Argentinean league football is back, back, back. Or is it? A financial feud has not been solved throwing everything into turmoil
All you need to get up-to-date with the Argentine football restart
There is rarely a dull day in Argentine football and this summer has proved no different despite there being no competitive action since before Christmas. Amid chaos at the Argentine Football Association, unpaid television money, FIFA threats over early elections and a delayed restart, Argieball has somehow managed to further muddy its already soiled reputation.
So when does it all kick off?
Well, that’s the million dollar question, or the 350 million peso question to be more precise. Even as I write this, a little over 24 hours before the first match is supposed to start, there is a back and forth between the AFA and the players’ union regarding a possible strike.
The season should have resumed at the beginning of February but here we are a month on and there is still no obvious solution to the problems.
And what is that problem?
In a nutshell, the previous Argentine government used to pay a considerable sum for their ‘Futbol Para Todos’ scheme, which broadcast the football free-to-air. The new government doesn’t want to spend that money and have scrapped the scheme and have held off paying the 350 million pesos that was due to the clubs (until a day before the proposed restart).
The result being many clubs have struggled to pay bills and so postponed the original start date and when this weekend rolled around, the players’ union also voiced their concern over unpaid salaries and said until debts are cleared, there will be no football.
To which the AFA have replied, any clubs that don’t play will be fined and/or docked points. Nice.
Is that all?
No, it’s Argentine football.
The misappropriation of funds and a bungled election means a FIFA normalisation committee oversees the goings on and they’re currently none too happy with the AFA going off-piste with their plans for an early election.
Oh, and if you hadn’t noticed from the league table there are thirty (yes, thirty) teams in the top flight and when we do finally get back underway, the Primera season is currently at the halfway point rather than the start of one of two short seasons held each year.
Ok, so suppose kick off goes ahead this weekend, who is at the top of the tree?
The team to beat are Boca Juniors and not just because it’s Boca and they’re arguably the biggest club in the country but because Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side are currently three points clear.
After a slow start, Boca gradually moved through the gears and didn’t lose again since the opening weekend. Without any distraction of continental football in 2017, Los Xeneizes are without doubt the team to beat but they must maintain their form without Carlos Tevez.
The talismanic forward departed for China shortly after his virtuoso performance in the superclasico and victory over River Plate and now Boca must find a way of filling the void.
Who are the main challengers?
Hotly in pursuit are Newell’s Old Boys and San Lorenzo, the latter of which is not too surprising given their talented side and the fact that they were runners-up last season but the former have defied the odds to mount a title challenge.
Few would have fancied Newell’s at the start of the season after just three wins in the previous championship but Diego Osella has made La Lepra tough to beat and in the experienced Maxi Rodriguez, Ignacio Scocco and Mauro Formica there is enough creativity and guile to cause problems.
Estudiantes were the early front runners but tailed off with three defeats in the final four matches of 2016. Nelson Vivas’ well-drilled side remain a threat if they can rediscover that form and level with them are another surprise package in Banfield.
Title-winning coach Julio Cesar Falcioni returned to the club at a time when relegation looked more likely than a trophy tilt but has turned El Taladro around. A couple of big name departures over the summer may make it difficult for Banfield to maintain their position.
Current champions Lanus and then a little further back the rest of the traditional big five sit hoping to make up ground. River Plate’s focus will be on the Copa Libertadores while Racing and Independiente have both undergone managerial changes to spark an upturn in form.
And at the other end of the table?
In a typically complicated manner, there is no other end of the table when we talk about relegation, there is simply another table.
Relegation in Argentina is decided by an average point system taken over the three previous seasons, which in theory protects the big boys but has still claimed River Plate and Independiente in recent years.
This season the competition is even more fierce given the AFA are gradually trying to cut the thirty team Primera and in doing so increasing the number of relegation spots to four.
The two biggest names currently sweating just outside the drop zone are Huracan and Velez Sarsfield but any four from about ten are still in danger.
Atletico de Rafaela, Temperley, Sarmiento and Olimpo currently occupy the bottom four and all have plenty to do but don’t be surprised to see Arsenal sucked further into the mire.