The closing championship could see another shift in the balance of power
Any hopes last year’s surprise opening championship winners Banfield may have had of adding this term’s closing title would seem to have disappeared with the departure of striker Santiago Silva.
The 28-year-old Uruguayan scored 14 of their 25 goals in the apertura and, though he said he would have preferred to stay, Silva now links up with Hernan Lopez at Velez Sarsfield. With the added admission from Banfield that the Libertadores Cup is their main priority, the clausura looks wide open this year.
River Plate, Boca Juniors, Independiente, San Lorenzo and Racing Club are all absent from the forthcoming Libertadores so expect them to perform better this time out.
With goals hard to come by in the opening championship, clubs have been looking to sign strikers – though a shortage of domestic forwards means they have had to look at neighbouring countries.
Racing Club signed Claudio Bieler from Sudamericana Cup winners LDU Quito, while San Lorenzo hired Emiliano Alfaro from Uruguay’s Liverpool and River Plate took Rodrigo Rojas from Paraguay’s Olimpia.
The biggest sale so far has seen the departure of Lanus goalgetter Eduardo Salvio to Atletico Madrid for around £7million. Last season Lanus sold the league’s top scorer, Jose Sand, for £6.5m but they have yet to spend any of the money from those sales.
Statistics show that Argentinian clubs sold 393 players to foreign sides in the last decade for approximately £662m. However, that money has done little to help badly administered domestic clubs and their corrupt officials. Take River Plate, who have regularly sold their best players for good fees.
Having failed to qualify for the Libertadores Cup for the first time in 15 years, River’s presidential elections in January were won by 1978 World Cup-winning captain Daniel Passarella. However, he got more than he bargained for when he started opening drawers.
Auditors found that while the club declared debts of £7m at its last AGM, the real debt is more like £25m. Not only that, but the previous committee, under chairman Jose Aguilar, had already collected money from forthcoming television rights and future deals for sponsorship, advertising and 10 rock concerts – in some cases as far ahead as 2014.
Aguilar’s committee also had a closer than usual relationship with the club’s hooligan gang, who were given money from the unpopular sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Real Madrid, in 2007, in return for supporting the deal.
While it remains to be seen whether Passarella will take Aguilar to court, several other newly elected committees are set to take legal action against previous presidents – notably San Lorenzo, Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central – but elsewhere there seems to be an agreement between presidents and ex-presidents, and corruption continues uninterrupted.
There was some good news for River , however, with a 3-1 win over Boca Juniors in a summer tournament in which young strikers Daniel Villalva (aged 17) and Gabriel Funes Mori (18) were the matchwinners.
Boca’s defeat saw coach Alfio Basile leave before the closing championship had even started. Basile, national coach until October 2008, left complaining he could not do anything with the team and he was angry at the lack of reinforcements. Reserve-team boss Abel Alves, who has been first-team caretaker on three occasions, has been appointed coach for the duration of the clausura.
It was rumoured that Boca team manager Carlos Bianchi, their former successful coach who refuses to return to the job, helped push Basile out by putting reinforcements on hold. The day after Basile left, one of the players he had wanted, midfielder Jesus Mendez, was signed from Rosario Central. Boca also wanted to take Fernando Gago back on loan from Real Madrid, but a matter of unpaid taxes in Spain stopped that.
The resignation of Bianchi two days later only serves to highlight how the role of team manager in Argentina has not been properly defined.
Meanwhile, the Argentinian FA has still not confronted many of its most serious problems.
Relegation remains decided by points obtained over the past three seasons, which means clubs finishing mid-table can still go down.
Visiting fans are still not legally allowed to attend lower division matches (though some do manage to get in), and only limited numbers are permitted in the top flight. While this has reduced trouble inside stadiums, the hooligans now fight outside, mostly among themselves.
And, finally, there is still no agreement among clubs about distribution of the TV rights, which should be paid for the next 10 years by a government which has serious financial problems.
Maybe things aren’t going to change much in Argentinian football after all.