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SPORTS | 13-04-2023 23:37

Red devils in crisis: Independiente creep ever closer to disaster

Racked with problems on and off the pitch, seven-time Copa Libertadores winners Independiente have been plunged into crisis.

For Avellaneda's Red Devils, Independiente, the last few weeks have indeed proved hellish. Racked with problems on and off the pitch, the seven-time Copa Libertadores winners have been plunged into an acute crisis, demonstrating that once more the pressure cooker of an Argentine football boardroom is not for everybody.

Fabián Doman is the latest familiar face to find that out the hard way. The star of the América TV network ruled the roost from the safety of his television panel, before deciding to dive into the Liga Profesional de Fútbol in order to challenge the deeply unpopular Hugo Moyano for the presidency of Independiente as the Teamster kingpin's mandate came crashing down towards the end.

Amid delays and a whole lot of unedifying squabbles over procedure, Doman was finally voted in by an overwhelming majority of Rojo fans towards the end of 2022, promising a new dawn after the twilight that overshadowed the end of the Moyano administration. But instead, the darkness has only grown deeper. Crippled by debt and court proceedings, and overseeing a truly horrendous start to his debut season, the TV star has thrown in the towel a few days short of his six-month anniversary at the club, his “conscience and hands” clean, as he maintained in a florid, self-justifying letter of resignation published on Twitter that took the entire football world by surprise on Tuesday. Whatever that means.

The crisis Doman pointed to in his abrupt farewell is unquestionably grave. On the pitch, following Independiente sit just two points above the 28th and last league position (which at the end of this year will relegate one unlucky club regardless of their average points status), having won just one of their opening 11 games on the opening day of the season. They have been without a permanent head coach since March after Leandro Stillitano was given the boot after a mere eight matches, and of the 11 players that came to Avellaneda this summer only goalkeeper Rodrigo Rey and top scorer Martín Cauteruccio have looked close to justifying the outlay, though even the latter's four-goal haul includes three by way of the penalty spot.

But that sporting malaise is nothing compared to the club's economic woes. Of all the mountain of debt owed to clubs, players, agents and suppliers alike, valued in tens of millions of dollars, the Gonzalo Verón case is most damaging. The midfielder, who played a grand total of 18 games for the Rojo between 2018 and 2019, won a court case that condemned the club to a payment of almost US$5 million, far beyond their means. If Independiente's latest appeal this week fails, they could face the seizure of their training facility in Wilde as collateral; or even – in the worst-case scenario – a bankruptcy order which would leave them in tatters.

That said, none of these issues were exactly unknown when Doman triumphantly took the stage after his election victory. Supposedly the antithesis of everything Moyano stood for, his ballot still contained many of the same figures who had accompanied the unionist at Independiente these last eight years, including PRO lawmaker and Buenos Aires Province gubernatorial candidate Cristian Ritondo – Doman's principal backer. The utter failure of the summer transfer window, in spite of the tight purse-strings, lays firmly at the new administration's door. The outgoing president simply showed he was not up to the pressure of Argentina's biggest clubs, as he let slip to Olé when asked if he was haunted by failing to reach six months in the post: “I did not think I would even make it this far.”

What comes next is still unclear. As vice-president, another PRO politician, Néstor Grindetti (who was signalled by his predecessor as the man responsible for the mysterious, abortive economic plan that was to have taken Independiente out of financial trouble), will take interim command, though he has already warned that taking the position permanently would interfere with his day job as mayor of Lanús. On top of everything Grindetti will have to find his team a new coach, after the departure of Uruguayan Pablo Repetto that same fateful Tuesday as a result of Doman's exit. 

Over in Avellaneda, fans’ patience has already worn thin with the administration, leaving Independiente a powder keg – and with no coach, no president and not much of a team to speak of either, Sunday's home clásico against Racing will be an acid test in a season that threatens to end in disaster.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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