Almost two decades have passed since a wiry teenager by the name of Carlos Tevez made his Boca Juniors debut in the 2001 Apertura. Now 37, the forward is gearing up for yet another campaign as the Xeneize's captain and figurehead, rebuffing once more reports that this would be the year he called a day on what has been a glittering career.
It would not be a Boca pre-season without at least a few rumours of both Tevez's dissatisfaction and general unrest in the club camp. The build-up to the 2021 Copa de Liga Profesional – which kicks off for the defending champions tomorrow at home to Gimnasia – has been no different. An apparent conflict between the Football Council, the body under the remit of club Vice-President Juan Román Riquelme and responsible for all on-pitch matters, and the players themselves has exploded, dominating headlines in the absence of actual football on which to report.
The complications that arose during Tevez's last contract negotiation in 2020, which were accompanied by criticisms towards the veteran from Council member Jorge Bermúdez; the situation with midfielder Guillermo ‘Pol’ Fernández, who abruptly left the first team in the middle of the season; and the ongoing uncertainty over what to do with the newly returned Cristian Pavón: all have been cited as factors in the stand-off.
Coach Miguel Ángel Russo, meanwhile, has been caught in the middle of the crossfire, urged to declare his loyalty to one of the two warring factions. Those closest to him, though, are certain he has faced more serious challenges in the past.
“Miguel will let this blow over, he will come out strongest from this internal battle,” Hugo Gottardi, who acted as his assistant for over 30 years, remarked to Olé. “This is a walk in the park for him. He beat cancer! What does he care if the players have fallen out with Riquelme?”
Internal strife or otherwise, Boca nevertheless start the new season as the team to beat once more. Champions in both the 2019-2020 league campaign and the Copa Diego Armando Maradona (neé Copa Liga Profesional), the Xeneize's domestic record is imperious, thanks to the quality they can field not just in their first team but throughout the entire squad, which gives them the enviable ability to fight on two or even three fronts with ease.
It is not for this cup, though, or whatever may follow it in the second half of 2021, that the club will be judged. January's Libertadores drubbing at the hands of Santos extended to 14 years Boca's drought in the trophy, and time is running out for Tevez to finally get his hands back on the trophy he lifted as a youngster in 2003 and which has been his white whale ever since he made his return to the Bombonera.
“I didn't need to raise my voice, or swear, or have a punch-up with anybody,” Tevez told TyC Sports of his latest disappointment in the competition last month. “We knew something had broken in the team because we couldn't look each other in the eye, we didn't do what we had to do.
“We just can't win the Libertadores. Being champions in Argentina is not enough.”
Tevez will have another chance in 2021, but having celebrated his 37th birthday last Sunday he must know time is running out to get that coveted second crown. Now the accounts of conflict in the Boca camp are a very unwelcome distraction; and if they persist, any prospects of finally running out champions will become even more remote for the Buenos Aires giants.