... and next season’s 30-club division too
With two matches to go in soccer’s National Final Championship, eight clubs still have a mathematical, if not all a realistic, chance of winning the title. River Plate and Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata are joint leaders with a two-point lead over Estudiantes de La Plata and Godoy Cruz, but in such a close tournament this week’s games can change the position radically and results are difficult to predict.
If River Plate wins the title, it would be the first for it or Boca Juniors — the so-called most popular clubs — in the last six tournaments and the 36th during the professional era, but with the Argentine FA (AFA) now counting amateur league titles as well, it would be the 38th. Meanwhile, for Gimnasia, the oldest club in the top division (founded in 1887) it would be the first professional league title, but it would be the third in total as it won one amateur league and one professional knock-out cup.
If teams share top place, the decision is rather complicated. The AFA likes to complicate things and has changed the previous rule used in 2008 when three teams shared top place and played a triangular playoff. If two teams share top place they will meet in one playoff for the title in a neutral stadium. If three or more teams share top place on points, the winner would be the club that obtains most points during the tournament against the others. If still tied, difference between goals for and against would count and then, if necessary, goal difference during the whole championship would count. The AFA did not say what then in the unlikely event that the tie remains.
A tie at the top is not so unlikely even if River Plate, erratic at times, has the easier programme against already relegated Argentinos Juniors away on its smaller field and against Quilmes, still in danger of the drop, at home. Gimnasia visits Quilmes and then plays at Boca Juniors who looks like getting a semblance of form.
Gimnasia y Esgrima
If Gimnasia y Esgrima wins the title, it would be a rare case of a club gaining promotion one season and winning the championship in the next season. It would be a case to be studied. The La Plata team did not make wholesale changes, but relied on the basis of the squad which won promotion. Some other promotion winners sign practically a new team, which may or may not work. As a result, Gimnasia knew its own limitations and beat rivals with better team work. A streak of six wins in a row and a draw in the last one could well take them to the title.
If River Plate improved in the latter part of the season with a 6-2-1 record in its last nine games, it must be mainly that coach Ramón Díaz made fewer team changes just to find a winning team. River Plate will return to international play next season in the South American Cup and/or the Libertadores Cup if it wins the title, so what of the future? It always has good junior players. After last weekend’s match against Racing Club seven of its players which came off the field started at the club as juniors.
A good sign, but it keeps trying to repatriate former stars past their best in Europe, such as striker Fernando Cavenaghi of whom surely more was expected than six goals in the current tournament. Now it wants to bring back midfielder Pablo Aimar (34) and is always thinking of others such as Inter of Porto Alegre midfielder Andrés D’Alessandro who is still in form and unlikely to come to earn less at River Plate.
Although Boca Juniors looks like improving, having just won three matches on the run, the club, which makes too many mistakes, will not have the same squad next season. The number one question is will Juan Román Riquelme be among them? Even though he has been the star of the team and idol of the fans for years, the committee does not want to extend his contract and now it seems he may not want to stay either. The committee is against his causing a division among the players, his age (35) and his frequent injuries which let him play only half the games. Yet I consider it would be another mistake not to extend his contract, depending agreement on financial matters. In spite of his no longer being in top form, he still makes a big difference to the team which has gained most points when he plays.
One official said that to be able to sign new players, they would have to sell some. The trouble is they have sold some good ones and then signed the wrong replacements who failed to live up to expectations. Several other players want to leave, including useful Juan Manuel Martínez and Juan Sánchez Miño. But what about the many good juniors? Last weekend’s team that beat All Boys included eight players who had come up from the junior divisions. Clubs would do a lot better with them than sign players who may be stars at their clubs, but fail at another club for a variety of reasons.
AFA chief Julio Grondona, who invented next year’s new 30-club national championship, said it would be “calmer and more serene,” words which seem completely stupid like the whole idea. He calmed club officials worried about the extra cost not to worry “as that problem is 95% resolved and will be fixed by July 4,” but without further explanation.
Other AFA sources say that, apart from the 825 million pesos yearly which the government pays for free TV, another 4-5 million is needed. Grondona’s idea of results betting on-line (which would not suffice). Grondona again met with government officials this week and apparently the on-line betting was not approved and there was absolute refusal to increase the TV fee and, in any case, the five extra matches could not be televised. Now what?