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SPORTS | 21-12-2019 12:33

New beginnings, and no little rebuilding, ahead for ‘Big Five’

The turn of the year will see Argentina’s biggest clubs line up with a host of new players, new coaches and, in some cases, even new presidents sitting in the boardroom.

The times, they are a changin’.

Due to the vagaries of the Argentine football calendar, the end of each year often proves to be a watershed for teams across the country. The Superliga may be in full flow, with the season reconvening in just over a month for a final, seven-game sprint to the finish; but for many of the sides holding out hopes for the title – and there are no few contenders still – 2020 will see them line up with a host of new players, new coaches and, in some cases, even new presidents sitting in the boardroom.

One of those incipient administrations has gained more headlines than most. On December 8, Jorge Amor Ameal stormed the Boca Juniors elections, gaining a massive 52.84 percent of the votes to regain the Xeneize presidency eight years after yielding the top job to Daniel Angelici.

C h r i s t i a n G r i b a u d o , Angelici’s anointed heir at the Bombonera, managed just 30.6 percent to finish a distant second, but all eyes were on Ameal’s second vice-president, Juan Román Riquelme, whose late intervention in the race galvanised fans and ensured a record turn-out on polling day to see Ameal clear.

The Boca presidency had been handed down uninterruptedly through incumbents and favoured candidates ever since 1995, when Mauricio Macri first took over in his first term. Such unbroken continuity has caused no little friction in this, the first real handover of power for more than two decades.

“It has been no easy task, this is the first time in almost 20 years that the board has been completely changed. In order to carry out what we want in our club, we already have a team in place,” First Vice-President Mario Pergolini signalled to fans in an open letter following almost a week of radio silence from the new authorities.

“The handover was not what we expected, for different reasons, and we were only given an economic report that, if we allowed ourselves to be led by what [the Angelici administration] constantly claimed, the club is not in the shape we thought it was.”

It is in footballing matters, however, that Boca supporters will be most eager for news. At the behest of Riquelme, veteran coach Miguel Ángel Russo – by no coincidence at all, the last man to deliver Copa Libertadores glory for Boca, in 2007 – will take up the reins at the start of the new year, while club favourite Rolando Schiavi and the entire Boca reserve and youth team coaching staff have been removed from their positions, perhaps a reflection on the club’s struggles to promote fresh promises from within in recent years. In terms of new players, meanwhile, an endless carousel of possible names is in motion: from Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero to Chile’s Charles Aranguiz, and even wayward winger Ricardo Centurión.

PERSONALITIES

Down the road in Bajo Flores, the accession of another instantly recognisable personality is unlikely to cause a similar seismic shift at San Lorenzo. Marcelo Tinelli has taken up the top job after years of acting as vice and benefactor to Matías Lammens, who moves into the Tourism and Sports Ministry following his unsuccessful tilt at the Buenos Aires City mayoral post.

Tinelli’s first job will be to trim the Cuervo’s bloated squad, meaning plenty of players may be leaving this summer; while on the coaching front Diego Monarriz will take permanent duties after impressing in an interim role.

Sebastián Beccacece, meanwhile, completes a curious feat: taking over control of both Avellaneda giants in the space of a single season. The former Defensa y Justicia coach failed to impress with Independiente, but that proved no impediment to being offered the job at Racing as the successor to Eduardo Coudet, who moved to Internacional in B r a z i l f o l l o w i n g l a s t Saturday’s Trofeo de Campeones triumph over Tigre.

In contrast, the identity of the next trainer for the Rojo is still a mystery: Hernán Crespo is one possibility for the job that has now sat vacant for over two months.

Of the ‘Big Five’, then, only River Plate go into 2020 with the same man on the bench.

“I can announce that on January 2 I will be here, I will be taking pre-season with the squad. My year starts with River,” Marcelo Gallardo told reporters at the start of December, dispelling rumours that he was ready to leave the Monumental after five years.

Gallardo’s decision, however, has not been shared by all in the club. Exequiel Palacios has already left for Bayer Leverkusen, while Lucas Martínez Quarta and Ignacio Fernández are also in the gaze of Europe’s top clubs.

More names could yet follow, meaning that, while River may enter the new year with more stability than their rivals, the same truth holds: it will be a time of new beginnings and no little rebuilding, and with precious little time to do so.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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