Wednesday, September 09, 2009

How fans are caught in the middle of a mess

The current state of things around our national team poses a dilemma and have many fans, like myself, suffering as the real and only innocent victims of a history of bad decisions, mostly driven by selfish personal interests that have a complete and pretty evident disregard of the well-being of Argentine football as a whole and the national team in particular.

Ever since Julio Humberto GRONDONA took over as the Argentine Football Association (AFA) in 1979, our football has suffered from his unscrupulous operations and his mafia-like policies. A sort of 'I scratch your back and you scratch mine' kind of system that he established between him and his accomplishes, the presidents of the Argentine clubs that gave him more power, in order to take their cuts and become powerful men at the same time.

I vote for you in every presidential election at the AFA from here to eternity and you help my team get promoted or avoid relegation or even have every controversial decision in every important match go my way.

That is the kind of power Julio GRONDONA has build up during the last three decades. He shook hands with the de facto military presidents that were responsible for the disappearing of 30,000 Argentines. He then shook hands with the democratic Presidents elected after them and they come and go, but GRONDONA seems to be perpetually in that powerful position of his.

I think the only good decision that GRONDONA took in his entire tenure as the big chief of Argentine football was to appoint José PEKERMAN as Youth Coach, when the man had no pedigree or fame and he was competing for that job with people with a notably higher profile than him.

One good decision in 30 years gives him a worse ratio than TEVEZ's goal-scoring record in this World Cup Qualifiers.

Along the way...GRONDONA (now 77-years old) is to be blamed for the following cancers in our beautiful game:

- The Barrabrava culture: By the time hooligans were being controlled in most countries around the world, the Argentine barrabravas began their golden era and GRONDONA was never able to come up with a solution. Why? Because many of the clubs' presidents use the barrabravas as a tool to pressure the regular fans to vote for them. They are pretty much a mob that will sign for the best bidder and will paint flags and banners with the name of the candidate that gives them free plane tickets to follow the team abroad or in the provinces or extra match tickets for them to re-sell and make a small fortune out of it.

In many notable cases like River Plate, for example, the barrabrava has taken such an uncontrollable power that they even took a cut in Juan Pablo CARRIZO's transfer to Italy. Not that CARRIZO is guilty of it, it was a very filthy business going on between the club directors (those shameless criminals that are killing one of Argentina's most prestigious clubs) and the barrabrava (another kind of criminals).

The fact that some players (like at Independiente) had meetings with the bosses of their barrabrava to arrange how the players will pay for the firm to travel to the World Cup in South Africa, without the AFA intervening to put an end to such aberration. Violence and the violent firms are like a cancer that has spread all over in Argentine football and sometimes it is almost impossible to draw the line as to whether the violence really comes from a small and organised group of 'fans' or whether it comes from those wearing suits and ties and carrying big briefcases full of dirty money while they make decisions that keep ruining our game.

A fact to help me put this into perspective: Since GRONDONA took over as President of the AFA, there have been 141 football-related deaths in Argentina. An average of 4,7 per year.

- The crazy league in Argentina that nobody understand (and hence don't care about):
In 1981 GRONDONA decided that it wasn't enough with the refereeing decisions going the way of River Plate and Boca Juniors, so he introduced the 'promedios' (point average system) that prevented big clubs to get relegated if they had a bad season and finished bottom or near the bottom of the standings. With his new system, if River Plate or Boca Juniors had a bad campaign, they were surely going to be able to get enough points the following season to enrich their 'promedio' and get out of jail. As early as in 1983, the system proved efficient for River Plate as they escaped relegation even when they finished in the bottom two, so they got to stay up.

GRONDONA and his business were smiling. Fair play and justice are still crying.

