In a parallel universe, one in which we’d never heard the fateful word ‘coronavirus,’ the end of April would see no end of action in Argentine football. The Copa de la Superliga would be entering its decisive stages, with the teams at the top battling for places in the Libertadores and Sudamericana and those below fighting tooth and nail for the right to stay inside the top flight come next season.
There also would have been significant movement on the international front, with the Albiceleste's opening two World Cup qualifiers coming and going and the Copa América just over two months away. As it is, Lionel Messi and the rest of the Argentina side are unlikely to set foot on a football pitch for at least the rest of 2020: the pandemic has caused a horrific fixture backlog at club level and a host of leagues across the world must be completed before the national teams can continue.
The Superliga, of course, was one of the very few that finished its calendar prior to Covid-19 bringing the ball to a halt; but just what form the top flight will take once this crisis finally passes is still very much up in the air.
The league's early finish was down to its bloated size, as it was deemed 24 teams could not possibly play out two full rounds of fixtures – causing this hybrid of a short tournament with the Copa Superliga tacked on at the end as a kind of football dessert. Six years after Julio Grondona inflated the Primera División to an unwieldy 30 sides, the gradual process of whipping it into shape has led to all sorts of organisational stop-gaps and acrobatics. One can imagine the dismay of many fans, then, when AFA president Claudio Tapia proposed a move back to that little-loved number.
“Maybe the directors will decide to play with 30 teams and scrap relegation. It is an option, we will have to work on it,” Tapia signalled to TyC Sports. “The directors are consulting with each other, there are differing opinions.”
Under the proposed plans relegation would also be suspended for two years, a move that would at a stroke also do away with the infamous promedios average-point system.
The pragmatic reasons for such a move are understandable. Argentine football has now been paralysed for more than a month, causing immense damage to the budgets and bank balance of almost every team in the country.
As of today there is no sign that the sport will return in the near-future, as quarantine measures continue in place on a nationwide basis; all going well, it would make sense to assume that such activities will be of least priority amid eventual relaxation of lockdown measures. Removing the risk of dropping down to the Nacional, then, is an attractive prospect, as is the promise of money-spinning top-flight football for those further down.
Should these plans go through, however, the trade-off would be a heavy drop in quality for the Primera División that can only hurt the league in the long run. The plight of clubs deserves to be heard and considered, but not at the price of harming Argentine football overall.
Going back on Don Julio's 30-team white elephant was the right decision back in 2015 when the late president's scheme started to be disarmed, and the AFA must have the resolve this time round to see off the proposal and work on a competitive, streamlined first division.