“If we had played badly or hadn’t had a say in the game, I’d have known this was going to happen. But we’re improving little by little, this is a team which is being formed. I believe there are people who understand that… and another group who don’t.” So spoke Miguel Micó on Tuesday, in a soundbite that nicely encapsulated the thoroughly rotten way Racing Club’s season is continuing to go in Argentina.
Vélez Sársfield and Estudiantes share the summit after three matches of the Clausura, but it’s Racing, one of Argentina’s ‘Big Five’ and still as useless as they’ve been for a couple of seasons now, who were making the headlines. Micó, the manager, had to call off the post-match press conference after being confronted by a group of angry fans whilst on his way to deliver his piece into the microphones. Racing’s poor performance in the last few seasons has lead to a low points average, which in turn gives a low standing in the Promedio, the table – based on the previous three seasons’ results – used to work out relegation places in Argentina (it’s at the bottom).
Micó isn’t to blame for that – he only came in after Gustavo Costas left in December – and nor are most of his players. Aside from the return on loan of Maxi Moralez, who only left the club for Russia six months ago, Micó has had to bring a few other youngsters into the first team from the reserves and youth divisions, and doesn’t think they should have to bear the brunt of the previous teams’ mistakes in getting them into this mess.
“The idea is to find the [correct] team as soon as possible,” Micó said after being asked when Racing were finally going to win a match in 2008. So far they’ve drawn with relegation-bound Olimpo, lost to Banfield and, on Saturday, drew 0-0 with Gimnasia de Jujuy.
Racing to Oblivion
So why are Racing so useless? Institutional instability. As I wrote previously, Racing’s current ruling regime are seriously at odds with the fans. The club went bankrupt in 1998, and was taken over by holding company Blanquiceleste in 2001. During 2007, Blanquiceleste came under even more pressure than ever before to relinquish control of the club, with many fans suspicious of how much money the directors were making for themselves (the enterprise isn’t supposed to be profit-making), and angered at the lack of elections to decide the president.
Over the December-January summer break, things came to a head as seven first-team players left the club in a row over unpaid wages. Under pressure from fan protests and an unstable working environment, the previous lot hadn’t been doing very well – but the squad who’ve got to get through this Clausura have been thrown together at short notice and that’s not going to make it easy to perform.
One thing their fans might want to bear in mind, though, is that Racing have at least scored. Another of the ‘Big Five’, San Lorenzo, can’t even boast a goal yet in this year’s championship – or a point. A remarkable turnaround for a side who won the corresponding championship last year.
San Lorenzo’s Misery
Their season got worse after an already underwhelming start, when they travelled to the Monumental to take on River Plate in the year’s first big clásico (derby). It was a bit of a reunion day as well, since Los Santos’ manager Ramón Díaz and playmaker Andrés D’Alessandro, recently signed from Real Zaragoza of Spain, were both returning for the first time to their former club. It didn’t go well for either of them. D’Alessandro had to leave the field in the 23rd minute after suffering a muscle pain that will keep him out for a couple of weeks, and just minutes later River’s Colombian star striker Radamel Falcao García headed them into the lead. Matías Abelairas, the latest in their seemingly never-ending production line of really bloody good attacking-midfielder-cum-forwards, doubled the lead eight minutes into the second half and the hosts never looked back.
It’s two unexpected teams who are top, though, just ahead of River and fellow giants Boca Juniors, both on seven points. Estudiantes have started life under Roberto Sensini well, pouring forward at every opportunity, and whilst their Copa Libertadores opener might have gone better than a narrow loss in Cuenca, they’re starting to look devastating in the league, as Newell’s Old Boys will attest after the 5-2 pasting they found themselves on the wrong end of on Friday evening. Juan Sebastián Verón is pulling the strings like a man ten years younger in central midfield, but if you want one name to try and kid your friends you knew all about in a few years time, remember Pablo Piatti, a fast, 18-year-old wide-man who broke into the first team with a late winner in a crucial match of Estudiantes’ title-winning campaign in the 2006 Apertura and is now scoring and setting goals up regularly.
Vélez head the table nominally, though given their identical goals scored and conceded record with Estudiantes it’s presumably only so that the stat-counters can stick someone different up there now and then – even alphabetical order doesn’t hold much sway in Argentina. They saw off Banfield, who are themselves no slouches, 3-0 in Liniers on Saturday, and Sergio Sena, one of their goalscorers in that match, insists they’ve not yet hit their stride. Hugo Tocalli’s young side perhaps lack the bit of experience Verón lends to Estudiantes, but it’ll be interesting to see how far they can go, unencumbered by a Copa Libertadores challenge.
Finally, an honourable mention for Martín Palermo, who scored twice at the weekend. The Argentine press are now salivating over the fact that his next goal will draw him level with Francisco Varallo, and the one after that will make him Boca Juniors’ all-time highest goalscorer. It’s not actually true, as I explained on Hasta El Gol Siempre in September, but still, a headline’s a headline, so you can guarantee every news agency going will be telling you about it next week if he does score against Gimnasia on Sunday. And if Palermo decided to defect to San Lorenzo or Racing in the meantime, Ramón Díaz or Miguel Micó surely wouldn’t mind…