Argentine Primera 2011/12 – Season Preview

Yes it’s back! After all of the Copa America action (which technically hasn’t finished as the ball from Elano’s penalty is still travelling through space), the domestic bliss that is the Primera División returns and truth be told, the Boludo is seriously relieved, and  rather looking forward to it.

There are so many ways to do a season preview: team-by-team, just as a huge block of prose, using expressive dance etc. so I’ve decided to do it roughly based on where teams finished in the last Clausura season, grouped together in a careless and whimsical fashion.

The Contenders

Velez won the title by four points and were by far the best team in Argentina over the whole 2010/11 season. They will begin the new season with a weaker squad though, having lost Ricky Alvarez to Inter for a fairly hefty sum, but more importantly, Maxi Moralez to Atalanta. Whilst they have players like David Ramirez in the squad who will soften the blow, they have not made any signings to take the breath away.

Lanus were second but have also lost some key individuals including Hoyos, Pelletieri and Valeri (who hasn’t left yet but definitely will). They’ve been linked with Nacional playmaker Mauricio Pereyra who’d be a great replacement for Valeri but the key thing will be the continued development of young Romero up front. If he keeps on his upward curve, then Lanus will be contenders once more.

It will be tough for Godoy Cruz to improve on their best season ever, but it will rely on how their raft of signings from the lower leagues bed in at the higher level. If one or two turn out to be gems then there’s no reason why they can’t finish in the top 4 or 5 again, and they haven’t lost any key figures of their successful campaign. It’s been a great year for provincial football in Argentina.

The Chasing Pack

Olimpo were a surprise package last season, and were well in the title race for the first half of the Clausura campaign. Rather predictably though, a club of little financial means, they have been fleeced of many of the players that got them there. Gone are Ezequiel Maggiolo and Martin Aguirre amongst a list of 13 departures from the Bahia Blanca club, where new recruits – much like at Godoy Cruz – will have to make the transition from the lower leagues. Expect them to be lower mid-table.

Argentinos conceded just 11 in 19 last season, but only netted 16 times. If they can build on this defence then there’s no doubt that they could be contenders.

Best Of The Rest

Estudiantes had a shocking Clausura when you consider they’d just been so dominant in winning the Apertura title but the fact is that Berizzo never got hold of things in La Plata and with largely the same squad, he just failed to get the results that his predecessor got. They’ve arguably had the most impressive incoming signings of any side in this off-season, so despite losing Enzo Perez and Federico Fernandez, they look set for a return to title challenging. The only concern is new boss Russo, who was frankly unimpressive at Racing.

As you’d expect, Independiente and Racing have both bought well, without losing any vital cogs from their respective machines. Racing have got Diego Simeone in as boss in what I think could be a master-stroke – twinned with the return of the stupendous Gio Moreno, I predict Racing to be top 4, starting slowly and building momentum. The red side of Avellaneda has the players to move up the table, but I begin to wonder if the Turk has done anything in the league to merit still being there?

Boca Juniors have the money to get the right men in, but they won’t win the title – I just refuse to believe they can do it. It’s an ok side, which will win more than it loses but it is nothing more. 4th-8th.

From the rest, the only two clubs I can see surprising are Banfield and San Lorenzo. The former have one of the bright young striking talents in Argentina (Facundo Ferreyra) but Acevedo could be an inspired signing from relegated River, and Eluchans is an exciting prospect. San Lore have a new manager and with that, hope that their already strong squad will be moulded into a team that can at least head for continental qualification.

Down The Bottom

That leaves us with five teams that featured last season but didn’t impress. These could be roughly split into two groups – the ones that will be ok, and the ones that will struggle.

In the primary grouping, I’d place Tigre and Colon. Tigre have held onto goalscorer extraordinaire Denis Stracqualursi, and strengthened well with players like Maggiolo. Colon have brought in two of the most exciting signings of the window, in Chevanton and Tino Costa – both returning from Europe. They have the evergreen ‘Bichi’ Fuertes up front who will score goals as long his legs still carry him, and because of this, I see no way they will finish below mid-table anonymity.

The remaining three are your strugglers. Newell’s are an obvious one given their performances between January and June which barely merit the tag of ‘football’. An utterly hopeless entity that has lost some good talent as well. All Boys and Arsenal both were in the lower reaches of the table and have got weaker squads, therefore it’s kind of logical that they will struggle.

The New Boys

Of course, there are 4 relative unknowns joining the party this year and guessing how well promoted sides will do (apart from ‘not’) isn’t particularly easy. Belgrano have recruited some of the better players to the naked eye but it’s usually the undiscovered gems that come to the fore. Ribair Rodriguez is an excellent midfielder though and with him, I think the Pirates will be the surprise of the promoted sides but I look forward to a renewal of the Santa Fe clasico.

