While the problems of River Plate run deep (see previous Dispatch) the situation at their great rivals Boca Juniors is not much better.
By Eric Weil in Buenos Aires
Boca may be a better run club, but their problems are similar in many respects. Boca Juniors won this season’s opening championship but are likely to finish mid-table in the current closing championship. While River failed to get past the first stage of the current Libertadores Cup, Boca fared little better, going out in the second round.
Financially, Boca face similar problems to River. Their status in the Argentinian game means they earn more revenue than most other clubs. Yet they still have too many people on their playing staff. The sheer numbers coming through their junior teams means they must either release most youngsters or sell them – and they often sell the wrong ones.
This season Boca sold many experienced reserves and when trying to reserve their best players for Libertadores Cup play, they dropped down the closing tournament league table.
More youngsters want to play for Boca than any other club and I once took a boy to one of their trials. He was not even given a trial because he was a defender and the coach said he already had enough defenders. Those allowed to play were given a short time on the field and then told either to go home or come back next week. Some selection process! Quite a number of those rejects then went to smaller clubs and made good.
A recurring problem at Boca are the rifts between different groups of players. Certain older players are given privileges; midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme., for example, earns far more than the rest.
Another problem is they are now keeping veterans in the team past their sell-by date. An example is striker Martin Palermo, the club’s all-time leading scorer with over 200 goals, who was never very fast and now slows down the attack.
Boca were the first club to announce this year that they would cutting player contracts. Yet they also became one of the first top division clubs to engage a highly-paid manager to work alongside the coach. He is none other than their former title-winning coach, Carlos Bianchi, but so far his presence does not seem to have changed things.
The club also has a notorious hooligan gang, but while its members may not get so much from the club as at River Plate (apart from free tickets to sell) they say they are protected by club officials, police and the courts, although a former leader and some of his lieutenants are currently in jail.
Boca Juniors may be Argentina’s most popular club but their stadium, holding 55,000, is too small. It has been refurbished several times, but is still not ideal, with steep and high stands, and making it all-seater would reduce capacity to under 40,000. It cannot be enlarged in a populated area and a plan to share a larger stadium with River Plate was strongly rejected by members of both clubs.
With so many mistake committed by the clubs’ leaders in recent years, it is hard to see either Boca or River winning the title in the near future.