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Friday, October 18, 2013

Can Newell’s Old Boys repeat?

Soccer fans supporting Newell''s Old Boys cheer after their team won Argentina''s First Division tournament in Rosario in June.
By Eric Weil / Sportsworld

Problem with the big clubs

Can Newell’s Old Boys repeat their Final Championship win in the current Initial Championship and do what has not been done in the last 14 tournaments? The last double winner was Boca Juniors in season 2005/6. With eight matches to go, Newell’s Old Boys leads by three points and may make it, although it may be harder than last year.

The reason why a repeat is hardly ever done is mostly to be found in the repeated team changes. A champion is always tempted by height offers for some of its best players and money seems to be more important than playing strength, but Newell’s Old Boys has made relatively few changes, although they lost their leading goalscorer Scocco to Porto Alegre’s Internacional. The big Brazilian clubs have more buying power than Argentina’s.

So many people do not understand why Argentina’s traditionally big clubs are now struggling and not winning all the titles as before. Racing Club is bottom, River Plate in mid-table, San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors are equal third, but irregular, while Independiente and Huracán are languishing in the National B Division. One reason is that officials (committee, etc.) are mostly not very efficient these days. In most clubs officials try to win elections just to have an important position and/or get some benefits. But the bigger the club, the more difficult it is to run and therefore the more mistakes they make, resulting usually in higher debts and poor playing performances.

It is curious, or perhaps not so, that the two club presidents — River Plate’s Daniel Passarella and Independiente’s Javier Cantero — who took the chair with the idea of cutting the club’s debts, saw their teams relegated — and they are hated for that, which is a pity because this is what should be done at every club. Of course, they had to be careful with their spending on players and cut corners, while also reducing their playing staff and try to sell players for a good price. They are doing the right thing, but this is not acceptable here. The only thing that counts is a successful soccer team, although these are all-sports clubs.

At Boca Juniors, they did not like coach Julio Falcioni because he did not like their now injury-plagued veteran idol Juan Román Riquelme and he was also blamed for too much defensive play and not keeping unity in the squad, but under him they won the 2011 Opening Championship and the Copa Argentina. So they signed Carlos Bianchi because under whom they had won a lot of titles earlier this century and the fans clamoured for him — which, on its own, is not very clever thinking.

Bianchi now had a worse team than then, but he liked Riquelme, who however cannot play in many matches these days. But so far Bianchi has not won anything. Boca did make two good signings in Gigliotti, the last tournament’s leading scorer (with Scocco), and international Gago. Yet he also let several useful players go because they were not filling the bill. Yet they are now doing better at other clubs — for example, to Lanús, striker Silva and midfielder Somoza who, imagine, made his international debut this week against Uruguay. Bianchi did not command the dressing room, as they call it, and some internal rifts continue, while the team was also blamed for playing defensively. So what was wrong with Falcioni? He was just not as popular as Bianchi!

Boca Juniors had a problem however — injuries affecting them more than most clubs. At one time last week, there were as many as 18. There was also an outbreak of contagious mumps and there was danger of the whole team going down. But they have difficulty in scoring goals, while having two goal scoring strikers in Blandi and Gigliotti. Perhaps the system is wrong and when Bianchi told Blandi that if he did not score, he would be dropped, that is not a very psychological thing to say to a player. Still, Boca Juniors is only six points from the top and could surprise with more regularity.

Boca Juniors officials have made mistakes, while its president Daniel Angelici continues closely linked to hooligans although he denies it. He must, however, be afraid of the current court investigation into their doings and links with officials. Some time ago, the club made an arrangement with Barcelona about junior divisions. Last week, he was in Madrid inspecting Real Madrid’s junior divisions. That is strange.

At River Plate, coach Ramón Díaz was another one chosen because he once won titles with the club... at another time with another team. He replaced the club’s former midfielder Almeyda who had taken over at a difficult time and won promotion back into the top division. He was popular and there was a lot of criticism that Passarella fired him. Now he is coach of National B Division leaders Banfield and will probably take that club back into the top division also.

Now Díaz talks too much and does too little — except if you count taking lollipops to a match in which the opponents had a lot of youngsters playing. Last week, he said he would stop talking which remains to be seen. Perhaps that also means he would do more. In spite of making some mistakes in transfers in and out — which Passarella agreed to — River Plate has a good squad, but perhaps they do not know how to use it. A player like Fabbro, for example, who shone in Paraguay, cannot be useless here and also has not been given much chance. Surely, the coach, apart from selecting the team, can also teach him and others how he wants them to play. Instead, Díaz is making numerous changes from one week to another and Pasarella now wants to sell Álvarez Balanta, their best defender.

At Racing Club, the president and vice-president started a fighting match in the middle of the championship — just another example of how incompetent officials are just not cut out for the job. The only justification I see is that the president is accused of running the club with the hooligans. Another mistake they made is too hire coach Reinaldo Merlo, because he had won the last title with Racing Club in 2001 — a reason? — and going against the wishes of the playing staff who wanted interim coach “Nacho” González to continue. Merlo may be successful or not, but it would have been important to let the players have their wish.

After all, the impression is amid this poor soccer that this championship will be won by the least bad team!

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