ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: Marcelo Gallardo has had to take the flak as the dust settled after for River Plate’s narrow double failure to win both Argentina’s national championship and Copa Sudamerica within days of each other.
Racing Club won the championship after being hardly in anybody’s reckoning earlier in the season.
Gallardo, one of the younger generation of coaches, was praised to high heaven for River Plate’s beautiful game earlier in the season. To be fair, he had been handed a potential champion team by Ramón Díaz who left surprisingly after taking the team to the 2013-14 Clausura title.
The former Boca and Argentina schemer tried to put out his strongest team in every match to win both the titles in the same week. Naturally, the players grew leg-weary, so he thought it better to field a weakebed team into a championship match three days before the cup final first leg.
That was his fatal mistake.
Gallardo lined up a reserve team against Racing Club who had been closing in on the leaders and when River lost 1-0 their title chance went with it.
A few days later, River won the cup against Atletico Nacional but could not overtake Racing in their last league match. Clearly Gallardo should have rested players and rotated earlier in the season.
River played a passing game with rotation, pressing, bursts of speed, but nothing complicated. Psychologist Sandra Rossi worked with the squad to strengthen concentration and much of their play was up to the standard of a Real Madrid.
Complaints that River were favoured by referees and the authorities may have been justified but they also suffered more than any other club from international calls. These came not from Argentina but from other South American countries and saw River penalised by the AFA policy of playing league games during an international window.
Overall the National A Division transition tournament was the best in quality for years. One could see more passing, better goals and ideas as well as more attack-minded play – and not only from River Plate.
The absence of relegation points may have had something to do with it, but it would not explain the improvement alone.
Unfortunately, the continued exodus of leading players and especially the upcoming 30-club championship is likely to lower the standard again but this is what the gamne has to suffer under the self-destructive Argentinian football association (AFA).
Key players for Racing were Ricardo Centurion, Gustavo Bou and Diego Milito who returned from Europe at 35 and still showed international class. Then there was goalkeeper Diego Saja who helped in Racing’s late surge to stay unbeaten for 674 minutes.
What stood out was the good behaviour of celebrating Racing fans at the Obelisk compared with the rabble of celebrating Boca Juniors and River Plate fans on other occasions.
Racing also boasted another coach of the younger generation in Diego Cocca, 47, who had promoted Defensa y Justicia with good soccer the previous season.
Independiente were the surprise team by finishing fourth after barely managing to qualify for promotion back to the top division. A change of leadership had something to do with it because the unpaid players got their money.
The AFA wants Boca Juniors and Vélez Sarsfield to play off for a place in next year’s Copa Libertadores because the clubs had the same number of points in 2014. Vélez claim they had the better goal difference; Boca found another rule in their favour. The dispute goes on.