club, always expected to fight for the title, is eigth. Bianchi has credit, because he won so many titles with Boca Juniors earlier this century, but how long will it last? Although fans may not agree, he had a better squad in those days. His favourite, also from that time, is playmaker Juan Román Riquelme, now 35, who has played 368 games and scored 86 goals for them, but is now playing less and less because of frequent injuries.
The other day, he was replaced by international Fernando Gago, Boca’s best buy during the close season, and they (and he) played their best game of the Initial tournament. Talk immediately started about Gago replacing Riquelme permanently, but many fans, for whom the latter is a hero, would not hear of it. Nor would Bianchi who will now try to play them both together when Riquelme gets over his latest injury. Both have different styles, but it could work! Some in the committee were already beginning to question Bianchi’s capabilities and there are still internal rifts among the playing staff, mostly blamed on Riquelme.
Bianchi told Nicolás Blandi — scorer of many vital goals since he became an established first teamer — that if he did not score, he would be dropped. He said it in public and I think it is not the right thing to say as it only makes the player nervous. I hope that in private, Bianchi, a leading scorer in his time, also gave Blandi some tips. But Boca’s problems are mostly in defence. Although Rolando Schiavi is no longer there, he has a successor in Guillermo Burdisso who gives away penalties almost every time he touches the ball. Lucky for him, and Boca, that referees do not see half of them.
But Boca fans are loyal. Other teams generally up their admission prices for a visit by Boca Juniors. Lowly Olimpo last weekend charged a record 1,000 pesos, yet Boca’s tickets were still snapped up. With visiting team’s fans still not allowed to attend matches, they go in as neutrals and were mixed up with the locals. No problem.
River Plate is 13th in the table, but with the players it has, it should be higher. It is hard to say what they are playing at under coach Ramón Díaz. If they are playing to score goals, they have only netted five in seven games. It was always difficult to think of River Plate being all out defenders, but they did just that in last week’s 0-0 draw against San Lorenzo which moved them into the semifinals of the Copa Argentina. By winning the trophy, still played mostly by reserves, River Plate would enternext year’s Libertadores Cup through the back door.
But club president Daniel Passarella, after taking over a bankrupt club, is still more interested in winning what he calls the “financial championship.” Offer him a good price for a player and he will take it. He is already trying to sell one of the latest finds, Colombian defender Éder Álvarez Balanta, 20, but being little known, Passarella could not get the right price in Europe. He did get an offer for Manuel Lanzini ,20, currently their best player, and is thinking about it.
The latest news is that River Plate wanted to bring this weekend’s match against Arsenal forward, to give them more rest for next week’s South American Cup match in Ecuador, but the AFA said no (under government orders) and left it on Sunday night (9.15pm) to compete with Jorge Lanata’s anti-government programme. A truly childish reason and while other countries help their teams involved in international cups, even cancelling games, in Argentina they still do not. It was also unfortunate that league matches were played last weekend during the international window with several clubs missing key players.
IN AVELLANEDA. Over to Avellaneda, where both big clubs have changed coaches leaving some of the players unhappy. Racing Club (bottom) replaced Luis Zubeldía (who was youngest top division coach at 32) with Carlos Ischia. Zubeldía said recently that with the youngsters Racing has, they will be unbeatable soon. The club committee thought otherwise. They sold some of the youngsters, then sacked the coach because they lost their first six games. That type of thinking is common here. If they want to sell their best players to get cash, OK, but why then talk about winning the championship and sack the coach for not winning?/
Independiente is in a worse state, financially. No coach wanted to take over the relegated club and Miguel Brindisi was practically forced (with the help of AFA chief Julio Grondona) to take the job. Now they fired him rather unfairly, although the poor team had not won in five National B Division matches (they won their sixth match on Monday) and was in the relegation zone. Four clubs go down this season.
Apart from their other financial troubles, Independiente still owes money to six other dismissed coaches for the remainder of their contracts — César Menotti, Daniel Garnero, Antonio Mohamed, Ramón Díaz, Cristian Díaz and Américo Gallego — dating back to 2010.
Club President Javier Cantero, a lonely fighter against hooligans, is being blamed for relegation and is being asked to resign. Instead, they should all pull together and have longer memories, because it was previous president Julio Comparada and his “administration,” who caused the financial debacle and nurtured the club’s hooligan gang.