So, it’s finally happened. Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s sacking by Boca Juniors on Monday was the least surprising news story of the year so far in Argentine football, even though he managed the club to a domestic league and cup double just four months ago. How did it come to this? Well, because even when the team was winning he wasn’t really convincing many people, frankly. With Guillermo Barros Schelotto coming in, the champion can surely only improve from here.
I’ve seen it suggested that Arruabarrena’s days were numbered from the moment of that now-infamous pepper spray attack by a Boca barra brava on River Plate’s players last year. 1-0 down from the first leg of its Copa Libertadores last 16 tie, and having shown no hint at all of getting back into the tie (as Juan Román Riquelme put it after that game, “Boca didn’t manage a shot in the first half“), the attack was obviously going to lead to Boca being kicked out of the competition, but seemed like it might provide Arruabarrena with an excuse for elimination. In reality, though, although Boca made a fuss about a punishment many of its fans continue to believe was unfair, no one was actually fooled into thinking performances were good enough.
It’s difficult to outline what Arruabarrena’s approach was, because he rarely seemed to have one. When the team kept going in the second half of last year to get across the line in the race for the league title, it seemed more like Carlos Tevez’s doing than the manager’s. When it beat Rosario Central in the Copa Argentina final, it seemed more like referee Diego Ceballos’ influence (I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but Ceballos was suspended for that performance and is now refereeing in the lower divisions, which is the AFA’s equivalent of sending him to a Siberian gulag).
So, bring on Barros Schelotto, a man so serious he comes with his own ready-made stand-in clone in case he has to take a day off sick (okay, that’s actually his twin brother and assistant Gustavo), and so determined to buck up Boca’s ideas that he’s already taken aim at Tevez before even taking charge.
No, really. Barros Schelotto had a list of demands before he’d even accepted the job he’s long wanted, and chief among them was that Tevez’s influence on team affairs has to be toned down. Some of Carlitos’ ideas can stay, such as those regarding the team’s diets and their habit of eating together in the changing room after matches, but others will be given shorter shrift. Barros Schelotto’s suspicions over Tevez’s sway seem to have been roused by the fact he was first approached for the job not by a Boca director, but by Tevez’s agent Adrián Ruocco. Some players are going to find their positions less comfortable than they previously were, as well. Boca needs a shakeup, and GBS is the man to administer it.
So that’s the boring behind-the-scenes stuff. What can we expect from Barros Schelotto’s Boca on the pitch? We’re going to start finding out very soon, because another insistence of his was that he take charge starting today, not next Monday as the board had suggested. Reserve boss Rolando Schiavi (who might not be reserve boss for much longer) was going to be in charge for tomorrow’s Copa Libertadores game at home to Racing and for Sunday’s superclásico visit to River, but the new man wants to take charge right away, even if it means exposing himself to two massively high-profile games after only a training session or two. He really means business!
Obviously, with players at the club who Barros Schelotto wishes weren’t at the club (it’s worth clarifying that while he’s concerned about Tevez’s influence off-pitch, the forward is not one of those whose playing position is in doubt), it will be the second half of the year before we really start to see Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s Boca Juniors take shape. But his time at Lanús between 2012 and 2015 gives us an indicator as to how he might look to play.
His Lanús team punched above its weight for much of his time in charge, most notably in 2013 when it lifted the Copa Sudamericana, the first international trophy in the club’s history. He favored an attacking game but – and this is something in keeping with Boca’s own DNA – built from a strong base at the back. He struggled somewhat to keep the team performing consistently, especially last year, but that’s inevitable for a club of Lanús’ size, on that awkward level below the Big Five but where the team is plenty visible enough for its best players to be packed off elsewhere after an impressive season. At Boca, he should have more of a chance to put something together with a (bit) more of a view to the medium term.
One thing we shouldn’t expect is much of an improvement in on-pitch discipline, because arguably the most impressive thing about his spell at Lanús was the number of times he managed to get himself sent to the stands for complaining to match officials about a decision that went against his team. I’m not sure whether he’s the managerial equivalent of Gerardo Bedoya but he’s got to be in the running.
(Football nerd alert: I have tried and failed to find mention of any player whose red card count comes even close to Bedoya’s astonishing tally. Even Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone “only” managed 20-odd. Bedoya’s got twice as many red cards as Paolo Montero, for crying out loud. If anyone knows of a possible contender to Bedoya, please get in touch.)
At any rate, I suspect a lot of Boca fans are going to have a newfound spring in their step on Wednesday. The team may or may not win anything this year, but it seems unlikely, to me, that it can remain as directionless as it was under Arruabarrena.