Tomorrow evening, an Argentina side comprised of only domestic-based players will take to the field for a friendly against Ecuador. There is no international break, no prospect of calling up players from Europe (as the clubs wouldn’t have to release them and thus, certainly wouldn’t) and it also clashes with Copa Libertadores and Argentine Premier League games, so what is the purpose?
Behind La Seleccion’s star-studded line-up, and Sergio Batista’s under-25, European-based side, this domestic team is essentially Argentina C. The development of the national game will benefit, surely, from having such strength in depth? After all, no other nation has had so many different players representing their flag in the last twelve months.
This argument has legs. After all, in the worst of injury crises, Batista would be able to call upon players with international experience where other nations could only draft in unproven players, and where many players have faltered on the step-up, it could be argued that these locally-sourced players would have made at least more progress than their international counterparts.
Where this falls down though, is that the players picked for this squad are unlikely to ever be in this situation. Whilst a couple of them have already been to Europe and returned without success, this side has an average age of 24 and few seem likely to move to Europe, let alone impress enough to make the grade alongside Messi, Higuaín and co. Added to which, there is little similarity between top grade international fixtures, and games played in small, provincial grounds, against weak sides comprised of the Panamanian leagues elite.
More alarmingly, this side fails to pick some of the most impressive players in La Primera. Top-scorer of the Apertura and currently leading marksman in the Clausura, Denis Stracqualursi is inexplicably overlooked; Javier Cámpora of Huracán and Chicho Maggiolo of surprise package Olimpo have also been passed over for selection.
The disappointing aspect of these decisions is one that consistently we see with matters regarding the AFA. The lower-profile but higher-performing players are overlooked for politicial and commercial reasons, a juxtaposition given that this is notionally a squad for developing the future Argentine internationals. Tigre forward Stracqualursi has scored more goals in the Clausura than the total of the four selected forwards but what Traca doesn’t offer is the draw of being a Boca Juniors forward.
By far Argentina’s biggest club, Boca Juniors are the most represented side in Wednesday’s squad, despite a fairly disastrous campaign. Their only real performer has been the aging Riquelme who is not featured in the selection. The popularity of these players will inevitably bring higher crowds, and crucially, the dollar signs that the AFA so desperately crave. The fact that Alex Ganly, director of the AFA’s commercial agent talks about these friendlies as “commercially… a good product” tells much of the attitude towards them from above.
With added political interest from the President herself (whose speech was broadcast live prior to the friendly against Venezuala last month), these friendlies seem to reflect a depressingly repetitive trait of the Argentine decision-makers, the vested interest, and one that is unlikely to disappear shortly.