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April 20, 2014
Friday, December 27, 2013

Grondona’s cleanup too late

AFA chief Julio Grondona
By Eric Weil
Sportsworld

Clubs’ economic situation looks impossible

Julio Grondona ends his umpteenth term as president of the Argentine Football Federation (AFA) in 2015 and says that at 84 years of age he will not stand again. But before he goes, he says, he wants to clean up the house — mainly the economic and general situation of local soccer clubs. You might say “better late than never,” but this columnist thinks it’s too late — unless stringent laws are imposed and kept. On the other hand, Grondona must not mix up silly ideas like a 40-club first division as one of the schemes to solve the situation as this would not solve anything.

In July, 2012, Grondona, or if you like the AFA, said that clubs that owed salaries to their players would not be allowed to start the Initial 2012 Championship. That idea was quietly forgotten about because otherwise we would not have had a 2012 Initial Championship. At a meeting of club captains recently at the weak Argentine Soccer Players Union, a players’ strike was mentioned if players were not paid all they are owed before the next championship starts in February, but it seems not all players were willing to carry it out. Later, Grondona’s threats, never carried out, were watered down — “Any club owing money would not be able to sign new players.” Does that mean no local transfer market in January? That remains to be seen.

If Grondona had taken these (economic) decisions when he took over the AFA reins in 1979, he might have been successful in getting a handful of clubs in a financial mess to mend their ways, but now his ban would cover all clubs and there would be no championship.

Now, on finding its monetary reserves flowing away, the government has finally opened its eyes to the fact that its Free TV Soccer for all Programme is one of the holes to be plugged because the more it pays for transmission rights, the more clubs spend and waste and increase their debts. However, an initial meeting about changes in the programme talked only about changes in the work force. But earlier this month, it was decided at a meeting with new Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich that clubs must present a financial plan for 2014 by February 8, which they must comply with and which also includes these points:

1) Outline their security plans; 2) Reformation of stadiums covering lighting, seats, etc. to guarantee international security standards; 3) Guarantee structural improvements in the club’s function: 4) To strengthen the social function of clubs (adding about selling international TV transmission rights).

Sounds like a lot of political jargon — the art of saying nothing in a lot of words — and does not implicitly mention fixing finances, nor the sanctions if all this is not complied with. In other words, fairly useless.

WHO OWES WHAT

According to figures available, the government paid 648 million pesos a year when the TV agreement was signed toward the end of 2009 and four years later it is over twice as much — 1,511 million. This was meant as a life belt for debt-riddled clubs, yet their debts increased accordingly. It is calculated that clubs debts have reached a combined total of 1,655 million pesos, but it seems that calculations have fallen short. The reasons have been mentioned several times in this column, but basically they are caused by people fighting to get into club committees without having the capacity to manage a club which in itself is criminal — and worse still is the generalized corruption because even giving free tickets to hooligans and friends is robbing the club yet everybody does it.

Do not blame people like former River Plate president Daniel Passarella or Independiente President Javier Cantero who surely tried to put the budget in order, but found it an impossible task, although Passarella did not attempt to get rid of hooligans, while Cantero tried but found it impossible as nobody would help him.

At River Plate, the budget restrictions resulted in relegation into the National B Division for the first time and for that Passarella was hated more than any concerns about the economic problems which he also found impossible to fix. River Plate were losing eight million pesos a month and their deficit increased by 60 million in the last year. Passarella made some incredible mistakes, such as signing coach Ramón Díaz to a further two-year contract, with increased financial benefits, only weeks before his presidential term ended. But fans failed to remember that previous presidents were responsible for the financial disaster, like predecessor José María Aguilar against whom corruption charges have so far been unsuccessful.

Newly elected club presidents cannot keep election promises.

When new president Rodolfo D’Onofrio took over earlier this month, he said he found the situation worse than the last budget which showed a debt of 383 million pesos. But then all new presidents make that excuse for being unable to fix things as they said they would in their election campaign. All they can do now is to try and decrease the monthly deficit, he said, which does not look like it as it looks as if they do not even have the money to cover urgent expenditure. All candidates mentioned the important players they are trying to get to strengthen the team, but now it seems they will have to look for sponsors to get new players. That should mean that the players’ value would not belong to the club.

D’Onofrio admitted in a recent interview with the Herald that the club has over 60 professional players under contract. This is preposterous and one of the reasons for the monthly deficit in salaries. On the other hand, their good junior divisions are often overlooked and the situation is similar at other clubs.

Independiente’s case is worse, but we will have to leave this for next Friday’s column.

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