ERIC WEIL’S Bulletin from B U E N O S A I R E S
—– Last season 21,773 teams affiliated to the Argentinian FA played 432,374 matches in 38,552,310 minutes with 563,445 players travelling 9,626,360km across the country.
Interesting figures but the main attention remains focused on most popular Boca Juniors and River Plate although, of the last 14 national championships, Boca have won only two and River one.
These figures do not tell the story that generally Argentinian teams are more intent on not losing than trying to win, helped by the fear of losing by coaches as a few defeats will cost them their job and also helped by referees who do not sanction rough play.
After only six games, three coaches of the 20 top division clubs have already bitten the dust but Boca’s Carlos Bianchi is safe although the club, always expected to fight for the title, are eighth.
Bianchi won many titles with Boca earlier this century but how long will that credit last? Although fans may not agree, he had a better squad in those days. His favourite from that time is still playmaker Juan Román Riquelme, now 35, who has played 368 games and scored 86 goals for them, but is now playing less and less because of injuries.
The other day, he was replaced by international Fernando Gago, Boca’s best buy during the close season, and they (and he) played their best game of the opening tournament.
Talk immediately started about Gago replacing Riquelme permanently but many fans, for whom the latter is a hero, would not hear of it. Nor would Bianchi who will now try to play them both together when Riquelme overcomes his latest injury. Both have different styles but it could work.
Some in the committee were already beginning to question Bianchi’s capabilities and there are still internal rifts among the playing staff, mostly blamed on Riquelme.
Bianchi told Nicolás Blandi – scorer of many vital goals since he became an established first-teamer – that, if he did not score, he would be dropped.
He said it in public and I think this was not correct as it only makes the player nervous. I hope that in private Bianchi, a leading scorer in his time, also gave Blandi some tips. But Boca’s problem is mostly in defence. Apart from static play they have a successor to Rolando Schiavi in Guillermo Burdisso who gives away penalties almost every time he touches the ball.
Luckily for him, and Boca, referees do not see the half of them.
Boca fans are loyal. Other teams generally raise admission prices for their visit. Last weekend lowly Olimpo charged a record 1,000 pesos [£125] yet tickets were snapped up. With visiting fans still barred from matches they go in as neutrals and mix with the locals. No problem.
River Plate are 13th in the table, but with the players they have they should be higher.
It is hard to say what they are playing at under coach Ramón Díaz. If they are playing to score goals, they have netted only five in seven games.
It was always difficult to think of River Plate being all out defenders but they did just that in last week’s 0-0 draw against San Lorenzo which moved them into the semi-finals of the Copa Argentina.
Back door tactic
By winning the trophy, played mostly by reserves, River Plate would enter next year’s Libertadores through the back door. But president Daniel Passarella, after taking over a bankrupt club, is still more interested in winning what he calls the “financial championship”.
Offer him a good price for a player and he will take it. He was already trying to sell one of the latest finds, Colombian defender Eder Balanta, 20, but being little known, Passarella could not obtain the right price in Europe. He did receive an offer for Manuel Lanzini, 29, currently their best player, and is thinking about it.
The latest is that River Plate wanted to bring this weekend’s match against Arsenal forward to gain more rest ahead of next week’s South American Cup match in Ecuador, but the FA said ‘No’ (under government orders) and left the match at 9.15 on Sunday night so it will clash in TV with the programme presented by Jorge Lanata, an arch critic of President Cristina Kirchner.
Truly, a childish reason. Other countries help their teams involved in international cups, even postponing games, but not Argentina. League matches were even played last weekend week-end during the ‘international break’ with several clubs missing key players.
Over in Avellaneda, both big clubs changed coaches with some of the players unhappy about it.
Racing Club (bottom) replaced Luis Zubeldía (youngest top division coach at 32) with Carlos Ischia. Zubeldiá said recently that with their youngsters Racing will be unbeatable soon. The club thought otherwise. They sold some of the youngsters then sacked the coach because they lost their first six games.
That is common thinking here.
If they want to sell their best players to earn cash, OK, but why then talk about winning the championship and sack the coach for not winning?
Independiente are in a worse state financially. No coach wanted to take over the relegated club and Miguel Brindisi was practically forced (with the help of AFA chief Julio Grondona) to take the job. Now they have also fired him unfairly although a poor team had not won in five National B Division matches and were in the relegation zone. Four clubs go down this season.
Apart from all their other financial troubles, Independiente still owe money to six other dismissed coaches for the remainder of their contracts – Cesar Luis Menotti, Daniel Garnero, Antonio ‘Turco’ Mohamed, Ramón Díaz, Cristian Díaz and America Gallego – dating back to 2010.
President Javier Cantero, lonely fighter against hooligans, is being blamed by them for relegation and asked urged to resign. They should all pull together and have longer memories, because it was previous president Julio Comporada and his “administration” who caused the financial debacle and nurtured the club’s hooligan gang.