Nicolás Miremont –
As always in Argentina politics have dominated the start of the football season. But at least the Argentine league avoided ceasing to exist yet again, and although all the facts suggest that this season will be no different, there are some things which are worth a read if you enjoy following one of the craziest leagues in one of the most bizarre countries in the world.
In Argentina politics always dominate football
As you may have already read in FutebolCidade’s previous articles regarding Argentina, politics, and football, 2016 has not been the best of years for Argentine football. In fact, it hasn’t been the best of years for the country either. We are currently living in a place that keeps moving only because of inertia, since there are no more funds and investments are still far away from our coffers.
A drastic change of political thought has exposed the level of corruption in which football had been involved for the past ten years under Julio Grondona, the former president of the AFA.
Argentina’s President, Mauricio Macri, has promoted the end of the AFA’s affiliation with the government, as the state was unhappy with AFA’s mounting debt and the disappearance of money through back channels. The AFA has now been told that the state has no interest in ever again supporting or funding such a corrupt institution.
This break-up caused big repercussions though, the first was the end of the Futbol For Everyone program. The idea of an independent Super League generating more income sounds way better for almost everyone. This is a perfect example of the progressive end of corrupt populism in Argentina (fingers crossed). The country clearly has more important priorities.
Back to the AFA which, drowning in debt and unworthy of anyone’s trust, gathered some capable leaders and formed a normalizing committee after being cornered by the justice system and FIFA at the same time. One of them wanting to imprison everyone, and the other trying to avoid a collapse, which would have resulted in the public exposure of rather suspicious activities. I will let you guess as to who was who.
This normalizing committee is still operating, and has already achieved its three objectives: the designation of a new national team manager, signing a profitable television deal, and getting the league going. Nevertheless, this means that no improvements have been made, for these are tasks which should have been completed months ago.
Where is my Super League?
Despite of all the fuss about the government stopping funding of the AFA, only a couple of days ago, the state agreed to provide money for one last season. Although the Super League has already been approved, it won’t start just yet, for the process required to change the existing format of the league in FIFA’s registrations would have taken too long. The Super League will start next season, after a three-month-long break.
This basically means that all the initial fervor showed by the government has been blocked by the political risk of leaving the Argentine population without football for an entire season. The organization of the sport will remain tax-funded for another year, and most of the population seems to be in agreement. Problem solved…
The domestic cup, a top priority for the least expected teams
Argentina’s domestic cup is a nation-wide competition which aims to include the greatest number of professional teams possible. It is played throughout the regular season and shares some similarities with most of the local cups around the globe; small teams get to take on their country’s most prestigious clubs, with the potential of a small club becoming giant-slayer.
It was re-launched in 2011 as a remake of the 1969 Copa de la República (Republic’s Cup) that was only played once under the name of Copa Argentina. One of its core propositions is to take the most popular teams to the more unknown corners of the country, so that everyone gets the chance to see their idols play in the flesh at least once.
Of course, the organisation is not always perfect and sometimes two teams that can barely pay for the transportation are forced to take 1500km trips to places where, you guessed it, no one has ever heard of them before. Furthermore, in many cases, the stadiums in the backcountry of Argentina are in terrible condition that barely allow for professional football.
But since everything is dreadfully organised in Argentina, this is just standard and I’m honestly hoping for this situation to change for I really enjoy this competition.
Now, on to the important stuff. The Copa Argentina has been very important to middle table clubs because being its champion used to mean direct qualification to the Copa Sudamericana. Thus, teams like Huracán have had the chance of entering this prestigious continental competition.
After recent modifications, the Copa Argentina now rewards its champion with a place in the Copa Libertadores play-offs. This much more tempting prize has raised the level of attention this domestic challenge usually gets.
If we take a look at last year’s podium, only one of the big five is playing next year’s Copa Libertadores: San Lorenzo, who earned second place in last year’s championship. The remaining three are Lanús, the current champion; Estudiantes and Godoy Cruz, third and fourth respectively. This edition has become a hot topic in the media and, although every big team tries to hide it, it is no secret that they are desperate to win this competition. It is the only way that one of them can play the Copa Libertadores.
The Copa Argentina is currently in its second round. Some surprises have already taken place as Independiente were knocked out by Defensa y Justicia, and this year’s dark horse, Juventud Unida from Gualeguaychú, advanced to the quarterfinals.
It will surely be an entertaining affair, for more you can always visit http://www.futbolparatodos.com.ar/ in order to check the dates and streaming links!
The return of away fans to stadiums
This season might finally see the return of the visiting crowds to the First Division; the agency in charge of preventing violence in football has stated, “It has begun, but will be a slow process.” The need for a more elaborate logistics plan was highlighted with the statement, “There is no need for more police officials, its the logistics we have to work on.”
