A title race is no place for the faint-hearted. The slightest slip can lead to endless soul-searching and recriminations inside even the strongest side, inviting suggestions that a crisis is on the way. Racing Club, the league-leaders since almost the first week of this current campaign, found that out the hard way both during and after a painful defeat at the hands of River Plate.
The performance offered by Eduardo Coudet’s men was damaging enough. Faced with a rematch against the side that destroyed La Academia’s Copa Libertadores hopes in a 3-0 victory back in August, Racing shrank under the lights of the Monumental and barely made an impact as River netted two goals without reply.
Goalkeeper Franco Armani has long been Coudet’s nemesis thanks to a series of outstanding displays against his teams; but this time round he was little more than a privileged spectator due to the visitors’ incapacity to trouble his net across the 90 minutes.
If that were not bad enough, worse was to follow for the title hopefuls. Defensa y Justicia obliged with yet another lastgasp victory – ‘Beccacece time’ is surely on the way to making its way into Argentine football parlance just as Fergie time has long been notorious in the Premier League – to draw level on points with the Avellaneda side. Over in Racing, meanwhile, the vultures were already circling thanks to an unfortunate incident with the ever-combustible Ricardo Centurión.
Centurión had been benched by Coudet in a tactical switch ahead of the River game, but got the nod to enter in the second half when it became clear that Racing’s starters were patently incapable of breaking through. The playmaker was afforded a hostile reception by the baying Monumental, who still remember his fighting and gesturing in the Libertadores match, and failed to make an impression during his time on the field.
Seething at both his initial exclusion and entry into what already appeared a lost cause, Centurión’s temper once more let him down: as his coach attempted to console him at the final whistle he brushed him off with an elbow, a petulant act which has seen him banished to the reserves and with his Racing future now in serious doubt.
“Centurión knows that he has made a mistake and the club has taken the decision,” technical secretary Diego Milito, a teammate of the errant star during Racing’s 2014 title win, explained to reporters after the fight went public. “The coach and directors are agreed. There are limits that cannot be crossed, there are things that should not happen.
“Above all because what happened took place publicly. Centu is sorry. My affection for him is still there but he has to understand that there are limits you cannot cross.”
FEW LIMITS LEFT
Having recently turned just 26, there are indeed few limits that Centurión has left uncrossed. The former Boca man has a long list of strikes against his name, from drunken violence against team-mates to numerous driving offences and, most seriously of all, grave accusations filed against the youngster by a girlfriend who later withdrew the charges in uncertain circumstances.
The native of Avellaneda’s tough Villa Luján neighbourhood has struggled for years to control his temperament, but it has long looked like a losing battle. And with the typical hypocrisy of the football crowd his misdemeanours are overlooked and excused when he is playing well; but when Ricky hits a patch of bad form as in recent months, there are no lack of talking heads ready to bury him.
Centurión’s case is a test for both player and club at this most sensitive time in the season, with such episodes extremely damaging seven games away from the end of the Superliga title race. But it also exposes those who were only too happy to posit the star for a place in Argentina’s World Cup squad less than a year ago despite those domestic violence charges and now wring their hands over an incident that is far less serious, even if it happened live on television.
The young player needs discipline and real help to overcome his demons – placing him on a pedestal one week only to demonise him the next aids nobody.