 

Well done for getting to the end, it was tough to write this much when I virtually wanted to say the same about most teams but here’s the entire article in short form.

Most teams weaker than last year but resurgent Estudiantes are my favourites, ahead of Lanus. River probably have the strongest squad in Argentina but will play in the league below. Belgrano will surprise a few people, Racing won’t, by throwing away a great position in a seemingly implausible manner.

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In A League Of Their Own: Argentina To Move To 38-Team Top Flight

As the Argentine Football Association (AFA) met on Monday in Buenos Aires, the main focus for most people was on the future of Sergio Batista following the hosts’ disastrous Copa America campaign.

The eventual decision to discard the national team coach was not the day’s big story in the end, coming after the announcement that the AFA would be moving to a 38-team top flight.

That’s right, 38 teams.

It’s a fairly complex proposal but these things are what we know thus far:

–       There will be two ‘zones’ of 19 teams that will play each other team in their zone once.

–       Each side will play two ‘interzonal’ games in addition. These will only be ‘clasicos’ and will take the total of games up to 20 per team

–       For example, River Plate and Boca Juniors will play in different zones, but will play two ‘interzonal’ fixtures against each other.

–       The best five teams from each zone would then qualify for the ‘championship zone’, with the championship title and Copa Libertadores places up for grabs. The remaining 28 sides will battle it out to avoid relegation and possibly for Copa Sudamericana places.

So the real question is ‘why?’

Many people have suggested this being a response to River Plate’s relegation last season, but that is a fairly irrelevant factor. The above proposals have been ratified as coming into effect for the 2012/13 season, therefore River will play the upcoming season in the ‘B’ regardless. The only positive effect it will have on the ‘millionarios’ is that they will only have a maximum of one season at that level.

The supposed motive for this change is the ‘federalisation’ of Argentine football, as traditionally Buenos Aires has been over-represented in the ‘primera’. This argument holds little water though, as four sides from Greater Buenos Aires – including River – have just been relegated, with four provincial sides replacing them.

Sadly, the real reasons seem to be the most obvious, money and favour. By agreeing this deal, the AFA will more than double their television rights income by starting their own television channel. By giving more money to each club, particularly those from the ‘B’ and the provinces, AFA chief Julio Grondona guarantees himself votes in his upcoming re-election campaign which would extend his reign that began in 1979.

With government support, it is a populist policy that also looks set to favour Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s campaign for a second presidential term in October. Lanús club president Nicolas Russo has said:

“90% of the Primera clubs are not in agreement with the new championship. It is a state policy to federalise football… it is an asserted method for the government to associate itself with Argentine football”

If this is the case, then it exceeds the flagrant electioneering and propagandist policy of ‘futból para todos’. This was when the government took the rights to show football from an unfavoured media group and decreed that from 2009, every Primera Division match should be shown on free-to-air (usually state) television. From March 2010, the only advertising shown during these games was from government agencies.

It’s also worrying that 90% of Primera Presidents opposed it but not one team voted against the proposal, and only 5 abstained. Does this perhaps indicate quite that clubs are too fearful of the consequences of disrupting Grondona’s plans?

Whilst fans all over the country seem to be angered by such radical and unnecessary changes to their league system, it is the regrettable reality that whilst barely a week goes by in Buenos Aires without a protest march of some form or other, it looks unlikely that the supporters of these clubs will protest against the ludicrous impending changes in the only matter that would have any effect, by voting with their feet.

It verges on a level of government intervention that could lead to a suspension by FIFA, but unlike the preposterous interventions by the world governing body in the delicate case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Julio Grondona is so well connected that this will never happen to the Argentines.

Regrettably, we are about to see another example of politics winning over football.

note: this article was penned using the facts available at the time, this competition format may well be subject to change – most likely being either a 36- or 40- team league. 

 

Update 27/7/11: AFA have announced a press conference tonight at 11pm BST where it is expected that the plans will be suspended due to the public outcry over the plans. To be continued….

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New Season Coming

As has been discussed, I have been neglecting the Boludo blog due to commitments elsewhere with FourFourTwo, Valderramarama and a couple of others. Rest assured that for the new season, I shall be covering the Argentine league and Argentine players in Europe on this very page.

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Busy Boludo

Well, the Copa America is bloody flying along and this particular Boludo has more work than you can shake a football-based stick at.

