It is safe to say that few expected to be watching Independiente fighting out a bitter battle against relegation with Carlos Tevez at the helm towards the end of 2023. Least of all, Independiente or, indeed Carlos Tevez. But this footballing odd couple has been tasked with bailing out one of Argentina's giants and so far at least has begun on the right foot.
Seeing Tevez in any sporting arena other than the golf course is something of a surprise. The ex-Boca and Argentina star has never come across publicly as an avid fan or student of football, and said as much at the start of the year while admitting he barely paid attention to the 2022 World Cup and, on the few occasions he did, got more of a kick out of watching France.
The chances of him taking up another job right after his first taste of the role at Rosario Central – far from the catastrophe some expected, but barely a rousing success – seemed similarly remote. When asked if he considered taking up Independiente's initial offer back in January he did not hold back, telling Radio Mitre: “I don't feel the need to go out and take any old job.” Just why he was tempted into saying yes this time round, then, is curious, given that by any objective measurement the situation is far more dire than eight months ago.
The Rojo have blown through two different permanent coaches in that span, Leandro Stillitano and Ricardo Zielinski, and prior to Tevez's arrival had won a grand total of six games between the Liga Profesional de Fútbol and Copa de la Liga Profesional to stand in dire danger of the drop. Zielinski had lasted just one game of the Copa, with the board, having supported their man throughout the winter break against growing discontent, suddenly cutting ties on the back of a single defeat; showing that behind the underachieving on the pitch is an administration in utter disarray. The more cynical among us could well see political manoeuvrings behind the decisions: Independiente president Néstor Grindetti's day job is mayor of Lanús and he is now running for Buenos Aires Province governor as part of the PRO party of Mauricio Macri, lest we forget a close friend of Tevez and an invitee to his wedding some years back.
Those concerns aside, on the pitch Tevez's appointment seems to have injected a bit of life to the red side of Avellaneda. Independiente certainly looked a more adventurous, outgoing team in his first match in charge against fellow relegation rivals Vélez, even if they needed a contentious last-minute penalty to finally clinch victory after throwing away an early lead (something that has been all-too commonplace this year). That win instantly pushed the Rojo three points clear of Huracán and the final drop spot, but they will need more from Tevez and his new players in a Copa group packed with teams also battling against oblivion over the next couple of months.
A very Boca win
Death, taxes, and Boca Juniors squeezing through a crunch cup tie on penalties. There was a sense of the inevitable on Wednesday as soon as Andrés Matonte drew the curtain on 180 turgid, goal-less minutes of Libertadores football, and this time it was Racing Club who felt the Xeneize's shoot-out wrath in front of their own fans as they were vanquished in the quarter-final.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero perhaps felt more vindicated than most. The ex-Racing man received a rough reception at his former home but had the last laugh with two penalty saves, bringing his Copa total up to four for the season in shoot-outs. It was far from vintage stuff from Boca, who held on for most of the second leg and invited the hosts to come and get them (they generally did not), but they are back in the semi-finals and the dream of that coveted seventh Libertadores is very much alive. Next up, Palmeiras.