After months of inaction, silence and uncertainty, Argentine is finally gearing up for its comeback. A flurry of activity over the past seven days has given at least a degree of clarity about the game's return, with the Argentine Football Association (AFA) going as far as publishing a provisional starting date for the new Liga Profesional de Fútbol and setting out the format for the tournament to come.
Just as, to some extent, the city and province of Buenos Aires have seen their hand forced in opening up lockdown measures, despite still suffering thousands of coronavirus cases daily, so too was the decision in the world of football somewhat taken out of the AFA's hands. In this case CONMEBOL was the big mover, announcing the return of the Copa Libertadores for the middle of September at a time when, while many South American leagues have already retaken the field or are preparing to restart leagues, in Argentina even the return to training remains pending.
That decision caused a furious reaction amongst the power-brokers of Viamonte and the five clubs – River Plate, Tigre, Boca Juniors, Racing Club, Defensa y Justicia – whose participation in the continental competition continues.
“Racing like the other four Argentine clubs in the Libertadores, asked the AFA to demand from CONMEBOL a week's or ten days' delay in starting the Copa, but we only managed to push it from September 15 to 17,” explained Racing president Víctor Blanco to DirecTV, referring to the governing body's rather mischievous resolution to push back the return date a mere 48 hours.
Even Health Minister Ginés González García registered his opposition, stating that “we will try to get Argentine clubs training in the middle of August but this is evidently a rather arbitrary date CONMEBOL set, or they think this has all passed when it is not the case.”
Out of hibernation
What is undeniable is that the sudden appearance of a solid time-frame prompted the AFA to shake itself out of hibernation and start making its own plans, forwarding on a protocol to the Health Ministry while setting September 27 as the start of a shortened 2020 season. The 24 top-flight teams will be separated into six groups, followed by a second group stage and, ultimately, a grand final to determine the winner. In the meantime, clubs and players are doing what they can to shake off the ennui of these long months of quarantine and get back into shape a little ahead of schedule.
Taking advantage of the regional nature of restrictions, eight Racing players were filmed training in the city of Rosario – where such activities, unlike Buenos Aires, are permitted – this week, in a facility part-owned by local boy and Academia full-back Iván Pillúd. “We were really pissed off,” an unnamed AFA official fired to Olé after the news broke. “It took us by surprise and it shouldn't be happening.”
It later emerged, though, that players from both Newell's Old Boys and Rosario Central had been partaking in similar impromptu sessions in the city, while Defensa y Justicia's fitness coach Alejandro 'El Profe' Kohan admitted that some of his charges were also going through their paces.
“A month is not enough to recover everything you lost,” the coach admitted to La Oral Deportiva. “But we have to start somewhere to get things going. It will take a minimum of 45, 50 days to recondition [the players] so that they are in pre-competitive shape.”
It is hard not to sympathise with the hundreds of professionals confined to their homes over the past four months; but even if momentum has picked up for return of normality, the AFA, clubs and players are equally responsible to ensure that every step is taken with the utmost care, so as not to jeopardise the health of others in this most unique of circumstances.