It was the news that many River Plate fans had been dreading, even though they suspected it was coming. Marcelo Gallardo announced Thursday that he will step down as coach of the Millionario when his contract ends in December. With the decision, ‘El Muñeco’ brings to an end a glorious eight-year spell during which he has led the side to 14 titles, the most successful period in the club's history.
"I'm going to be brief. I'm here to make a clear announcement. My contract ends in December and I will no longer be at the club. It's one of the most difficult and heartfelt decisions I’ve ever had to make,” a clearly emotional Gallardo said at a press conference.
“Beyond the announcement, I am here to thank the people who trusted me and all the management team for giving me the opportunity to express myself with total freedom to develop our work,” he added.
With two games left to play in the domestic championship and the start of the Qatar 2022 World Cup just weeks away, the 46-year-old said Sunday would probably be the last day he leads River into a home match at their famous Monumental stadium.
"It is possible that on Sunday I will have my last game at the Monumental. I simply [want to say] thank you for the love and affection you have shown me," he said in a message to loyal fans.
The league title is already all but out of reach. Currently on 44 points, River are trailing their arch-rivals and leaders Boca Juniors, who have 48 points and a game in hand. It’s been a poor season for the Millo compared to recent years – they suffered a poor run of form in the Liga Profesional de Fútbol and were eliminated in the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores and in the Copa Argentino.
"Our applause from Paris to Buenos Aires for Marcelo Gallardo. The end of a great era at @RiverPlate and Argentine football. Best of luck in what's to come, el Muñeco!" tweeted French club PSG, the side where the former attacking midfielder played during the 2007-2008 season.
Born in Merlo in Buenos Aires Province, Gallardo took charge of River on June 6, 2014. His spell as coach is the second-longest in the side’s long history and the one that reaped the most titles: 14 in total. To date, he has managed 422 matches, with a record of 226 wins, 112 draws and 84 defeats – an enviable record.
He boasts a record of seven international and seven domestic titles, including two Copa Libertadores titles (2015 and 2018), three Recopas Sudamericana wins (2015, 2016 and 2019), one Copa Sudamericana (2014) victory, one Suruga Bank Cup (2015) title, three Copa Argentinas (2015-16, 2016-17 and 2018-19), three Supercopas Argentinas (2017, 2019 and 2021) and one Liga Profesional title (2021).
For the Millo fans, who in 2011 suffered an unthinkable relegation to the second flight, Gallardo is almost a lucky charm. His finest hour will be remembered as the classy 3-1 win over Boca in the final of the 2018 Copa Libertadores at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid.
Throughout his spell, Gallardo has enjoyed a clear supremacy over the Xeneize, eliminating them in repeated Libertadores duels, both the 2015 round of 16 and the 2019 semi-finals, as well as beating them in the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana 2014 and the final of the Supercopa Argentina 2018. ‘El Muñeco' also returned River to the international stage in the process.
River, however, have been hit hard by the departure of stars such as Julián Álvarez (to Manchester City) and Enzo Fernández (Benfica), failing to hit the heights of recent years in this campaign.
‘A beautiful cycle’
"Everything has an end, it's time to finish closing a beautiful cycle, [a] very valuable [one] and finally to thank the fans. Every little tribute they have given me when I have entered a field of play, especially in recent years, will be an unforgettable memory. Thank you for the shows of affection,” said Gallardo on Thursday.
“Beyond the sadness, I have a very deep inner peace that makes me feel good about myself. The road I have travelled over all these years makes me feel very proud. That's the word I want to emphasise,” he concluded.
Gallardo has said nothing about his next destination, although European clubs have sought him out in recent years and a trip over the Atlantic looks most likely.
As for River, the rumour mill is already rolling. Former defender Martín Demichelis, currently in charge of Bayern Munich’s B team, is reportedly on the list, as is Hernán Crespo, who has had a great spell at Defensa y Justicia, leading them to the Copa Sudamericana title. Pablo Aimar, currently with Argentina's youth team, is also a potential name in the frame.