A 30-club first division?
Teams will play each other once plus a repeat of the derbies with each club facing its biggest rival again
We are just about to end a soccer season with two exciting tournaments which pushed excitement to its highest level. But long-standing Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona said some time ago that it was too strenuous — perhaps for him, but not the great majority of fans. He brought up the ridiculous idea of a 30-club national championship some time ago, but most clubs opposed it. He is very obstinate and brought it up again last month.
Internal politics took a hand. Grondona met officials from different clubs to get approval for his idea before last Tuesday’s AFA meeting to confirm the new championship. Other club officials also met to try and get enough votes to oppose it, but they were unable, so they decided not to vote against. The trouble is that clubs are afraid of going against Grondona. He, or if you prefer the AFA, often lends money to clubs in need, or advances TV rights cash, and club officials fear that if they go against him, the cash flow would end. One big problem in local soccer is that it is ruled practically by one man.
This 30-club championship is to be played from February to December in 30 rounds — the 30 clubs meeting one another once plus a repeat of the derbies with each club facing its biggest rival again (River v Boca, Independiente v Racing, etc.). This is the result of yet another stupid idea. In a championship, clubs should play each other home and away to make it fair and repeating derbies at the end is unsporting and may generate enough protests to scrap it. A narrow points difference after clubs play each other once could change positions. For example, Boca and River might find it harder to win than San Lorenzo v Huracán. But the AFA is capable of coming up with more silly ideas.
The top national division would be increased by 10 clubs without counting the three relegated and including three promoted at the end of this season. The rest will qualify in a championship between 22 clubs, including the remaining National B Division clubs, including three relegated clubs and four each promoted from the Metropolitan B Division and Argentine Interior A Division tournaments. This will be played in the second half of the year, but also in an irregular way. It will be split into two sections of 11 clubs (playing two rounds) with the top five of each group being promoted to the new 30-club top division. It would be fairer to have the 22 clubs playing one another with the top 10 being promoted.
All these promotions will also happen in lower divisions. The Metropolitan B Division becomes the Metropolitan Championship with Metropolitan C Division clubs who have been trying to gain promotion unsuccessfully all season may be now happy to move up to the Metro Championship, while those from the Metro C may perhaps be content to play in the Metro B and ex-Metro D clubs will now be in the Metro C. In the provinces, the Argentine A tournament will also have 30 clubs, including those of the Argentine C plus four invited clubs (also stupid!).
The Argentine championship is probably the one which has changed its names and format on most occasions, but what’s in a name?
Despite all the changes, the relegation system, based on the average of points obtained over three seasons, will remain, except that two instead of three clubs will go down. But when obstinate Grondona, the inventor of this unpopular and unfair system, leaves as he said he would not run for president again next year, it is likely to be changed to the conventional system of the bottom club or clubs relegated each season.
The unfair parts of this format have been mentioned above. With the best players emigrating all the time, there are hardly enough good ones left to go around the present 20 top division clubs... and now there are 30. The standard of local soccer is low and this will mean that it will be even lower.
Money is an important question. More cash-paying sponsors and advertisers will not suddenly appear so that there will not be enough big payers for more clubs. As for the important source of government TV rights money, at the moment, it is paying 975 million pesos per year and has absolutely refused to increase this for the time being and the free for all TV soccer programme may not reach the locality of some of the more provincial clubs. Grondona says he will get another 200 million pesos from the online PRODE results lottery. That remains to be seen. Also, there is too big a difference in TV cash share between clubs such as River and Boca and some of the clubs now being promoted to the top division.
Gates will be lower as they are now at National B Division clubs going up to the top division. Even if visiting fans are allowed to return. The interest created presently by the close competition will go when there are fewer clubs fighting for the championship and the majority of fans are against this tournament.
The new tournament will not fix any of the many problems of local soccer and does not even address them. The AFA official who said clubs will have less expenditure was completely wrong! What with more travelling costs, lower ticket sales, etc.?
One dubious advantage I see is that there will be only one close season for clubs to transfer players among each other which has reached ridiculous proportions of almost 300 moves in the top division only. But the close season will be in the local summer which is the middle of the European season and not the time when clubs there make the most transactions which is in June/July in the middle of the local season. Less transfers would be good, but perhaps not for the clubs always looking for profitable player sales to Europe.