Wednesday, 21 July 2010

New Boys

Roberto Bugallo has recently celebrated 10 years as President of All Boys. Given the frenzied and unstable nature that surrounds the Argentine domestic game this is no mean feat. Longevity, in isolation is no barometer of success; Bugallo's reign has contributed to a meteoric rise for the club from Floresta in the west of Buenos Aires, culminating in this years's promotion to the Primera division after defeating Rosario Central in a 2 leg play-off.

On taking over from the previous regime in June 2000 All Boys were languishing in the 2nd tier of Argentine football, players and staff had been without pay for 10 months and the threat of bankruptcy surrounded the club. There was to be no quick fix for los albos as they fell into the regionalised 3rd division the Primera B Metropolitana where they remained until 2008. If triumphs on the field were few and far between during this time the fans remained loyal to the regime of passionate fan turned president, Bugallo, who's also forged a close relationship with AFA President Julio Grondona. The club will no doubt have benefited from the cordial relations beween the two. The dilapidated Estadio Islas Malvinas, complete with wooden stands had changed little since it's 1963 inauguration. In 2004 fans raised enough money to build the ground's first concrete stand and with the help of an AFA loan the stadium was completely renovated and re-opened in 2008.

The club was founded in 1913 and chose their Anglicised name for no other reason than it was common practice to do so at the time. Three years earlier and in the same barrio of Floresta Vélez Sarsfield were formed and subsequently relocated to Liniers the barrio with which they are commonly associated. Prior to this year All Boys' only other foray into the top division came in 1972 where they stayed for 8 seasons. Their current coach José Romero was a member of the 1972 side, giving him the unique accolade of gaining two promotions to Primera A.

With the Apertura kick-off fast approaching All Boys debut away at Racing with their first home game being against former neighbours Vélez. Previous financial problems remain a recent memory and the club could be forgiven for cashing in on their Primera status. Their ground has a capacity of 19,000 and by switching home games against Boca or River to Vélez they could accommodate many more away fans, something All Boys refuse to do.

New recruits continue to arrive with the headline grabbing Cristian 'El Ogro' Fabbiani the most notable and highest paid. His level of physical fitness was deemed unacceptable by Mexican side Veracruz, not the first time this has been questioned during his career. The Mexican physios may have called this one correctly as a little over 6 minutes into his debut in a friendly against Tristan Suarez he suffered a thigh strain and is now in doubt for the start of the Apertura. Eight months without a game will have been a major contributing factor. All Boys will be wanting a similar impact to that which occurred initially at River Plate ( and hoping his form will be more consistent over the season. The omens so far do not look good.

'I want to see los albos in the Copa Libertadores' said Bugallo after promotion, if the upward curve continues he could see his dream realised. Following in the footsteps of Banfield, Argentinos and Lanús, less fashionable clubs are demonstrating that there is an alternative to the irresponsible and self-destructive strategies pursued by the Big Five.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Made in Paraguay...... Finished in Argentina

Looking at the nations who have made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup leaves us in no doubt that to-date this has been South America’s tournament. Amongst the inevitable delights that four weeks football brings high on the list has to be the backtracking and squirming of professional pundits and analysts on their pre-tournament predictions. Whilst not wanting to engage in schadenfreude and appreciating that for all the statistics, form guides and technology that surrounds football the game is still perilously difficult to predict. Switzerland’s win against Spain, Italy’s dismal performances and England’s failure to top their relatively weak group all bear testament. However a fairly consistent argument trotted out prior to the tournament was that this being a winter World Cup the conditions would inevitably favour European sides. Teams were dismissed with an air of colonial like contempt on the basis that they hail from warmer climes; completely disregarding the fact that the vast majority of South American footballers play in Europe. Brazil and Argentina aside South America’s other representatives were relegated to mere supporting roles before the group stages.

Paraguay’s historic march to the last eight has surprised many, not least in the UK; for the English media the country's contributions to football can be condensed into the 3-0 reverse to England in Mexico 1986 and Roque Santa Cruz. The current squad demonstrate that Paraguayan talent is well represented in the world's toughest leagues including Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga. The country's proximity to Argentina has seen many players pursue their careers further down the Parana River. The most revered of these is undoubtedly Arsenio Erico (1915 -1977) - Argentina's all time record goalscorer bagged 293 goals in 332 games for Independiente of Avellaneda, he shares this acolade with Angel Labruna of River Plate who achieved the same total but in 515 games. Born in Asunción he secured his passage to the Red Devils after being spotted playing in a Red Cross team which toured Argentina to raise funds for victims of the Chaco war between Paraguay and Bolivia. The little known conflict which killed over 100,000 in three years demonstrates that Europe doesn't have the monopoly on mechanized industrial scale slaughter. Erico joined Independiente in 1934 and formed an attacking trio with Vicente de la Mata and Antonio Sastre. Famed for his heading ability and capacity to outjump goalkeepers he netted the first of his goals against Chacarita Juniors, scored a record 6 against Quilmes in 1936 and was leading marksman in three seasons between 1937 - 1939. Along with la Mata and Sastre they secured championships in 1938 and 1939 and scored 556 goals between them. As with all great players fans attended games specifically to see Erico and no less than Alfredo di Stefano cites him as a major influence in his formative years. It's impossible to gauge the strength of the Argentine league at this time in comparison to Europe and perhaps futile to do so. What is apparent is that the years following the advent of open professionalism were amongst the most exciting and successful with the majority of legendary players remaining in Argentina including but not limited to River Plate's famed 'La Maquina'.

Arsenio Erico was asked to play for Argentina at the 1938 World Cup an offer he turned down. On the eve of Paraguay's quarter final against Spain and things seem to have come full circle. Another prolific goalscorer Argentine born Lucas Barrios will be representing Paraguay by virtue of his mother. Perhaps it's time for the commentators to acknowledge that Paraguay has a football history and not merely a football past.