ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s 2013-14 Final Championship has just begun and will finish earlier than usual in mid-May, because of this year’s World Cup in Brazil but fans should not expect any other changes.
Two well-known soccer critics summed up the Initial Championship as the worst in memory: more related deaths than ever, heavier club debts (and no rich owners as in Europe to cover them), technical faults and lack of clear concept; nobody really won it (San Lorenzo “lost it a bit less than others”); hooligans did not take a holiday – there were incidents at most summer “friendlies” and the rough play did not take a holiday either with referees being blind to it as usual.
It was reported that 120,000 people saw the three friendly Boca-River matches live during the 15 days they were played in summer.
Fans of both teams were allowed into stadiums in Mar del Plata, Córdoba and Mendoza though security authorities have decided to continue to keep away fans out of stadiums at least until the middle of the year in the championship, although this is no solution of the hooligan problem.
They also said that the ban would continue until the AFAPlus ticket system, first announced in 2007, is working. Boca Juniors and Vélez Sarsfield meanwhile start the championship playing home matches in empty stadiums due to sanctions imposed last year.
Now the Argentine Football Association (AFA) blames the delay on the Buenos Aires Capital, where only one club (All Boys) has built the system to work it.
Several clubs are waiting for work permits, but do not seem to be in a hurry, but these are also held up by clubs owing taxes and also have no money for building modifications needed. Others complain they lose out by not being allowed to sell tickets to visiting fans (although they do).
Meanwhile, Boca Juniors and River Plate are two of the clubs who are against the AFAPlus system. Are they afraid it will keep their beloved hooligans out?
The transfer window, which already closed in Europe at the end of January, is open here until this evening, but it is already evident that there has not been too much movement, perhaps because of the AFA rule, which this time apparently will be enforced, that clubs owing their players money, cannot play any newly-signed players. Two weeks ago, it was mentioned that local clubs, who long lived from the sale of players abroad, only collected just over 4 million dollars in sales.
There was not too much activity in the local transfer market either — clubs can only sign two new players in January, or a third to replace a seriously injured player — nor a lot of money changing hands either, but then there isn’t any and a lot comes from sponsors-investors.
The exception was Initial Championship winners San Lorenzo who seem to have cash and/or investors.
Apart from preventing some of their leading players leaving although they had offers from abroad — which other clubs and players cannot resist — they acquired leading scorers Nicolás Blandi from Boca Juniors and Mauro Matos from All Boys plus Colombian international defender Carlos Váldez. Take a bet on their winning the Final Championship also, although their main goal seems to be the Libertadores Cup.
There is a question mark against most popular Boca Juniors, its coach Carlos Bianchi and the committee. They continue to make serious mistakes. Letting Blandi go was one and selling him to make a rival stronger was another.
Yet another bad mistake by Bianchi was not to accept an offer to sign international Banega because, he said he had Gago and Riquelme in similar midfield positions. And if they get injured? Both Riquelme and Gago were doing light training this week because of physical problems.
Talking of injuries, players were complaining they were driven too hard in training and trying out a new system with the start of the championship only a few days away.
That could be another reason for last year’s record 63 injuries to Boca players – and they have already suffered five this year and there is general discontent among the players. Six left because they wanted to – defender Matías Caruzzo, midfielders Ribair Rodríguez, Leandro Paredes and Jesús Méndez and striker Franco Cangele apart from Blandi. Boca had defensive problems last year and their January reinforcements were two defenders, Grana and Forlin, but they did not look all that good in friendly games. A late signing was midfield/defender Diego ^Perotti from abroad.
Bianchi prides himself that almost 60pc of the first team squad started at the club’s junior divisions. That is the way and Boca has always had good junior divisions and so has River Plate who have most players in the U-20 national team squad.
As for River Plate, new president D’Onofrio is taking what he calls the club´s financial “disaster” seriously.
Striker Cavenaghi, dismissed by Daniel Passarella, the previous president, returned and at River they always expect a lot, perhaps too much, for former returning players. They would have liked to bring back striker Scocco from Inter Porto Alegre, even on loan, but D’Ónofrio said they cannot pay for any players unless they can get some money by selling players.
But the AFA could try and organize this championship better without changing starting times at the last moment and playing matches at times also convenient for fans, not only TV. After this weekend, we should have a better idea of what is in store.