Friday, 29 May 2009

Luis' Lanús

The compliments and praise justifiably rained down on Pep Guardiola of Barcelona on Wednesday night after winning the Champions League to secure an unprecedented treble. At 38 and in his first year as first team coach the achievements are even more remarkable. In Argentina a coach ten years younger than Barca's has quietly and effectively led his side to the top of the Primera Division.

Luis Zubeldía, 28 is the man in charge of CA Lanús who are based at the southern end of Greater Buenos Aires. One of the less well known teams in Argentina the Maroons have only one domestic title to their name, an Apertura won in 2007. The former Lanús midfielder played 57 times for the club before being forced to retire early at the age of 23 after enduring years of treatment on an injured left knee. During his convalescence he also studied for a qualification in sports journalism. Lanús steadfastly stuck by their man throughout and offered him a coaching role in the lower reaches of the club. He became assistant to Head Coach Ramon Cabrero and the two bagged 2007's Apertura. When Cabrero stepped down in 2008 Zubeldía took his place and has demonstrated that age is merely a number. Lanús narrowly missed out on the play off for Clasura '08 on the final day and at time of writing are top of the league. There is however still much work to be done as the good form of his young team hasn't yet transferred to the continental stage, they finished bottom of their Copa Libertadores group although 4 of the 6 games they played ended all square.

The success of Zubeldía has gone some way to exploding the myth that good Assistants rarely make effective Head Coaches, particularly at the same club. He highlights his relationship with the players and his ability to empathise on a personal level as one of his most effective management tools 'I understand if a player is having a bad day or is annoyed because they don't play, they're not machines' he told El Grafico magazine. Very much the modern coach he attaches equal importance to training and exercises that stimulate both the body and mind together with the tactical and technical aspects of the game.

Make way for the youngster Pep!

Hasta luego!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Montevideo 2 - 0 Buenos Aires

Photo: AFP
The game in Uruguay is widely acknowledged to be in irreversible decline with falling gates and violence in the stands. Great clubs such as Penarol, 5 Libertadores Cup wins and Nacional, 3 Libertadores Cup wins have been unable to capture past glories on the continental stage and the days when the national team ruled the world will never return. Results in this seasons Copa Libertadores demonstrate that this tiny nation can still give it's more illustrious neighbours a bloody nose.

Both River Plate and now Boca Juniors have fallen victim to teams from the other side of the Rio de la Plata. In River's case Nacional contributed to their failure to reach the knockout stages (Los Millionarios beat the Uruguayan's at home but lost 3-0 in Montevideo) although they sealed their own fate by losing in spectacular fashion to already eliminated Nacional of Paraguay. Boca's exit from the competition can be attributed soley to champions Defensor Sporting and their own inability to hold on to a lead. After conceding twice in Uruguay but still having the cushion of 2 away goals the Xeneizes were one decent performance away from meeting Estudiantes in the Quarter Finals. That decent performance was sadly lacking on Thursday, after going 1-0 down to an neat and excellently crafted Diego de Souza goal in the 27th minute ( the home side didn't exactly lay siege to Defensor's goal. When they did get through they were up against 'keeper Marin Silva in fine form. To put Defensor's victory into perspective it was Boca's first home defeat in this competition since 2003. Uruguayan daily El Pais hailed the 'History Makers' and eulogised about the performance of Martin Silva. Not bad for a club who didn't even exist in their current guise until 1989.

Questions now inevitably turn towards the future of coach Carlos Ischia who is contracted until December and has Carlos Bianchi's excellent Copa Libertadores achievements as a constant reminder - he returned to the club as Technical Director in December. Unfortunately he doesn't even have the clubs league form to fall back on as four wins out of fourteen see them flailing in seventeenth place. Maradona has commented that 'ever since Bianchi returned Ischia has been at the doors of the cemetary'.

Away from the navel gazing at La Bombonera alarm bells should be sounding in the country as a whole, of the five representatives for Argentina in the Libertadores this season only one now remains - Estudiantes. Three of the teams failed to make even the knockout stages, including league leaders Lanús. Contrast this with Brazil's five teams in the last 16. It's now down to Estudiantes and Verón to fly the flag against Defensor.

Hasta Luego!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Argentina v Panama

For an exercise in futility this Wednesday’s game for Argentina against Panama is hard to beat. Panama were the only team who accepted the AFA’s invitation to play, probably because this is what pundits refer to as the ‘business end’ of the season’.

The match itself will take place in Santa Fe and the squad includes only domestically based players (three of them from Colón), although due to Copa Libertadores commitments there will be no Boca Juniors or Estudiantes representation. The absence of any players from River tells its own story. Daniel Montenegro of Independiente will be captain for the game.

Quite what Maradona et al hope to gain from this run out against a team ranked 60th in the world is open to question particularly as many of the players are involved in the Clasura title race or relegation issues. If the reasoning behind it is to get the youngsters accustomed to life in and around la selección a training camp would surely have served the same purpose.

Credit must be paid to the local populace as around 20,000 tickets have so far been sold for the game, underlining the attraction of Maradona, a national side and of course Panama.

Hasta Luego!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Rage at River

As sure as night follows day, England's 'Big Four' are occupying the Champions League qualifying places complete with metaphorical pipe and slippers. Things are a little different in Argentina where the Big Five (River Plate, Boca Juniors, Racing, San Lorenzo, Independiente) have historically hoovered-up the majority of honours. After 13 games of the Clasura the five have accumulated a lowly 84 points between them - the lowest since the introduction of 3 points for a win was introduced in 1995.

