The nation’s financial crisis has taken its toll across the Superliga, leaving little hard currency in the bank even for essential purchases midway through the 2019-20 season.
Given such daunting challenges, the most expensive transfers of the window was always likely to be going the other way. No few young stars have opted to leave Argentina in December and January: River Plate youngster Exequiel Palacios swapped the Monumental for Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen, while Vélez Sarsfield saw 21-year-old Nicolás Domínguez move to Bologna in Serie A. Both those talents are full Albiceleste internationals, part of Lionel Scaloni’s rebuilding efforts over the past 18 months; Under-23 international Adolfo Gaich, on the other hand, will be staying, after his move to Belgium’s Club Brugge fell apart at the last minute over differences with San Lorenzo about the manner of payment.
Certain clubs have hit the headlines with their wheeling and dealing, however. Three international players past and present have decided to move back to the Argentine top flight, and while their combined age totals more than 100, the trio have class and talent to spare.
To date the only member of that group to feature for his new club is Javier Mascherano. The exArgentina captain joined three old Albiceleste team-mates at Estudiantes with his December move, linking up with president Juan Sebastián Verón, coach Gabriel Milito and goalkeeper Mariano Andujar. The years have been kind on the former Liverpool and Barcelona star, whose debut did not disappoint.
Treated to a rare ovation by the San Lorenzo crowd before Saturday’s trip to Bajo Flores, Mascherano responded with a brilliant performance as he helped Estudiantes come from behind to seal a 1-1 draw. It was his lofted pass that found Mateo Retegui in the penalty area to set up the equaliser, and Pincha fans will only feel positive about the veteran’s contribution over 90 hard-fought minutes.
“I am happy to be back here, in my country, to have my loved ones close, to be able to share what I most like doing with them,” Mascherano, who left Argentine football at the tender age of 21 when he swapped River for Brazil’s Corinthians, explained to TyC Sports. “I spent practically my entire career abroad, far away, with nobody seeing you live and few people coming to visit. That is what motivates me: having my family close.”
Not content with their burgeoning stable of ex-internationals, Estudiantes moved again just before the end of the window to add another Albiceleste alumnus to their ranks. Marcos Rojo grew up in the Pincha system before moving to Europe, and as a veteran of two World Cups the defender will add even more steel to a backline which, having conceded just 14 goals to date in Superliga, is already Argentina’s meanest.
Over in Banfield, meanwhile, one of the nation’s footballing prodigal sons has returned. Like Mascherano and Rojo, Dani Osvaldo has spent plenty of time in Europe; but in the former Boca striker’s case it has been strapped to a guitar and microphone, touring with his band Barrio Viejo following a sensational retirement from football in 2016.
Osvaldo, who in his heyday starred for Roma and even switched nationality to represent Italy, had been drummed out of Boca for smoking in the dressing-room and shows no sign of having given up the habit, but at the very least he will find a sympathetic face in the shape of Banfield coach and notorious puffer Julio César Falcioni.
“If I catch him smoking, he’ll
have to come up to my office and
give me a cigarette,” Falcioni
joked when asked about the subject, and while a minor tear will
delay Osvaldo’s debut, all eyes
will be watching when the rocker
and occasional footballer is ready
to take the field.