As December comes to a close and January arrives at speed, it is all the same hard to believe that another year has gone by. For in the topsy-turvy world of Argentine football, each period of 365 days can often feel like an entire decade.
True to form, 2019 was as action-packed as anyone could have hoped. From Juan Román Riquelme’s triumphant entry into footballing politics to Diego Maradona’s return to coaching – lavish leatherbound throne included – and, perhaps the biggest shock of all, Lionel Messi proving that he not only has a temper but is even capable of losing it, there was barely time to take it all in before it was time for the next bombshell to land.
But the New Year is upon us, with the promise of a 2020 full of hi-jinks, capers and shenanigans; and, in the immortal words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, “B-B-B-Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Perhaps the only way to preserve one’s sanity is to read on and imbibe the review of the football year yet to come, ensuring that not even the most outrageous sporting plot twist will catch you unawares.
Ricardo Centurión seals a surprise return to Boca Juniors. The crazy times are behind me, the wayward winger assures, before rushing out of his presentation after being informed that the Buenos Aires City authorities were towing his car for being parked across three disabled spaces.
An exodus of talent has left River Plate desperately short of options at the start of the season. Marcelo Gallardo is forced to pick seven of his own children in the starting lineup against Independiente. They win 3-0.
Racing Club’s faint title hopes are extinguished when coach Sebastián Beccacece walks out on the team with four matches still to play. The lusciously locked trainer becomes Pantene’s spokesman for the South American continent, quadrupling his Academia wages.
Gallardo’s efforts to blood the latest member of his family with a full River debut are thwarted by his wife, who points out, not without justification, that their youngest son is four years old and that the game kicks off “way past his bedtime.”
Suspended for Argentina’s opening World Cup qualifier, Lionel Messi makes a surprise appearance as a guest TyC Sports colour commentator for the clash against Ecuador. He spends the entire 90 minutes insulting CONMEBOL (“bunch of f***ing jokers”) alongside son Mateo, an act that earns him a further match suspension from apoplectic Alejandro Domínguez.
Exasperated by his charges’ failings on the pitch, Boca Vice-President Riquelme makes a sensational return to professional football aged 41. Mate and Thermos in hand, the veteran scores a scorching free-kick in the final game of the Superliga against Gimnasia to hand Boca the title, before receiving a red card for his part in a brutal fistfight on the sidelines with Diego Maradona.
Tensions between Alberto Fernández’s government and the Superliga over access to games continue to rumble. An uneasy truce is reached during the Copa de la Superliga: 45 minutes of each match will be screened free to air under the new Fútbol para Todos programme; the second half remains on premium channels.
The white half of La Plata is thrown from joy to mourning as, hours after leading Gimnasia to Copa Superliga glory and escape from relegation, Diego Maradona announces he is leaving the club “to take up another job.” Boca, Racing and the Argentina national team are speculated as possible destinations before Diego comes clean: he is joining Alberto Fernández’s Cabinet as Economy minister.
Estudiantes prove the surprise package in the Copa de la Superliga, beating Independiente in the final. The Pincha attribute their success to the ‘Mascherano’ factor; using his extensive Barcelona contact book, the midfielder convinced the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Jordi Alba to join him in La Plata, creating an formidable, if rather ageing, football machine.
Lionel Messi continues to stoke tensions with Brazil following last year’s Copa America controversy, stating in an interview prior to the 2020 edition that Neymar “debuted with a lad.”
The Argentine government is forced to apologise to its Australian counterpart after a TV commercial publicising the two sides’ Copa game featured Sergio Agüero repeatedly punching a kangeroo in the face.
After 25 long trophyless years, the Copa America returns to Argentina as the Albiceleste triumph 1-0 against Brazil in the final. Lionel Messi scores the winning goal, beating seven players in a masterly 60-metre sprint, and celebrates by vomiting on a Brazilian flag ripped from the hands of a fan. “I just felt a bit queasy,” the beaming star claimed, an excuse which did not save him from instantly being denounced as a persona non grata by the livid Jair Bolsonaro.
In what is greeted as a political masterstroke, Maradona strikes a deal with the IMF under which the entirety of Argentina’s US$50 billion debt is written off. “I said I wasn’t paying and if they didn’t like it I’d be waiting for them at Segurola and La Habana,” the minister stated when asked how he negotiated such a favourable accord.
The government and Superliga once more clash over the thorny issue of television rights. For the 2020-2021 season they agree to rotate the broadcasts on a goal-by-goal basis. Almost all fans are outraged, with the exception of Banfield, who have not scored since December 2019 and are little affected by the new measure.
Messi continues to cultivate his bad boy image. On a trip home to Rosario the star is accused of not saying thank you to a kiosk owner after buying a diet Coke and a Güaymallén alfajor, while the next day a policeman pulls him over in the street for not looking both ways before crossing.
Ricardo Centurión is also making the headlines for his bad behaviour. After being dropped by Boca following a 72-hour bender, the forward attempts to hijack a helicopter and c r a s h i t i n t o R i q u e l m e ’ s B o m b o n e r a office. Tragedy was averte d by t he quick-thinking Ro - mán, who used the reflec - ting light off of his m a t e bombilla to dazzle the pilot and cause him to veer off into safety. Centurión receives a week’s suspension and a warning to clean up his act.
Under the title ‘The chequebook of God’, Forbes magazine makes Diego Maradona its cover star. The financial gurus’ plaudits are well-placed: the star’s unorthodox methods have reduced inflation to one digit, slashed poverty 80% and tripled the average Argentine’s salary, all in the space of four months.
Still suspended by CONMEBOL for his Copa antics, Messi is invited to sing Argentina’s national anthem prior to the World Cup qualifier against Chile. The star speeds onto the pitch on the back of a motorbike and mutters the first few words of the hymn, before jumping into a raucous rendition of Steppenwolf’s seminal hit ‘Born to be Wild.’
The Copa Libertadores final is thrown into chaos when Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Lima, Bogotá, Medellín, Montevideo and Asunción all pull out as hosts. The clash between Gallardo’s River – now, thanks to a spate of winter signings, boasting barely three of his sons in the first XI – and Peñarol is eventually played at 3pm in Santiago del Estero, and won by the Uruguayans by walkover when eight Millo stars succumb to heatstroke.
A hushed, reverential silence fills the Stockholm ballroom as Diego Maradona takes the stage to accept the Nobel Prize in Economics for his remarkable work in turning around Argentina’s finances. Wearing a fluorescent green suit, Diego dedicates his triumph to “that English son of a bitch” Juan Sebastián Verón, grabs his crotch and files off the stage.
In its end-of-year message the AFA expresses its hope that 2021 will finally be the y e a r t h a t away fans return to stadiums.