There is just no stopping this behemoth. Bloated, powerful, pitiless and always hungry for more, it cuts a swathe through its rivals, taking what and whom it pleases and is rarely denied in its whims. When it comes to analysing Argentine football one needs to do delineate two very distinct categories: the fierce hydra of La Boca and its weakened neighbours.
As in previous transfer windows the financial superiority of Boca Juniors is already all too evident this time out. There are three new faces already at the Bombonera, while the vast majority of the squad that has helped the Xeneize walk to the last two Primera División titles has been maintained. While in truth it has been a relatively quiet winter so far for the club, with more activity still planned; one of those new names has caused a minor scandal while proving once again that money talks in football.
Well-travelled striker Mauro Zárate is the biggest arrival sealed so far by the team directed by the omnipresent Daniel Angelici, Boca’s president and a man who – if reports are to be believed – controls everything down to the last throw in from behind the curtain as the AFA’s portly Wizard of Oz.
Zárate, who has had spells in England, Italy, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates with a bewildering number of clubs so far in his career, turns up to add even more strikepower to a Boca side that already contains the formidable forward talents of Carlos Tevez, Dario Benedetto, Cristian Pavón and Ramón Ábila.
What made Zárate’s move so curious, however, is that even the player himself had ruled it out. The Vélez Sarsfield man told anyone who cared to listen that Liniers was the only place for him, and that he would not consider any other club in Argentina. But, as stated earlier, money talks: Angelici made the 31- year-old an offer he could not refuse, instantly making him a hate figure among previously adoring Vélez fans who even went to the length of burning his Fortín shirt in an act of fiery catharsis.
“I made this decision solely for sporting reasons and the challenge of playing for Boca and enjoying these last few years of my career. I didn’t think that the fans’ anger would go so far, as to make threats or insult me that much... I do understand. Now I’ll have to wait a while for everything to blow over and calm down my wife and children,” a teary Zárate told reporters in the middle of the storm surrounding his signing early in July. “It hurts that people forget what you have done. I broke my word and that hurts because one’s word is very important.”
Of course Zárate – regardless of his somewhat confusing statements around the value of his word – is not to blame. It is the prerogative of every football player to make the best of his short professional career, and that means chasing the best chance of both sporting and financial success. The point here is that in Argentina, perhaps the only team capable of fulfilling both those requirements is Boca Juniors.
The Xeneize run on a budget that dwarfs anything their competitors can muster, signing up stars on contracts comparable to a small European club while the likes of River Plate, Racing and the rest of the Superliga must shop around in the bargain basement, funded by sales. It is that muscle that not only guarantees Boca the pick of domestic talent – both Talleres star Lucas Olaza and Lanús’ talented goalkeeper Esteban Andrada could also move across the Superliga this term – but also allows them to keep their best stars.
River, in contrast, were forced to sell on young star Sebastian Driussi in 2017 at the tender age of 21. That same year Independiente said goodbye to their teenage star Ezequiel Barco, while in June it was time for Lautaro Martínez, 20, to swap Racing for Italy’s Inter Milan. Boca’s gem Pavón, in comparison, recently put pen to paper on a fresh four-year contract to scare away Europe’s elite, complete with a bumper release clause of 50 million euros. That one case alone goes a long way to explaining why Boca have enjoyed such a stranglehold on the title in recent seasons: when it comes to recruiting and keeping stars like Zárate and Pavón they are quite literally in a different league to the rest of Argentina’s clubs.