While (most of) Argentina's top flight returned to action last weekend, marking the first domestic round of football in over seven months, there was no shortage of action either away from the pitch. Diego Maradona and River Plate provided the biggest talking points, most of them at a safe distance from the action itself.
Diego hit the headlines on his 60th birthday on Friday as he made a brief, rather upsetting appearance in La Plata ahead of Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata's resounding 3-0 defeat of Patronato to get the Copa Liga Profesional up and running. The 1986 World Cup legend could barely move as he was assisted by two aides in walking a handful of steps onto the Lobo pitch, and was swiftly removed from the stadium to the general concern of everyone watching.
It perhaps came as little surprise that on Tuesday Diego had been checked in at a platense clinic, amid reports he was suffering from depression. The diagnosis was in fact a blood clot on the brain, leading to immediate and urgent surgery and what will likely be a long period of recovery for the idol, whose first season in charge of Gimnasia saw him battle a series of ongoing physical difficulties that severely restrict his mobility.
Eldest daughter Dalma, meanwhile, turned her fury on Maradona's 'inner circle', accusing them of taking advantage of the ailing star's fame for their own ends. “You cannot imagine all the things I write and delete because the only thing that matters is that he's OK,” she fired via social media. “But for the sake of all the bloodsuckers, he'd better be OK.”
Over in Núñez, meanwhile, deciding where to play River's opening Copa game proved a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
The Millo's stubborn insistence on playing Banfield on their training ground was only matched by the Liga Profesional's equal refusal to open up the evocatively named River Camp for business. The weekend came and went with no solution to the impasse – despite the LFP helpfully providing an email address for alternative venue suggestions – and not until Tuesday were Marcelo Gallardo's merry men able to take the pitch, once more renting off Independiente to borrow the Estadio 'AirBnB' Libertadores de América.
The game itself proved a huge anti-climax for the 'hosts,' who steamed into the lead early on before capitulating to go down to a 3-1 defeat. The final ignominy for River came by way of a farcical own goal from Javier Pinola, seconds after the veteran defender had been left in the dust by Mauricio Cuero in a frantic race to the net – scenes that would have undoubtedly brought smiles to Rojo faces, given his continued status as their sworn enemy following that infamous scything, unpunished tackle back in the 2018 Libertadores.
Sand of God
Elsewhere on this opening weekend Argentina's very own answer to Benjamin Button, José Sand, performed an unexpected tribute to Diego by turning the ball in with his hand to equalise for Lanús against Boca Juniors. This Sand of God proved just a momentary setback for Boca, who recovered to win comfortably, and Sand later pushed his sense of irony to the limit by complaining about the standard of the refereeing in Saturday's game.
The weekend also proved one to forget for Pepe's former employers Racing Club, summarily dispatched 4-1 by a weakened Atlético Tucumán side; while soporific goalless draws between Aldosivi and Estudiantes and Argentinos Juniors and San Lorenzo and a mini-riot sparked between Rosario Central fans and the police ahead of Cristian 'Kily' González's winning debut on the Canalla bench against Godoy Cruz – having taken the job four months ago in June – provided the bad and the ugly to round off a most eventful return to action for the nation's favourite game.