Resolution, but only partial agreement. A halt to football, but not all football. Clarity for relegations while promotions continue shrouded in uncertainty.
If any observers were hoping that all of the open questions concerning the imminent future of Argentine football would be answered at a stroke this week they were to be sorely disappointed – if not entirely surprised.
That something had to be done in the wake of this harrowing, unique situation was clear enough. All levels of the game have been suspended for over a month now, with the effect rather more than just empty terraces and inane filler on television screens in the absence of live action. Each week that passes is a further drain on clubs' already leaky finances, and that economic aspect appears to have been the AFA's first concerns when on Tuesday it laid out a blueprint for the next few months in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Copa Superliga was scrapped after just one game, meaning that the top flight in effect ended when it probably should have all this time, with Carlos Tevez drilling the ball home past Gimnasia's Jorge Broun to crown Boca Juniors champions on a thrilling last day of the campaign. Pipped at the last hurdle, River Plate receive the consolation prize of guaranteed Copa Libertadores football, as do Vélez Sarsfield and Racing Club, third and fourth respectively when Superliga ended on the first weekend of March.
Gimnasia too were given reason to celebrate: not only were relegations suspended for 2020, a measure which keeps Diego Maradona's charges among the elite, AFA President Claudio Tapia also announced that there would be no drops the following year, music to the ears of the likes of the Lobo, Patronato, Godoy Cruz and others that faced starting 2020-2021 in serious trouble, due to their placing in the promedio average points standings.
One league down, however, and things are far less clear. Using the precedent dictated in Superliga, the two top teams in the Primera Nacional would be forgiven for thinking they are in line to jump up a level whenever the sport finally recommences. So far, San Martín de Tucumán and Atlanta have had no joy in their bid to go up, with the AFA intending to play out a reduced version of the Nacional in order to decide promotion.
When Ricardo Caruso Lombardi comes out as the voice of reason, one knows that all is not quite well. “If football is suspended, it all has to be suspended,” the Belgrano boss fired. “Why are the Primera teams not risking their lives, and we are? If it were up to me I wouldn't play. Why should I expose myself training with 50 people? In the Primera they won't take that risk?”
The decision to suspend relegation for two years has also attracted fierce criticism, most notably amongst players who suspect an ulterior motive behind the AFA's manoeuvres.
“If relegation is removed from all divisions for two years, a lot of players are going to be out of a job,” Gustavo Oberman, a 2005 Under-20 World Cup winner alongside Lionel Messi and Primera champion at Argentinos Juniors, claimed on Twitter. “Teams might also field only youth players. To save on contracts and not win a single game. Would you go and see your team then?”
Players' union chief Sergio Marchi echoed the complaints of the Dock Sud veteran, stating to TyC Sports that “if the decision for there not to be relegation in the 2020-2021 season is upheld it will probably be a point of conflict, because players don't want there to be no relegation.”
Marchi even suggested that his members could strike over the matter, described in a union statement as “unreasonable and against the dignity of our footballers,” complicating further the outlook for Argentine football restarting even when the Covid-19 crisis finally passes.
As occurs far too often, the AFA's attempts to appear decisive have only cast a longer shadow over the future at a time when unity and clarity were necessary.