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Inside FutbolInside Futbol

Argentina

Big Five Need Strong Showing in Apertura




In the first 36 years following the formation of a professional league in 1931 only five teams won the Argentine Primera Division title. River Plate, Boca Juniors, Racing Club, Independiente and San Lorenzo carved out a reputation as the big five, the most revered teams in the country, a hegemony that was not broken until Osvaldo Zubeldia’s Estudiantes bruised their way to victory in the 1967 Metropolitano.

Although in the following years the titles have been spread far more evenly, the big five still maintain a certain lustre – despite Velez Sarsfield now having won the same number of domestic titles as Racing Club it would be a struggle to find many that would argue them to be a bigger club. But after three consecutive tournaments in which teams from outside the big five have taken home the title, there is a genuine feeling that it is time for one of the big guns to step forward and reassert their standing, else risk the balance tipping towards the historically less prestigious sides.

As an indication of the scrutiny under which the big five fall from their supporters and the media alike, none of the five coaches that will take charge of the sides in the upcoming Apertura tournament held the same position this time last year. River and Independiente have each changed coach once, San Lorenzo twice, and Boca and Racing three times apiece. Life on the bench of one of the big five is rarely a easy ride.

Of all the big five, it is the traditionally most successful – at least domestically – who have fallen the furthest in the last couple of years. River Plate are 33 times league champions, but go into the Apertura facing the real danger of being relegated from the professional top flight for the first time in their history. Only the three promoted sides sit below them in the table of averages that decides the three relegation candidates and with an average of just 1.105 points per game, vast improvement is required.

Luis Cesar Menotti devotee and general football aesthete Angel Cappa is the man charged with producing that improvement and if pre-season is anything to go by River are in good shape not just to avoid relegation but to possibly mount a challenge for the title. Nine new players have arrived at El Monumental since the end of the Clausura, among them some solid acquisitions in defence and midfield. With Ariel Ortega and Diego Buonanotte providing the chances for Mariano Pavone and the ever improving Rogelio Funes Mori to fire home, River will certainly be an attractive side to watch. With so much at stake, Cappa and their supporters alike will hope they can also be an effective one.

 

The ongoing saga of Juan Roman Riquelme’s contract renewal has been the central focus of Boca Juniors’ preparation for the upcoming season, a tiresome game of cat and mouse that looks finally to have come to an end with the two sides agreeing on a four-year extension. Experienced heads Sebastian Battaglia and Martin Palermo have also extended their contracts and are joined by six new signings, with a couple more likely to follow.

New coach Claudio Borghi comes to La Bombonera fresh from leading Argentinos Juniors to the 2010 Clausura title and has moved immediately to address the defensive shortcomings that saw Boca finish 16th in the same tournament. Ever loyal to the 3-4-1-2 formation that also brought him success with Colo Colo in Chile, three of his new signings are centre backs, including Matias Caruzzo, who was instrumental in Argentinos’ title success.

With Riquelme likely to miss the first few games through injury, the responsibility to be the ‘1’ in behind the front two could fall to the inexperienced Marcelo Canete, who has been very impressive in pre-season. If he proves to be an able replacement and Boca can get off to a good start they have to be considered among the favourites for the title, especially taking into account their lack of continental distractions.

For the first time in a few years Racing enter the Apertura without the burden of potential relegation hanging over them. Coach Miguel Angel Russo took charge in February this year, leading La Academia to eight wins, two draws and five defeats in the remaining games of the Clausura and has made some promising additions to his squad in the off-season.

Patricio Toranzo, so impressive for Huracan over the last year and a half, will add some quality to midfield and already looks to a have struck up a promising rapport with Colombian playmaker Giovanni Moreno, another new recruit. With defensive midfielder Claudio Yacob growing in stature with each passing tournament and Claudio Bieler and Gabriel Hauche up front, Racing could be a good outside bet for the title. Whatever the outcome, there is sure to be less doom and gloom at El Cilindro than has been present in recent years.

Racing’s Avellaneda rivals Independiente neglected to renew the contract of Americo Gallego, despite him leading them to two consecutive fourth place finishes, and have instead bet on the fresh perspective offered by their former playmaker Daniel Garnero, in only his second coaching position. Gallego’s relative success was tempered by his reluctance to take full advantage of a promising generation of young players in whom Garnero is likely to place greater trust.

The likes of Adrian Gabbarini, Federico Mancuello, Patricio Rodriguez and Hernan Fredes are the ones most likely to benefit from Garnero’s approach, their roles especially vital due to the departures of Leonel Nunez, Dario Gandin and Ignacio Piatti, all regulars in the last campaign. Asking for instant success is perhaps a tad unfair, but over time Independiente will be hopeful their new found faith in youth will pay dividends.

San Lorenzo have endured the most difficult off-season of all the big five, despite snaring the experienced Ramon Diaz, author of their last league success in the 2007 Clausura, as coach. Diaz has quickly realised that this is a very different San Lorenzo to the one he led to glory three years ago, with transfer funds much harder to come by.

There was talk that he was considering walking out earlier in pre-season, such was his frustration at the lack of reinforcements, but the situation appeared to have improved when a few signings in quick succession followed, as did encouraging friendly results. However, since then attacking midfielder Alejandro Gomez has been sold to Catania in Italy, leaving Diaz to once again ponder whether he made the right decision in returning to El Ciclon. Of all the big five, San Lorenzo look the least likely to return the former glories any time soon.

 

Published: Wednesday, 4th Aug 2010