Any lover of Argentine football will not deny that the game there has its issues.
The vice-like grip of the Barra Bravas is intrinsically linked to administrative corruption throughout the game, and it could be argued that this is the root of all the other controversies; be it violence, or match-fixing.
Due to the nature of these highly-organised and violent groups, there seems to be little that can be done to smash their hold over club presidents, and the fallout of River Plate’s shock relegation has shown that these bands of mercenary hooligans have more power than ever.
Knowing that they would weaken their own political position by attempting to tackle the Barras, the decision-makers within the Argentine Football Association (AFA) have done little to counter the mischievous shadow that they cast over the national game and instead have moved to tackle a significant but far less contentious issue.
The policy of federalización has been a very conscious decision over the past few years to decentralise football in Argentina. In the eighth-biggest country on the planet, the situation last year when just three of the twenty top-flight teams came from outside the capital or surrounding Buenos Aires province is simply ludicrous.
Of course, there are economic and social grounds for this, but last year there was no team from Argentina’s second biggest city; Cordoba, in the Primera División. Historically too, this capital dominance is clear; in the all-time Primera league table only four sides feature – in the top 20 – from outside of Buenos Aires province.
One of the principal efforts to assuage this situation was seen this summer as Argentina hosted the continent’s showpiece tournament – The Copa America. The decision to hold the games all around the country was an attempt to inject much-needed funds into the coffers of clubs across the country and only the final was held within the borders of the capital. From dusty Salta near the Bolivian border to the small city of San Juan near the Chilean Andes, the competition went around the nation and to much praise.
In this 18-24 months of conscious federalisation, one team has come to the fore more than any, in the shape of Godoy Cruz, a team from the Western, wine-growing city of Mendoza. The club is 90 years old, but only found itself amongst the elite of the Argentine game for the first time in 2006. Since then it has grown organically yet impressively into a side that has finished third, fifth and third in its last three campaigns.
Similarly, all four sides promoted to the top flight this June were from the provinces, giving a very different makeup to the league and already allowing the AFA to claim a victory for their policy. The only concern for lovers of the game must be the motives of the rule makers, something highlighted by the plan to expand the top flight to 40-48 teams.
Many saw it as a ploy to manoeuvre River Plate back in the top flight, alternatively it was a safeguard for all of the big five in Argentina, who lurch precariously closer to relegation with each season. Mainly though, it was done for the same reasons as the federalisation policies, being that by currying favour with your constituents by providing them with more cash, it would prove impossible to not be re-elected. As Julio Grondona was inaugurated last month to begin his ninth term as AFA president – having assumed the position in the 1970s – it was more proof that populist polices like this decentralisation will always prevail over tackling the important issues in Argentine football.