May 24, 2013
Soccer changes could have been worse
President Cristina now angry with Grondona
On Tuesday, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) finally approved the new format for next season and it could have been worse after all the crazy ideas that were bandied about like the 38-team first division which the government apparently favoured.
AFA chief Julio Grondona wanted to return to one long championship of 38 games, but the majority of clubs rightly wanted to continue with one-round opening and closing championships to create more interest. The only thing missing is a playoff for one yearly title between the winners, or leading teams of the two tournaments as is done in other countries using the two tournament format. One long championship this season would have already left Boca Juniors as virtual champions so that with eight weeks to go there would be no more interest in the title fight.
Relegation has been slightly altered. Three clubs will be relegated and three promoted. There will be no more relegation playoffs between the 3rd and 4th of the lower division against the 17th and 18th of the top division teams which was not a bad idea, but tended to produce too much crowd hysteria. But the silly relegation system on average points obtained over three seasons continues, except that the bottom two will go down plus the club obtaining fewest points during the season... which should have been the rule for all three. Grondona insists that this will not allow clubs to diminish their performance (or throw matches) when they have nothing to fight for near the end of the season, but more unfair is that an improving team is condemned to relegation due to poor results in the previous two seasons. It just goes against the idea of the sport.
The winner of the Copa Argentina will get a place in the Libertadores Cup which will help to increase the importance of this competition, while the winners of the opening and closing championships will get a place in the South American Cup. Lower division clubs were pleased that the top two will be directly promoted instead of the second having to be involved in playoffs. There was a motion to allow transfers only before the opening championship instead of a limited number also before the closing championship, but this was defeated.
DEBTS PROBLEM. But changing the championship format is not going to solve any of local soccer’s problems and now President Cristina Kirchner is angry with Grondona. For once I am on her side. Since the government bought TV rights for soccer toward the end of 2009, it has paid the AFA 2.026 million pesos which was to help clubs to put their finances in order. She got specially angry when she found that clubs had debts amounting to 1.3 million pesos and that Grondona had asked the Banco Nación for a 230 million pesos loan (which an AFA official said was not for the clubs, but the AFA). Her anger increased when she heard that Grondona’s son (who is in the national teams committee) said “My father is the only one who gets money out of the woman.” Last month, Cristina sent inspectors to find out the real situation at clubs and it seems that they were agreeable to meet at Government House without Grondona to try and sort out their problems. In other words, government wants to take more charge of clubs, leaving the AFA out of it, which could be good or bad. But the government’s payment for TV rights was supposed to help clubs get out of debts, but instead they have increased. The problem, as often mentioned in this column, is that the financial situation of clubs will never be fixed by throwing money at them, but by making rules, which exist in England for example, to punish them if they cannot keep their books in order.
AND RANGERS. When Glasgow Rangers, one of the two most popular clubs in Scotland, 54 times champions and getting crowds of 50,000 regularly, go into administration for being unable to pay their debts, it must be a warning! The Herald has been reporting their fate, how they were deducted 10 points for having to go into administration — a rule which should be used in Argentina — and the difficulty of several bidders coming to terms with the administrators and the latest, that the Scottish FA has banned them from signing players for a year which will make it more complicated for parties interested in buying the club... so Rangers could end up going into liquidation.
But the real villain of the piece is Craig White, the man who bought the club last year without money — and he is not the first to do that trick. He paid a nominal sum of one pound (6.70 pesos) and took over its debt then estimated at 32 million dollars. He managed to get most of this forwarded from a ticket agency against future season ticket sales, but also committed other strange deals, and has now been banned for life from Scottish soccer and is being sued by the club’s administrators for 39 million dollars.
Rangers are not alone. Three clubs in Switzerland — Serviette Geneva, Neufchatel Xamas, Sion — are all recent cases and so is Brazil’s most popular club, Flamengo. Their player, Ronaldinho says he was owed five months’ salaries and he was not the only one in their country. Spain’s most popular Barcelona and Real Madrid have every advantage of negotiating their own TV contracts, yet have problems to make ends meet. Barcelona recently took the unpopular step of reducing the budget for other sports at their club, so that they can keep their soccer team running. So, now, even the most popular clubs cannot make ends meet.
We know their biggest outlay is on players. FIFA says it processed international transfers worth 3 billion dollars between clubs in different countries during the transfer window in January.
Michel Platini, president of the European Football Union (UEFA) continues with his plan not to allow any clubs in debt to participate in next season’s European international club championships, but there is a lot of fiddling with the books and we will see how many, if any, clubs will be kept out.