Twelve months ago River Plate were closing in on the Clasura. Since then the only table Los Millonarios have topped is CONMEBOL's all-time Copa Libertadores performance rankings. All the more baffling when you consider they've only won the title twice as opposed to the 7 of Independiente and the 6 of Boca. The table awards an equal weighting of 3 points for each win............lies and statistics. Fast forward to last Sunday's home game against Lanús, and factor in the ignomey of a last place finish in December and a feeble group stage exit in the Copa Libertadores and the flames of rage were fanned amongst the faithful. Cristian Fabbiani's pre-season arrival had an immediate but short-lived impact.(
Pictures of less than complimentary banners were plastered across the press, which left no one in any doubt as to the feelings on the terraces: 'The worst team in history 1901 - 2009' 'Pelligrini, Merlo, Astrada, Passarella, Gordillo,, Simeone, Rodriguez - and now Pipo [Gorosito] when is he going?' - referring to all the coaches hired by Aguilar. In England fan protests are fairly mild by comparison, although the the annual gathering of Newcastle United fans chanting 'Sack the Board' is often described as angry and ugly. During the Lanús game a delightful ditty rolled down from the stands 'If we see you out partying, we'll put you in hospital'. Joey Barton et al should be thankful. As with many aspects of Argentine football there could be a lot more going on behind the scenes particularly as president Aguilar's term is due to finish in December.

Problems on and off the park have re-ignited rumours about River's hottest properties: Diego Buonanotte and Radamel Falcao. Buonanotte has gone off the boil somewhat since bursting onto the scene but is attracting attention from clubs in France and Russia. The owners though may have wished they'd have cashed in whilst he was riding high - a reported $15m dollar offer from Benfica is unlikely to be matched in the current climate. Colombian striker Falcao has performed consistently through adversity and may also be on his way in exchange for much needed currency.

This weekend sees River face the footballers of Huracan, to compound coach Gorosito's woe veteran midfielder Marcelo Gallardo will not play again this season due to injury. If Aguilar does survive in December it's unlikely that Pipo Gorosito will still be by his side.

Hasta luego!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Derby Day

I doubt whether you'd find the Rosario derby listed in '100 Sporting Events to See Before You Die' unlike the Superclásico or the University Boat Race (never understood that one). In a country where derbies happen every weekend in or around Greater Buenos Aires there is an argument from certain quarters suggesting that this provincial city clásico is somewhat overlooked by the Bs As centric media (NB both Boca and River have departed Rosario in recent weeks, trousers down and point-less). In light of this Rosario Central and Newell's Old Boys have done their bit over the last week to ensure that events surrounding this clash make the news even in the Capital.

With the match being played at Rosario's Gigante de Arroyito stadium the thorny issue of ticket allocation for the visiting Newell's fans was the spark that led to disturbances, recriminations and mud-slinging. In short Newell's have been given 3500 tickets for the game where in the past they have received 8000; a gentleman's agreement between the clubs they believe should still be honoured. Furious Newell's fans marched on Rosario's stadium earlier in the week with inevitable results, 15 arrests and 7 injuries when they clashed with police and Canallas (Rosario fans) intent on guarding their 'manor'. In the interim relations have soured between the two clubs. Rosario president Horacio Usandizaga has done little to calm matters with his most recent outbursts claiming that Newell's incited the violence and a bizarre reference to an old Jewish proverb about prefering theives to liers when speaking of the Newell's president. The authorities responsible for match security were the other target for his ire.

Recently elected Newell's president Guillermo Lorente has been admirably restrained to date and has tried to put the match into perspective - a difficult task in football crazed Argentina 'this should be a fiesta, not a war'. Two days before kick-off and the opening skirmishes in this 'war' look set to continue.

If you would like to read a fans eye view from the Newell's side of this game be sure to visit A Leper in a Strange Land ( David Phillips excellent and unashamedly biased take on all things Leper.

Hasta luego!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Ortega Watch - Part IV

When a talented player is surrounded by individuals who are less well blessed the net result is either i) a collective lift in the whole side, inspiration flows through the team and permeates every position. Where once there was a hoof into the stands now there is a feint, a drop of the shoulder and the ball is carried up the field. Alternatively ii) far from being inspired by the challenge, lethargy, resentment and mediocrity reign. This situation is by no means unique to football of course; compare Paul McCartney's work in The Beatles to his later rather feeble offering when teamed up with the Frog Chorus.

For Snr.Ortega his exile in Mendoza with Independiente Rivadavia seems to have been of little benefit to either the player or his latest club. After 25 games, 4 goals (3 of which came from the penalty spot) and 3 Red Cards he'll be heading back to the big city. The relationship was ended by mutual consent earlier this week. Vice President Nicolás Becerra commented that there had been 'good and bad things' about the whole affair and added 'for a star like Ortega it's not always easy to fit into a team playing at an inferior level'. Very diplomatic. The patience of the fans however was wearing thin. On a positive note he at least seemed to keep his alcohol problems under control whilst in Mendoza and has been receiving treatment in Chile.

So the Messiah is set for a return to River two months before his loan spell was scheduled to end - he wont be able to play in the Clasura as he's not currently registered. Even so his presence alone may deflect some of the flak that's still flying around in light of their embarrassing exit from the Copa Libertadores. The bright lights of Buenos Aires could once again prove too much for him. For those of us who wish he'd bow out gracefully I suspect some more interesting twists and turns before he finally draws his pension.

Hasta luego!

Genius at work. Why we love Ortega:

Caution: This may cause offence. Macca and the Frog Song: