Joy is only Brazilian and sadness, of Argentine football

In January of this year, Argentine soccer puffed up its chest with pride. Despite the stoppage of almost six months in 2020 due to the pandemic and the degraded economies, Boca and River reached the semifinals of the Libertadores Cup and Defense and Justice and Lanús played the final of the South American. Seven months later, Argentine football itself is a valley of tears. With the foreseeable eliminations of River and Rosario Central in the quarterfinals, there are no more teams from our country in the continental tournaments. Since 2006 something like this has not happened.

The rapid loss of competitiveness of Argentine clubs in South America had already been exposed before these latest unfavorable results: Of the 13 who had started playing both Cups, only River and Central could reach the quarterfinals, the rest stayed on the road. Quantity did not imply quality. What is striking is the rapidity of the deterioration and what is alarming is that this situation is replicated in the future. And that a long cycle of dominance by Brazilian teams at the continental level has begun, based mainly on their greater economic and sporting power consequently.

The debate is open. And it will cost to close it. Argentine soccer is the victim of a structural problem, the fragility of the country’s economy, the solution of which does not pass through its hands. It is true that there are reasons of their own (the mismanagement of the institutions, the erroneous policies of buying and selling players, the short-term and results-oriented vision of the leaders, the unmanageable liabilities, the low level of the championships) that underlie part of the crisis soccer. But In the last semester, the impoverishment has accelerated for all to see.

“TV is the main income of most Argentine clubs; in 2017 the contract represented 100 million dollars a year; in 2021 it represents 43 million dollars a year. Without money there is no hierarchy, look no further ; We must update! ” wrote late Wednesday in a tweet Cristian Malaspina, the president of Argentinos Juniors. That this ticket has been devalued by 57 percent in four years and that due to the pandemic, the charges in pesos of social contributions and payments to boxes and stalls have been significantly reduced and the income from the sale of tickets directly has been canceled when playing at closed doors, explains the reasons for continuous adjustment that forces to lower the prices of the large, medium and small teams. The best players are sold in a hurry and replaced by fuzzy bets or promising youth from the lower divisions.

River exemplifies that weakening. Since that final of the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in 2019 in Lima, River released six players (Exequiel Palacios, Lucas Martínez Quarta, Juan Fernando Quintero, Ignacio Fernández, Rafael Santos Borré and Gonzalo Montiel) in a vain attempt to reduce a debt that as of January of this year and according to official data from the Central Bank, climbed to 1,424,282,988 million pesos (almost 8 million dollars at the unofficial exchange rate). The replenishment has not been at the same level: Of all the players signed in recent passing markets, only two (defender Héctor Martínez and center forward Braian Romero) appear to have established themselves as starters. The rest go in and out without being able to affirm yet.

In the same period, Flamengo has remained almost intact: from the 2019 American champion team, only defenders Rafinha and Pablo Marí left. Later, he has been able to retain his entire squad in a show of power that makes him one of the top candidates to win this edition of the Copa Libertadores. And not only that: for the semifinals, he has repatriated two players from Europe: the midfielder Kenedy, incidentally not very lucky for England and Spain and the hitch Andreas Pereira, who played in Granada, Valencia and Lazio. That is one of the most notable characteristics of the powerful teams in Brazil: reinforcing themselves with players from the Old Continent. Atlético Mineiro took it to the extreme: he brought Diego Costa, 32-year-old center forward, former Atlético Madrid and Chelsea free. According to some sources, his monthly pay would be in the order of 300 thousand dollars. An unattainable sum for any Argentine team.

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There are more comparisons: between the Palmeiras squad that won the 2020 Cup and the current one, there are almost no differences. On the other hand, there are few points of contact between the Defense and Justice team that achieved the Copa Sudamericana defeating Lanús 3-0 in Córdoba and the one that participates in the First Division Tournament: defenders Rafael Delgado and Héctor Martínez, midfielders Enzo Fernández and Valentín Larralde and Braian Romero no longer play in Florencio Varela’s team. The same thing happens to Argentine teams as to those in a good part of South America: sales change them every six months. The Brazilians, like the great Europeans, keep their base and strengthen it with incorporations of authentic hierarchy.

“El Mineiro has a patron (Constructora MRV), Palmeiras also has a patron (Financiera Crefisa), Flamengo recovered thanks to an unclear scheme that includes the Federal Economic Fund. Bragantino has Red Bull and, the rest are more or less like in Argentina. Cruzeiro, Vasco, Botafogo among other well-known clubs are practically melted and are betting on becoming sports corporations as a means of subsistence “Leandro Colautti, an Argentine journalist based in Brazil, contributes from Rio de Janeiro to try to understand the reasons of such might. Colautti refers to the new law passed this month by the far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro that makes it possible to convert football clubs into company-clubs by transferring up to 49 percent of their shares to private investors. A solution that seems unlikely to apply in Argentina due to the marked rejection of the partners and fans of any attempt at privatization. And that Mauricio Macri could not even promote in his times of greatest political strength.

With club-by-club television contracts far superior to those that Argentine football negotiates jointly, strong business and advertising sponsorships and powerful leaders who do not hesitate to make a difference to make spectacular hires and pay salaries according to the great European teams, Brazilian soccer enjoys an economic growth that is perhaps far superior to that of the country itself. And he has taken a distance from Argentina that is reflected in a fact that is difficult to assume: among the eight best teams of the year in South America, there is none from our country.

After the blow this week, Argentine soccer has entered a deliberative state. And you need to rethink your course honestly and without advantage. The country’s economy plays against the leaders of the clubs and it is not within their power to take the measures to modify it. But if it is, efficiently manage the scarce resources available. And change what needs to be changed to regain international competitiveness. It will depend on what is decided and what is done, if that loss is momentary or permanent. It would be painful if the joy of the ball continues to be only Brazilian.


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