Buenos Aires Times

sports FOOTBALL

No football? No worries – transfer silly season is here!

Heavyweight clubs ring the changes as player-trading begins, but it’s Luis Rodríguez, formerly of Atlético Tucumán, who raises eyebrows the most with his switch to Colón.

Saturday 12 January, 2019
Luis Rodríguez (centre) has shocked fans of Atlético Tucumán by signing for Colón de Santa Fe.
Luis Rodríguez (centre) has shocked fans of Atlético Tucumán by signing for Colón de Santa Fe. Foto:NA/ DELFO RODRIGUEZ

As the summer heat descends on Argentina and half of the country seems to have relocated to a handful of saturated beach resorts, the transfer silly season has taken the place of actual football in the headlines. Barely a day seems to go by without rumours of new comings and goings in the Superliga, which promises to look rather different when the second half of the campaign kicks off at the end of January.

Perhaps inevitably, the Bombonera in particular has been a whirlwind of transfer activity. With ex-Huracán coach Gustavo Alfaro now sitting on the Xeneize bench, Boca Juniors are keen to banish memories of that devastating Copa Libertadores Superfinal defeat and approach 2019 with a host of new faces. Alfaro, however, faces losing a significant proportion of the squad which, Bernabeu disappointment aside, after all retained the Superliga and battled through to the Copa decider over the last 12 months.

True to his reputation as an ultrapragmatist when it comes to tactics, Alfaro has moved first to strengthen his defence.

Paraguayan defender Junior Alonso has already arrived from Lille while Boca’s second signing also comes from overseas. Jorman Campuzano enjoys a burgeoning reputation as a forwardthinking midfield talent and at 22 represents an interesting investment. His task will be to replace Nahitán Nández, one of the few players to come out of the final with credit and who is expected to continue his career with Italy’s Cagliari after the Sardinians made an astronomical offer of 21 million euros for the Uruguayan’s services.

Nández’s compatriot Lucas Olaza has also left the Bombonera, his loan from Talleres cancelled in order to free up foreign player spots in the squad. Lisandro Magallán, Edwin Cardona, Carlos Lampe and Cristian Espinoza join that exodus, which could yet grow to include Wilmar Barrios and Agustín Almendra, both coveted across the Atlantic in Europe.

In contrast to the revolving door in La Boca, River Plate are attempting to consolidate their Libertadores-winning squad.

Gone is Atlanta United-bound Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martínez, the hero of the final, and fans’ idol Rodrigo Mora, who has retired after a crippling battle with injuries over the last two seasons. River also face losing Exequiel Palacios, subject of keen interest from Real Madrid; although the club are negotiating furiously to extend the midfielder’s stay until at least June. Rather confusingly, the Millonarios’ two top targets both carry the surname Díaz: Chilean defender Paulo, currently in Saudi Arabia; and Junior’s Luis, a promising forward who earned his first Colombia call-up at the end of 2018.

SUFFERED THE MOST

Without a doubt, the team that has suffered the most so far in January is Independiente. Having adapted into a fluid and dynamic if occasionally goalshy team under Ariel Holan, the coach now faces a serious rebellion inside the squad that has denounced his unorthodox methods. Forwards Leandro Fernández and Emanuel Gigliotti have both already left, as has World Cup player Maxi Meza, while inspirational goalkeeper Martín Campaña – subject of a bid from Santos – Alan Franco and Nicolás Figal to name just a few could yet walk out of the Avellaneda institution this summer. While there are no new faces as of yet Holan hopes to offset those losses with two big signings: Gremio’s Walter Kannemann and Emiliano Rigoni, keen to return to Independiente from Russia’s Zenit.

Compared to that flurry of activity then, the mood over the road in Avellaneda at Superliga leaders Racing Clubs is a sea of tranquility. After taking the decision to void Gustavo Bou’s contract La Academia are also in the market for a striker: Godoy Cruz steamroller Santiago García was close to a move, but now veteran Banfield idol Darío Cvitanich is in pole position to replace La Pantera. Over in Bajo Flores, meanwhile, San Lorenzo have moved quickly to bolster a squad that fell way below expectations at the end of 2018, with goalkeeper Fernando Monetti and Colombian pair Gustavo Torres and Raúl Loaiza – both former charges of coach Jorge Almirón during his ill-fated spell at Atlético Nacional – already confirmed arrivals.

The most curious transfer so far, however, took place far from the headline-dominating ‘Big Five.’ Luis Rodríguez, an icon of Atlético Tucumán and a cult hero not just in his club but across Argentine football, shocked the nation when he decided to leave the Decano after spending more than a decade at the club across two separate spells. El Pulga’s chosen destination also raises an eyebrow: from third-placed Atlético he decided to join Colón, a lowly 18th in the Superliga going into this second half of the season.

A former labourer and painter (and, in another curious story, future congressional candidate for the province of Tucumán, where he intends to run this year), Rodríguez affirmed that he needed “a change of scenery, a new challenge” upon signing for the Sabalero. But the mere sight of the stocky forward clad in the red and black of the Santa Fe side rather than Atlético’s skyblue and white promises to be a shock to the system when he makes his début at the end of this month.

With several weeks still to go before transfer activity comes to a half, though, Pulga is unlikely to be the only surprise we see over the course of January.

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