After having conversations with Marcelo Gallardo, the central character of this book, for over three years, in addition to a year-and-a-half’s contact from a previous book, and after asking people who work close to him, observing him in different circumstances and environments, to try to understand and then tell the secrets of an unrepeatable period in the history of the club, I ask myself: What is Marcelo Gallardo to River Plate?
Is he the brilliant strategist capable of knowing what is going to happen in a match before it comes to pass, or the one who won more titles in less time than anyone else in the club’s 118 years of history? Is he the one who pushed for the sweeping reforms at the Ezeiza training ground or the one who annihilated the mystique surrounding Boca? Is he the one who meets monthly with coaches from the youth academy, to sow something that will never be harvested, or the one who won the most important final in River’s history? Is he the one who leaves the training ground 10 or 12 hours after arriving, or the one who forges the bonds of players who later end up holidaying together in a group? Is he the ghost that Boca implores to leave once and for all to coach wherever else, or the coach who in each and every game played at the Monumental, since he did it for the first time in 2014 against Rosario Central, has received the biggest ovation? Is he the one who gave the team an iron personality, the ability to stand up and be counted in hostile territory, or the coach praised by his colleagues on a daily basis and more and more frequently? Is he the man who presses and demands everything be given to the max or the one who empathises with the player like no other before? Is he the one who goes to the village to give the kids a talk about values as if he were one of them or the one who has managed to instil in his players a sense of belonging like never seen before? It’s easy. All these questions are answered in the same way: yes and yes.
Gallardo has long since sat at the table of the most transcendent coaches, of that there is no doubt, alongside José María Minella, Ángel Labruna, El Bambino Veira and Ramón Díaz. I broke it down in a January 2017 article that was on the cover of El Gráfico that ran with the headline "Va por más" (“He's going for more”). In terms of numbers, it is already known, he is first on a par with Ramón: nine titles each, and with a chance of looking down on everyone from above if he wins one more. There is a difference. Ramón won them in seven years, from his three spells in charge, and ‘El Muñeco’ won them in just four-and-a-half years. And if the statistics are more extensive and include the period as a player, Gallardo is already in the lead, but this time he is out in front alone, having accumulated 17 titles in River (eight as a player and nine as DT), surpassing Labruna (nine and six) and Ramón (five and nine). And then, if you look at the quality of the titles, it has already been written that Gallardo is the only one in River's history to win the Copa Libertadores both as a player and as a manager. And he is also the only one to win it twice as a manager.
Gallardo is an emblem for the entire River Plate community. He is the banner. Not only for what he achieved as a coach, but also for the way he expresses himself in conferences, for his behaviour, for his natural and genuine smile every time he comes in contact with people, for the messages he transmits every time he speaks. It is something that is born from the titles – because we will not be so hypocritical as to minimise the value of successes – but it goes far beyond the titles. It is his charisma, his way of being, his spontaneity, his dedication. If any River fan were asked who they would like to represent him, I have no doubt that more than 90 or 95% would answer: El Muñeco.
Does anyone know the club better than Marcelo Gallardo? When I did the maths to find out what percentage of his life had been linked to River (45 linked) and sent it to him by Whatsapp, the figure surprised me. Fnding a case like Gallardo's is a real rarity. He was formed at the club, he was the last to leave and he did it six years after his debut (1999-2003). He spent four years in Monaco, and when he saw that things weren't working out, he didn't go to any emerging league, he decided to return to River. At the age of 27. He would have retired at the club, but they opened the exit door and gave him a gentle little push. Despite that blow, he came back again when he saw the opportunity.
The thought of him ever announcing that he will step down as River coach generates nostalgia in anticipation. Beyond the sadness and anguish for his departure, which will happen someday, because "nothing lasts forever", as Gallardo himself said at the end of 2018, the fan at least will have to trust in the judgement of this almighty coach. When he makes that decision, it will be because it is the best for him and for the club. It will be hard to accept, but it will be so.
The history of the club will continue, thousands and thousands of kids will continue to choose River’s colours, celebrating victories, suffering defeats, being dazzled by new stars, dreaming about new processes. As the song says: "The coaches will leave, the players will pass..." They will pass, it is true, but in Marcelo Gallardo, there will never be another like him.
* This is a translated excerpt from Gallardo recardo (“Gallardo Reloaded”), a biography of Marcelo Gallardo by Diego Borinsky. Published by Aguilar in 2019, it runs 576 pages.
by Diego Borinsky