ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: Popular opinion suggests the current championship is of better quality than for many a long day – and that means not only leaders River Plate.
Fans are seeing more passing, more goals, more ideas and better team structures; next year’s oversized 30-club tournament can only stop the improvement.
But while the football is better, organisation is worse. The Argentinian football association has just decided that the 30-club top division will go ahead, starting on February 15, but not how it will be played.
Several clubs were against it from the start but did not want to line up against the wishes of then president Julio Grondona. Why? Perhaps because Grondona, who died in July on returning from the World Cup, used to lend them money or advance it from TV rights. Also, perhaps because it would be unhealthy for any club to defy him.
Now that he has gone, after 35 years at the helm, the clubs are seeking to undo many of his flawed ‘achievements’ such as the AFAPlus ticket system which could have stopped black market ticket sales but not shut out the hooligans (Clubs would have included their ‘official’ hoolgans among fans registered for AFAPlus).
AFAPlus, devised back in 2007, was never really put into effect and now has been sdelined, probably for ever.
Lately the target has been the 30-club tournament.
Three big club presidents – Boca Juniors’ Angelici, River Plate’s D’Onofrio and San Lorenzo’s vice-president Marcelo Tinelli who kept their mouths shut under Grondona – cornered the AFA’s interim president, Luis Segura, this week to demand changes.
They want to play from August to June to coincide with the European season and its transfer window so they are not forced to sell and rebuild their squads and teams halfway through the campaign.
Even Grondona’s arrangement with the government in 2009 to pay much more for TV rights than had private company Torneos y Competencias was not a success. The clubs just spent more and fell more deeply into debt.
Basically, Boca wants another short tournament – in two groups of 15 – during the first half of 2015 and to start a new tournament in August.
But Vélez Sarsfield vice-president Julio Baldomar – from a club which always opposed Grondona – expressed the opinion of most clubs (except the 10 now contesting promotion): “A 30-club tournament makes no sense and financially it will not suit anybody.”
So what to do with the 10 clubs now chasing promotion to the top division. One idea is to relegate four clubs and promote only two for the next five years to return to the original 20 top division clubs, but that means five more years of a problematic championship.
Grondona said that the tournament would be financed by more money from the government for TV rights and online betting. However online betting has not yet been authorised and, in any case, there was no company to organise it except Cristobal López, the casino kingpin who was offering the AFA only 11pc.
As for TV, the President’s son, Maximo Kirchner, head of La Campora, offered an extra £30m on condition that the likes of Tinelli, presently the AFA’s communications chief, or Sebastián Verón should be prevented from seeking the AFA presidency or other senior positions.
La Campora wants its own people in charge of the AFA as its wants in other key spheres.
Yet how can he offer £30m of public money for which the government had not budgeted – a government which still owes the AFA a chunk of this year’s £141m.
Kitchner prefers Grondona people in leading positions but wants the AFA to limit presidential terms to four years.
Referee who paid the penalty . . .
The scandal of Andrés Merlos adding an extra minute so Lanús could beat Arsenal, is still bubblng.
The referee was handed an indefinite suspension by the AFA and removed from its international list. But Arsenal’s president, Julio Grondona Jn, is unlikely to have the result changed though this has happened on occasions in the past.
So many crucial refereeing mistakes are made that a result change for Arsenal would encourage a host of other clubs to press for the same or a replay.
Mauricio Pellegrino, the coach of Estudiantes de La Plata, said he once heard a referee say that if he made a mistake against River Plate or Boca he would be sent to officiate in provincial minor leagues.
Other people see it differently.
It’s popuarly supposed that River Plate are benefiting in their title chase from refereeing decisions as well as the advantage of always playing the second leg at home in knock-out cup games.
Merlos’s heavy punishment is suspected in some quarters to hae been because he helped Lanús – River’s closest rivals – to keep up the pursuit.
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