“It was just a chat, not a confrontation,” Boca Juniors striker Darío Benedetto told the press yesterday, speaking about what he was trying to portray as a casual get-together between the leaders of Boca’s barras bravas (as organized hooligans are known in Argentina), who go by the name La Doce, and several players.
The message of the hooligans led by convicted criminals Rafael di Zeo and Mauro Martín, was very clear: Don’t go out drinking at night. Their demands of increased professionalism come in light of sightings of Benedetto and co out partying in the early hours of the morning and the controversial case of Ricardo Centurión’s car crash last month, where witnesses indicated that the Boca winger was drunk.
Benedetto confirmed that the players heard the hooligans’ message loud and clear. “We have to be a bit more responsible. We have to be more professional. We understand the message.” And he uttered the words completely sincerely, without even a hint of irony to the situation: a band of hooligans, whose history is riddled with violence and illegal activity, instructing players to be more professional. Really?
And what did coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto have to say about the meeting? “I didn’t know anything about it.” It seems almost as if he thought denying any knowledge about the meeting would keep him out of all this. Put some distance between the coach and the barras, eh? Not quite. Because, really, he should know about it. Isn’t it the role of the staff within the club to deal with problems of player discipline and ensure the professionalism of its players?
Barros Schelotto’s failure to condemn the meeting, or indeed make any kind of meaningful comment, legitimizes the power and authority that Argentine football culture confers to these groups of violent supporters.
La Doce should at least be fairly happy with the outcome of all this. On Sunday, the day after their supposedly “informal meeting,” Boca emerged comfortable winners in their clash with Sarmiento at the Bombonera with a 2-0 victory. And guess who scored? Ricardo Centurión — one of the main targets of the fans’ criticism. Maybe a few more lunch-dates with violent thugs and Boca could win the league.
Even if they win it all though, it won’t help sweep under the rug the persistent problem in Argentine football culture that recent events at Boca have drawn attention to. The voice of the hooligans seems to carry just as much weight as the club itself. Is that a reality we as football fans can be comfortable with?