Wait. Return you say? Yes, for those of you who might not know about this situation, I will explain. Back in 2013, a series of riots, fights, clashes between Barras (ultras) and the police and a general state of havoc which had been going on for years on and off the pitch in Argentina culminated in the death of a Lanús fan, who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by the police in a match between his team and Estudiantes de La Plata.
The event surprisingly concerned the authorities, who after a decade of uncontrolled violence and mafias that did what they pleased damaged the reputation of the sport, took action and made it illegal for away fans to travel with their clubs.
As expected, this measure caused anger, indignation, considerable loss of attendance, income (especially for small clubs), and didn’t eliminate the source of violence in football.
Back to the present, it is a significant step in the right direction if the authorities are able to prevent more tragedies. Argentine football has always been known for its passion, the colourful shows and tifos and our atmosphere in general. The removal of this extreme measure has to occur if Argentine football wants to bounce back as one of the best in the world.
In addition to the visitors’ return, a new security system has been implemented. It’s called Tribuna Segura (Safe Stands), and basically looks to provide the security staff with more information on the person they have just let in. Fans now must show their ID card prior to entering the stadium and, if there is an arrest warrant or if the subject is, for any reason, banned by the club, the person will not be allowed to enter the grounds.
Even though it has only been implemented in the capital, this system was already proved useful when five ultras were not allowed at the stadium after this software signalled an existing ban on them.
The normalizing committee is doing everything wrong
The current AFA President, Armando Pérez, won’t be remembered as the best-ever head of the organization. In fact, he seems to be doing everything he can to hurt the reorganisation of football. So far, the normalizing committee has failed to implement almost every direct order from the government.
First of all, they didn’t provide the second division with the funds they had agreed upon back in August. Some days later, the government established cheaper fares for both security and transportation which were not put into practice by the new AFA.
The normalizing committee is turning into an independent entity that is not willing to fulfil its original purpose which is to organise the AFA’s finances and call for new elections. This has only made the differences between Mauricio Macri’s political orientation and the ideas within the AFA even more evident.
Because of the lack of funds, most of the teams will not be able to pay for the rent of their stadiums, the cost of transportation (the Federal league format forces smaller teams to make exhausting efforts when it comes to playing away from home, sometimes at opposite ends of the country) and security. It is a situation which motivated some leaders and players to join the #NoMatenAlAscenso campaign (“Don’t terminate the lower leagues”).
Although Armando Pérez has already asked the teams for patience, the second division has had enough and are launching a strike this weekend. Not a single B Nacional match will be played for an indefinite period of time. Will this cause a domino effect on the rest of the lower leagues? We shall see.
Argentina won’t be better overnight
These things only go to show that fixing our country will not be as easy as Macri promised. Investments need to be backed by a trustworthy environment, and there are many groups that, ironically, would be boycotted. Why? Well, investment requires sustained improvement, increased effort, and risk taking—and not everyone is willing to take those steps.
Why would they anyway? Everyone enjoyed free services and resources while the country became more and more miserable; nobody ever cared about what was happening or where that money was going. Now that the welfare state is no longer in power, making humble families and corrupt leaders work in order to generate resources without the state financing everything is no piece of cake.
You might ask what those second tier clubs were doing to sustain their institutions the last ten years when they did not lodge a single complaint. Did they try to attract investments, gain associates, or enhance their overall situation? Sadly—no. Did the new government take away their fortunes? Not really, they have always been poor and mediocre. They just enjoyed being given funds for doing absolutely nothing—and that is the reason for their strike. If, up to this point, you did not understand why I was being so critical about everything, now I’m sure you do.
Eight months have passed since the presidential elections, and our suspicions are all starting to be confirmed: separating football from power and its political influence might not be possible.
What we can expect from this season
Apart from the crisis, Argentine football is still amongst the best in the world. Our league has become very competitive and the addition of talented stars like Carlos, Tévez, Andrés D’Alessandro, Fernando Belluschi or Tino Costa only makes it more interesting.
This year will be tough for all of them as the Copa Libertadores becomes everyone’s top priority. If you are an avid football fan, I can assure you this season will contain as many thrills and as much entertainment as the last two combined.
Don’t forget you can watch almost every match live and for free (at least for now), so don’t hesitate and visit http://www.futbolparatodos.com.ar/.
Nicolás Miremont is a born and raised Boca Juniors fan, but his heart has a special place for Manchester United, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev. Miremont loves to support the underdogs. Miremont enjoys watching smaller competitions especially those from Eastern Europe, but also his native Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @Miremont_Nico