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SPORTS | 21-11-2020 09:32

Stormy waters in Avellaneda as sudden crisis engulfs Racing

A run of defeats has plunged Racing Club into crisis. Such is the scale of the disaster that it now looks set to take with it one of the club's most beloved figures: Diego Milito.

It is a well-known adage in Argentine football (or at least it should be) that a team, no matter how solid and seemingly healthy, is only three bad results from crisis. That is not the case right now for the national team, who picked up a 2-0 win against Peru in Lima on Tuesday to settle in behind Brazil in second place in World Cup qualifying and continue their impressive unbeaten run at the start of the road to Qatar 2022. But for a side that dons the same colours as Lionel Scaloni's charges, a run of defeats threatens to cause total meltdown.

Just a month ago, the future appeared rosy at Racing Club. The Avellaneda outfit breezed through their last four Copa Libertadores group fixtures with ease, albeit missing out on the all-important top spot by a whisker and, as a result, pairing up with formidable Flamengo in the last 16.

Then the Copa de la Liga came about, and the wheels started to fall off. A disastrous 4-1 defeat in El Cilindro to a weakened Atlético Tucumán side was followed by further reverses at the hands of Unión and Arsenal de Sarandí, leaving La Academia rock-bottom of their group without a single point. By the time the side went down to a fourth consecutive loss, going down 2-0, with a team packed with reserve and youth players, the result was greeted with little more than a shrug. The competition, of course, is hardly a priority for Racing, rather – in theory at least – a useful outlet to sharpen players' fitness and form ahead of next week's Libertadores restart. But such is the scale of the disaster that it now looks set to take with it one of the club's most beloved figures.

Diego Milito was an idol at Racing as a player, winning titles in 2001 and 2014 at either end of his illustrious career which included Champions League success at Inter and a berth in Diego Maradona's 2010 World Cup squad. The publicity-shy Sylvester Stallone lookalike has similarly been working in the background in Avellaneda to brilliant effect over the last two years as technical secretary, a post that places him and his bright young backroom staff in charge of transfers, coaching appointments and most of the day-to-day happenings in and around the dressing room.

Milito, who came into the position at the start of 2018 and was key to another Racing crown in the following Superliga, looked untouchable in the role. But the recent malaise has unearthed deep tensions between the secretary, President Víctor Blanco and members of the Savoy Hotel owner's board of directors, which if left unhealed look set to result in the ex-forward's exit from the club at the end of the year and what is bound to be a huge swell of anger among fans who hold him as an idol not just for his playing days, but also for how he and his team have revolutionised the way La Academia do business.

The reasons behind this internal conflict are varied. Some point to Blanco's jealous discontent over Milito's plans to run for the top job – he is not eligible to run in this year's elections but is said to be laying the groundwork for a future candidacy – others, the secretary's disgust at the influence certain directors have on the playing side and in representing Racing players. Milito is also a die-hard supporter of coach Sebastián Beccacece, under fire due to this sudden plummeting form, and additionally said to be frustrated at the snail-like pace of work at the club's new Ezeiza training complex. The secretary stayed at home in Buenos Aires as his charges went off to their latest setback, amid widespread rumours that his decision to leave was already irrevocable – although other, almost simultaneous versions of the saga assured he was ready to stay beyond the end of the year.

How this all will end is still anybody's guess. The Libertadores clash against Flamengo, who are also in dire straits having lost four of their last five games in Brazil and sacked coach Dom Torrent, kicks off with the first leg next Tuesday and will be key in deciding not just Milito's fate but that of Blanco, who is said to be devastated by this public break-up and subsequent condemnation from fans and is considering dropping out of the running for December's polls.

An unlikely win over the Rio giants would go a long way to calming the waters around Avellaneda; but the atmosphere at Racing, as recently as a month ago held up by all as the model of how an Argentine club should be successfully administered, is likely to continue to be tense and poisonous until a conclusion can be found to this sudden crisis upstairs.  

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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