Those in their forties are often termed 'middle aged', Afghans in their forties will be 'senior citizens'. A 'quiet' week in Baghdad results in thirty civilians being murdered. Everything is relative. Ricardo Gareca's 'longstanding' reign as coach of Vélez Sarsfield started in January 2009, the transient nature of coaching jobs in Argentina makes 'Flaco/Tigre' (choose the nickname you prefer) almost a veteran at Liniers and Vélez a model of stability. As much as is possible the squad has retained many from the side which won 2009's Clasura or has promoted players up through the ranks. Of the 147 transfers that were completed before this tournament began (a record) Vélez signed only two players - midfielder Augusto Fernández from St.Etienne and defender Fernando Ortiz cited as a possible replacement for the much maligned Porto-bound Nicolás Otamendi. Sensible acquisitions with an eye on the bank balance, the prolific Santiago Silva was brought back from Banfield in January. As can be seen at many teams, those who are forced to recruit vast amounts of players during the close season may find it impacts negatively on the harmony and dynamic developed in the dressing room, often transferring to problems on the pitch. In a championship that only lasts for 19 games these effects are all the more acute. Argentinos Juniors have been decimated since their title win a few months ago and have collected only two points from a possible 12. Footballing ability alone is not enough, consider France's inept World Cup.
I've always had a soft spot for Vélez for reasons far too anoraky to expand on. Gareca is a Vélez man through and through, like his father. As a player he spent only 3 years at the club but has always been a fan. Perhaps that's why he found it easier to cross the divide - he moved directly from Boca Juniors to River Plate in the mid 80's and has been loathed ever since. Paradoxically River fans aren't too keen on him either. On moving to America de Cali in Colombia he was on the losing side in three consecutive Copa Libertadores finals, character building indeed.
"When we joined Velez our aim was to fashion a team in a similar way to how the all-conquering 1990s side was built. I asked the players to draw on that aggression and that attitude, the fighting spirit that any player wearing this shirt must have. They took the message on board and we lived up to the club's history," Ricardo Gareca on the Clasura triumph of 2009. The title was clinched in a winner takes all match against Huracán; the result was mired in controversy not least as Maxi Moralez's late winner was only made possible after Huracán goalie Monzón was lying prostrate in the area as Joaquin Lavirrey's foul went unpunished. Moralez was sent off for his celebration, Huracán had an earlier goal disallowed and giant hailstones pumelled the pitch. The then Huracán coach Angel Cappa and fans appealed in vein to the AFA in the days after the match. Tomorrow's match v River Plate sees Cappa return to Liniers, both teams are early contenders for the title but the similarities end there. River's recent history has been built on rocky ground - lurching from coach to coach often in mid-campaign. Vélez go into the game on the back of two defeats, they had the misfortune to meet Boca Juniors last Sunday on what was the home side's customary one good game in every eight and lost 2-1. On Thursday they were defeated by Banfield in the Copa Sudamericana highlighing again the difficulty of competing on two fronts. Just one point separates Vélez and River as we go into the fith round of matches - or perhaps more tellingly 15 places and 42 points in the Promedio (relegation standings).
A victory for stability.