 

For the sort of blog I’d usually put up on here (with less swearing), check out my work for FourFourTwo, the latest of which is here: Going through changes: Fortune favouring the brave at Copa America

 

All the other stuff I’ve been doing has been on Valderramarama, which is a seriously exciting project. The mixture of football and shanter that we like.

 

As soon as the Copa is over, it will be back to normal service, and the transfer round-up and season preview pieces are already in the preparative stage.

 

Until then… be good.

 

Boludo out.

 

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Replacing A Legend: Boca’s Titanic Problem

The title may be some poor word play on the nickname of the Boca Juniors legend, but Martin Palermo, ‘el titan’ is no more.

No, he’s not dead, but he has retired after a career full of barely credible ups and monstrous downs.

However lumbering and immobile he’d become towards the end of his career, he’d still provide the goods for Boca, and in replacing him, Julio Cesar Falcioni has the hardest task of his reign thus far.

Palermo in his Superman cape
It’s the Argentine equivalent of trying to replace Alan Shearer at Newcastle, it’s not just the value the player adds on the pitch, but the idol value that he represents off it.

They called him San Martín, literally Saint Martin. That’s the sort of player that they’re replacing.

It seemed like striker Lucas Pratto could replace him. A similar sort of player and owned by Boca, they had loaned him to Universidad Catolica in Chile with a $2miliion buyout clause. Boca expected him to return, but UC bought him outright, only to sell him to Italian side Genoa just days later.

‘Eternally thank you’ – A tribute to Palermo
With the relegation of River Plate, and the Copa America being hosted in Argentina, the search for the titan’s replacement is actually getting little press coverage at the moment, despite a usually enormous press bias towards the xeneize.

So to beat them to it, here’s a list of possible replacements:

Silvio Romero: a young striker with Lanús, he’s starting getting goals with regularity for a good side.

Facundo Ferreyra: ‘Chuky’ is another player who has started getting goals. A finisher but nothing like the same build as Palermo, he’d be a long-term choice.

Denis Stracqualursi: A lanky player who just scores goals. Once offered to Brighton & Hove Albion but currently at Tigre. Nobody scored more than him in Argentina in 10/11 and his club couldn’t refuse any sizeable bid.

Alejandro Martinuccio: The Peñarol player caught the eye in their run to the Copa Libertadores final. He isn’t a like-for-like replacement but is a player that is supposed to be attracting Boca’s interest. Problem will be if rumoured Brazillian interest comes to fruition, where the money will talk. Fluminense linked.

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Apologies

Having been so busy recently I’ve not been able to blog.

As I’m sure everyone knows, Velez won the title. River are in the promoción, and Racing break their fans hearts again.

More will come soon I promise. Until then, read my article on goal.com about Mauro Boselli My latest piece on @goal_intl is a piece on the troubles of transfers http://bit.ly/mwRxhc

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Brief Preview and Transfer Update

After a busy week, I only have time for a brief piece on the blog today.

Last weekend’s games have had the following outcomes:

– There are (realistically) only two teams left in with a shout of Clausura glory. Lanus are in second and Velez lead the way. Godoy Cruz would need a remarkable turn of events to win it.

– Velez are out of the Copa Libertadores at the semi-final stage, losing to Peñarol in a game not short of drama. Santi Silva, so brilliant this season, skied a late penalty that could have seen them through. Peñarol will play Santos (Brazil).

– River look almost certain to face a relegation playoff. Whilst unlikely to go down, the implication of this is that they will not play in the Copa Sudamericana, even if they qualify through league position. They won’t go down though. I guarantee it.

– Quilmes are down barring a miracle. The other automatic spot will go to Gimnasia or Huracan, Gimnasia’s fixtures are moderately easier so they may escape upwards into the promoción.

– Boca and Arsenal will be chasing Sudamericana places and hoping River are prevented from entering due to the relegation playoffs.

In transfer news, the following moves are confirmed – River Plate’s Mariano Pavone will move to Tijuana in Mexico on a free. They’re a newly-promoted side who are splashing the cash. Estudiantes have sold Enzo Perez to Benfica. He will most likely fill the gap on the right wing that was vacated by fellow Argentine Eduardo Salvio as he returned to Atletico Madrid following the end of his loan spell. Buonanotte of River can’t wait for his Malaga move, his career is really stuck in a rut and it will be make or break for him as he finally gets his chance in Europe. Rinaudo, a combative midfielder, will leave Gimnasia La Plata for Sporting Lisbon.

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The Corruption Paradox: FIFA Sleaze Tops The Bill Whilst Suspected International Match-Fixing Goes Ignored

As the media gathered at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland this week, the army of assembled international journalists seemed for the first time to be holding FIFA to account. Journalists who previously would have been too fearful to upset Sepp Blatter and his media force field for concern that it would adversely affect their careers, were now ridiculing world football’s dictator, answering back, and trying to force him into answering uncomfortable questions.

Predictably, anyone raising awkward issues was swerved and rebuffed, but more than this, they were patronised and disrespected by Blatter whose delusional proclamations about the state of football’s worldwide governing body were as morbidly amusing as they were unconvincing.

The resultant media storm has put pressure on FIFA to reform, it’s made the issue into front-page news with stories about wiping corruption out of the beautiful game and ensuring that those who run it are doing so with the best intentions for the sport, rather than *ahem * anything else.

Curious then, that events of the last couple of years that have seen alarming trends of concerning instances, not in Swiss offices but on the field of play. Yet they have continued to be ignored by the media at large.

The instances in question were described on social network Twitter as ‘flagrant match fixing’ commonly seen in international friendlies, and seems to be once more in evidence this week. The same day in fact, that Sepp Blatter was re-elected unopposed as FIFA president.

The suspicious game this week was “Guinness® The Match – Nigerian Super Eagles vs Argentina” as it was billed on announcement. The press release reads like a nauseating cinematic preview, the hero being Guinness® for “stepping in on behalf of the millions of football loving fans in Nigeria”, and providing them with the “event of a lifetime that no true football fan should miss.”

Interestingly, it goes on to say

“Guinness® has gone even further and created opportunities for the public to be more than just a fan by allowing fans to take part in Guinness® The Match in a unique number of ways. These will include being an assistant coach, official photographer, official TV and radio commentator as well as the chance to get behind the scenes, meet the players and more besides.”

However, to many, it seems that external participation and influence in this game was already far too high.

The game itself was between a strong Nigeria side missing just a couple of first choice players, against an Argentina ‘B’ team. This is the squad that Sergio ‘Checho’ Batista will be calling up for predominantly European based friendlies. It consists of mainly under-25 players who play in Europe and the idea is to give them a first step into international football.

Well, that, and make money. The Argentina name is one that will sell out most games and this was no exception, the money that the Argentine Football Association (AFA) makes from their three teams playing friendlies (the third team being one of domestically based players) is a significant income for the AFA.

With the Copa America squad announced the day prior to this friendly, those left out would be forgiven for feeling demotivated and this was in evidence early on, as Nigeria dominated the game and opened the scoring through Ikechukwu Uche. They scored a second from the spot shortly after when Ibrahim Chaibou, a FIFA-graded referee from neighbouring Niger, gave a penalty against Sevilla defender Federico Fazio for seemingly no reason. At the time it seemed like simply a bad decision, a mistake, but further actions threw events into suspicion.

Nigeria continued to play well, scoring another goal before half time and then one soon after. 4-0 up and cruising, the Nigerians began to enjoy themselves and relax in the knowledge they were beating (in name at least) one of the world’s top sides. Argentina’s players showed little inclination or ability to turn around the result and the game was fizzling out to a quiet finish.

Only it didn’t.

Suspicious betting patterns were rife across the internet, with just a few minutes of normal time remaining, the odds for there to be a fifth goal in the game were odds-on, around the 1.75-1.9 mark (approx. 5/6).

For those not in the know on all matters gambling, these odds are extremely short and were seemingly triggered by a strangely large volume of bets backing there to be another goal.

The referee indicated to the fourth official that there should be five minutes of stoppage time and there were. With minimal further delays, all the Nigeria players seemed slightly bemused as the game seemed to continue past this point.

In the 98th minute, a speculative cross was whipped into the Super Eagles’ penalty area and booted clear comprehensively with no Albiceleste players even in the box.

Whistle.

Penalty.

The reaction from the players was sheer incomprehension, seemingly given as handball with the ball no more than two feet from the ground, spectators gazed around themselves perplexed, hoping somebody else would be able to enlighten them on what they’d missed. As Mauro Boselli’s penalty rippled the back of the net, the final whistle was sounded on a 4-1 victory to the home side, a tremendous result but The Guinness® Match had left a bitter taste.

The thing with betting patterns is that there’s little way to prove when there’s something sinister going on. With the modern betting exchanges, it is a reactionary market and people are always keen to explain anomalies away as nothing of concern. With markets available on penalties, both teams to score, and goals, there are plenty of methods for the unscrupulous punter and their fixers to use.

This isn’t the first time though. In international friendlies, nor with Ibrahim Chaibou.

Chaibou has been refereeing international football since 1996, so is coming towards the end of his career as an official. Curiously though, it’s the third time in his last four friendlies that he’s given two controversial penalties in a game. He officiated South Africa’s 5-1 win over Guatemala where one of the two penalties was simply a ludicrous decision. He also oversaw Ecuador beating Venezuela 4-1 when both penalties came in added time.

In a recent friendly competition hosted in Turkey in front of minimal crowds; Latvia, Bolivia, Estonia and Bulgaria played two games with seven goals. All seven goals came from penalties and even one was retaken when it was missed. Again, these were accompanied by some alarming betting patterns.

Last September, FIFA said it couldn’t formally investigate a friendly between Bahrain and a fake Togo national team because neither federation complained.

Somehow the questions aren’t being asked though. It doesn’t affect England, France, Spain or any of the major nations seemingly so they’re willing to let it pass. Even the Argentine media seem unmoved by what they’ve seen happen to their own team.

There is a lazy argument that in meaningless friendlies like this, all the interested parties make some naughty money but nobody really gets hurt. Regrettably where the game is being brought into such brazen and unashamed dispute, football is getting hurt.

See for yourself (and it must be seen to be believed)

2nd penalty (including match highlights)

 

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Internationality

It’s all kicking off this week and not just with AFA president Grondona calling the English “pirates” and offering us a FIFA vote in return for the Falkalands!

There’s internationals all over the gaff; friendlies versus Nigeria and Poland, but not the first choice Argentine squad. It’s the ‘B’ squad of European-based players who (bar a few exceptions) won’t be playing in the Copa America (squad list released yesterday) and are largely under 25.

I will be doing a piece on the upcoming friendlies soon so won’t go into the ‘B’ team now but here’s your Copa squad. Otamendi is out through injury and major story here is that Tevez and Aguero have patched up differences with Checho, and will now be going to the Copa.

Goalkeepers

Sergio Romero

Juan Pablo Carrizo

Mariano Andujar

Defenders

Gabriel Milito

Ezequiel Garay

Nicolás Burdisso

Nicolás Pareja

Javier Zanetti

Pablo Zabaleta

Marcos Rojo

Emiliano Insúa

Luciano Monzon

Midfielders

Javier Mascherano

Lucas Biglia

Ever Banega

Esteban Cambiasso

Javier Pastore

Diego Valeri

Enzo Pérez

Fernando Gago

Forwards
Lionel Messi

Angel Di María

Gonzalo Higuaín

Sergio Agüero

Ezequiel Lavezzi

Carlos Tevez

Diego Milito

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A quick review of lo que pasó

4 games to go now and our picture of the season is forming in front of our eyes.

The leaders: Velez, another regulation win, this time against Gimnasia. Realistically it was just a professional performance against a sloppy side. Santiago Silva’s goal however, was just exquisite.

The overachievers: Olimpo, still in danger of relegation in the promedios but what we thought was just a good start, has seen the Bahia Blanca outfit as title challengers. Now 5 points off, they’re probably out the picture but they’ve been excellent in the Clausura and a win at Argentinos is just more evidence of their improvement.

The underachievers: Reigning champs Estudiantes have inexplicably (well not quite, you have to look at the change in managers) gone from unstoppable Apertura-winning machine to feeble, stripy outfit in just a matter of months. They were slapping about Huracan on Sunday night, 2-0 up inside half an hour, where the relegation-threatened home side’s fans starting ripping up the stadium and chucking it at the away fans, police, and pretty much anyone in their way. Match abandoned. I can only hope the Pincha get to keep the points.

Down the bottom: Newell’s still bottom but got a win at home to All Boys. An Arsenal side who are just nothing to me, got a 2-2 draw at home to Boca but the away side will be a bit gutted as they could have been in the reckoning for the Sudamericana.

At the top: Godoy Cruz are now 3 points off Velez at the summit due to their failure to win at Banfield. Such a disappointing for the Tomba against such an average outfit. Lanús continue to impress, smashing Tigre in their own backyard. A hat-trick from young striker Silvio Romero, who is really making a name for himself since signing from lower league Instituto (Alejandro Faurlin’s old club). River drew the clasico at home to San Lore and that puts them out the title chase really.

And the rest: The two Avellaneda sides are now tied on points following Racing’s loss at Quilmes, something absolutely unthinkable just a few months ago (although Academia fans will tell you nothing is ever predictable with Racing). Independiente got a win however, as Colon’s bafflingly good away form has started to disintegrate and the hideous horse that is Silvera, got a goal.

So that’s that. Fire me some questions if you wish.

Be good.

Boludo.

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