It’s a very long winter, this one. For Argentine football fans (and fans of Argentine football), I mean. It might not always be dull, what with the good old Argentine Football Association (AFA) finding new and increasingly amazing ways to make the hitherto boring process of organizing a league championship into a fascinating Game Of Thrones-style clusterfuck, but it’s now reaching the point where I can’t wait for a decent amount of football again. Please.
The end of the Copa Libertadores final on Wednesday night really hammered it home. Colombian club Atlético Nacional’s coronation as champion of South America was richly deserved, and its opponent’s run to the final is one of the greatest stories in the competition’s history; the last time before this year that the Libertadores final didn’t feature at least one team from either Argentina or Brazil, Independente Del Valle was playing in the Ecuadorian amateur divisions (1991, in case you’re wondering).
The end of the Libertadores always brings frustration, though, because we now have to wait almost another seven months before the group stages of the next one begin. In the meantime, the Copa Sudamericana’s all right, but it’s not quite the same, somehow.
The gap between domestic seasons in Argentina is not seven months, it’s true. Well not yet, anyway; the 2016-17 Primera División season is scheduled to start on Friday, August 19, which will be a mere three months (roughly) since the end of the Torneo de Transición. It might yet get pushed back; there’s talk at present of lower division clubs voting for a delay to the start of the season unless they’re given assurances that the new season’s TV money is actually paid, but it is at least going to start up again at some point.
And yet there’s only so much time one can kill reading and listening about the political wranglings at the AFA before one starts to want some football to watch that’s a bit more eye-catching than the occasional Copa Argentina matches which are currently all us fans have to live off.
In a normal year, this column, this week, would be previewing the upcoming Primera season, which usually begins on the first weekend of August. A longer pre-season means more tedious transfer rumours and ongoing uncertainty about what we’ll be watching when it does all finally get underway. And that above-mentioned threat of a stand-off delaying the start of the season still further isn’t only relevant for lower division clubs. It also says something deeper about the priorities of the current AFA.
Just this week, the very well-informed Vero Brunati wrote in Spanish sports paper As that the AFA is looking for money – either from the government or from private business, because it’s not got any of its own of course – to buy out Jorge Sampaoli’s contract with his new club, Sevilla, and make him the new national team manager. Sampaoli himself has since scotched those efforts, explaining that while it’s his dream to manage Argentina, ‘it would be irresponsible to leave Sevilla right now,’ but the fact the AFA were trying is the central point here.
The amount that would have to be paid to Sevilla and to the ANFP, the AFA’s Chilean counterpart (with whom Sampaoli signed an agreement when he left Chile last year that he wouldn’t take another national team job before the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup) totals €8.1 million. That’s an astronomical sum of money for any club in the world to pay for a manager, before we even take into account the fact that, to condense my earlier point, the AFA might be about to face a vote from its clubs to delay the season because it can’t pay them the money it owes them.
And while all this is going on, those of us who want to see some on-pitch action are left trying to feel some excitement at the transfer market and wondering which teams are setting themselves up best for the season ahead. That’s something I’ll be attempting to address in a couple of weeks’ time on these pages, of course.
The alternatives, from a football point of view, are considering the idea of Ricardo Caruso Lombardi as Argentina manager (TyC’s Estudio Fútbol actually had him on today outlining his likely national team squad) or watching those tremendously dull big-name pre-season tours currently being undertaken by various European clubs eager to promote their ‘global brands’.
You can probably tell by now that I’m not a fan of this time of year. Not from a real-life football point of view, anyway. But I’m not complaining really. If nothing else I’ve got a lot more time for playing Football Manager and chess and reading than I have during the season. I just wish the AFA would hurry up and agree once and for all on a fixture list so we can start getting excited about something again. It surely can’t be too much longer now…