Just when Racing Club star Ricardo Centurión had started to make the headlines for all the right reasons, the troubled playmaker has found himself flung back in the spotlight after a troubling video was plastered across the press. But the incident, serious as it is, says as much about his gleeful accusers as it does about a talented player who still struggles against his inner demons.
Centurión was filmed jumping a red traffic light in Lanús, an infraction common enough in the Buenos Aires area so as to not in itself attract too much comment. But what followed was rather more incriminating. The player, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, refused to take a breathalyser test when stopped by a traffic agent in the municipality, and offered to take care of the matter through a bribe. The officer refused the offer, and for good measure sent the recording straight to the media – a move hardly more ethical than accepting an illicit payment to make the matter go away, as Centurión had hoped.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is yet another scandal in the 25-year-old’s short professional career. While at Boca Juniors, Centurión was caught on several occasions in an inebriated state, one of which came after causing a multiple-car accident in Avellaneda and fleeing from the scene. He was also charged with domestic violence in 2017 when an ex-girlfriend accused him of beating her and sending threatening messages, charges later dropped, while in June of the same year he stood accused of attacking a young fan who had asked for a photo in a Lanús nightclub.
In most of the incidents a common theme runs strong: misdemeanours committed while under the influence of alcohol. Racing president Víctor Blanco launched a spirited defence of his wayward charge in the week, while admitting that his excessive drinking was a problem. “Centurión has an alcohol problem and we are going to help him,” he told Liberman Online. “He sees a team of psychologists every week and we are going to add another professional.”
Blanco’s admission helped make amends for his ridiculously flippant first reaction to the video, which he wrote off as “one of those things.” The Racing chief, however, also slammed the viralisation of the video, referring to a “Lanús municipal employee who I have seen photos of in Independiente’s stadium with [Rojo legend Ricardo] Bochini.”
To suggest there is a conspiracy involving an entire district of Greater Buenos Aires and Racing’s arch-rivals to take down one of the club’s stars just when he is reaching top form – in 2018 since returning to his first club Centurión has netted three goals and added a further five assists in nine games, helping La Academia to rack up seven wins in the same period – is clearly misguided. But the sequence of events that led to this latest public shaming are curious to say the least. Besides seizing the player’s vehicle the municipal employee behind the video took no action for an alleged attempted bribery, choosing instead to expose a police matter to the public eye. It is a shocking breach of professionalism that does nothing to increase trust in the area’s institutions or public officials.
MAN IN THE MIRROR
Centurión, meanwhile, must take a hard look in the mirror and decide whether he really wants to tackle the demons that have marred a promising professional career time and again, right from the start when as a teenager he would ride his bicycle from the family home in Avellaneda’s Villa Luján shantytown to the club’s training ground. The bike may have been traded in for an imposing 4x4 BMW, but Ricky still seems to treat his calling with the same irresponsibility as when he was just another talented prospect coming through the Racing ranks. The tragic story of René Houseman, who passed away this week after a long battle with illness and alcoholism, should give him sufficient pause for thought.
Like the Racing star, Houseman grew up in a villa miseria and shrugged off a brutally impoverished childhood to rise to the top in football, sealing his reputation as one of Argentina’s finest-ever wingers and winning the World Cup in 1978. But his addiction to drink cost him dear, with his career at the elite level all but over by the time he turned 30. Often he would wake up after a particularly heavy session sprawled in villas similar to those in which he was raised, while alcohol also led to a series of serious health conditions, the last of which the tongue cancer which claimed his life. El Loco was loved and admired for what he was capable of on the pitch, but his constant battles away from the game meant he could never realise his full potential: a poignant warning for Centurión.