Not happy with those changes, in 1989/1990, GRONDONA decided that he was going to play two tournaments in one season. The Apertura and the Clausura. The reason behind it? Shorter tournaments will give many teams a shot at the title and will prove to be more exciting. To some extent, he was right, but it was hardly fair when a team won the Apertura playing most derby matches at home and avoiding travels to the provinces. Qualification to the Continental cup competitions was never clear and proper fans in Argentina have to have a major in maths to understand whether they are in good or bad positions when it comes to qualifying for the Copa Libertadores or Copa Sudamericana.

Did I mention that Boca Juniors and River Plate get annual invitations to the Copa Sudamericana and that they don't qualify on virtue of points gathered? Yes. You are right. It's non-sense.

- Deal with the TV: Since 1985, GRONDONA signed a contract with a company called Torneos y Competencias (they have the TV channel most of you know: TyC Sports) to give them the exclusive broadcasting rights for Argentine football. Ever since then, the TV company exercised a monopoly that prevented any other channel in the country to show the goals until Sunday at midnight (after they aired the famous show: Fútbol de Primera, which shows highlights of the weekend's games -similar to Match of the Day in England-).

Until last month, it worked for GRONDONA. He even renewed that contract with TyC two years ago. All of a sudden, the government -locked in a fierce battle with Grupo Clarín -owner of TyC- approached GRONDONA, offered him twice as much for the same broadcasting rights and that was it. GRONDONA tore up the contract with TyC and he began with his rants of saying how inconvenient the TyC contract was for Argentine football and how disadvantaged the AFA was under those terms.

- Lack of financial control of the clubs: Football clubs are always bailed out in Argentina. They mismanage. They don't go by the rules. They steal and they never pay taxes or honour their contracts, but still, there's always a way out for them.

Racing Club is a major example. Part of the Big5 in Argentina, the club was the living proof of what I said in the previous paragraph. Pressured by the fact that they couldn't win the league in 35 years, all sorts of desperate measures were taken and the result was a mounting debt of 40 or 70 million USD until the club had to file for bankruptcy.

The government then acted to make sure the club was kept alive and a private company was welcomed to rescue the club with a promise that the debt would be pay in 10 years. A decade later, that company itself went bankrupt and the corruption seen in their everyday affairs was even bigger than before.

GRONDONA first promoted and supported the introduction of private companies in Argentine clubs and when he saw it was clearly not working, he changed his mind, but the damage was done.

The AFA promise of punishing clubs with transfer embargoes or points deduction for a misuse of money or stadium closure for violence never actually happened and everybody is still at it as long as GRONDONA keeps getting his votes and his pocket money.

And us, the fans, are in the middle of this mess.

The appointment of Diego MARADONA was nothing else than a continuity of this decadent government that GRONDONA is running with no apparent and serious opposition.

How can you form an opposition if the man has everything covered and his henchmen do the dirty job for him?

There is no room for democracy under this totalitarian old dinosaur that keeps getting his own way time after time.

On one hand he appoints MARADONA and gives him total control. On the other...he doesn't let Diego pick his coaching staff because he doesn't like Oscar RUGGERI.

GRONDONA clearly picked MARADONA with the conviction that Argentina were going to qualify to South Africa without a problem and only because having Diego as the boss would mean heavy dollars coming his way (with TV money, friendly matches offers, juicy sponsorship deals, etc).

Now there is a feeling in the air that changes could come if Argentina miss out of the next World Cup and that a new order should be imposed in Argentine football if that happens.

Many of us, fans, who just want our national team to perform the way we know it can perform, don't know what to think.

If I was given a contract to sign in which I'm guaranteed that if Argentina crashes out and miss the World Cup in South Africa next year GRONDONA will be removed from his position (and none of his henchmen will get appointed to replace him), then I'll be really sorry that the price we're paying is rather steep, but I'll happily sign it in the search of a greater good.

Since there are no guarantees of that happening and my love for my national football team is still very strong, I've got no option but to wish Argentina well and celebrate the goals that could keep perpetuating GRONDONA in charge (for much as it hurts me to death).

A horrible situation to be in, but this story was something I wanted to share with you for a long time now. I hope I have helped you to understand what's beneath the surface in Argentine football.


Don't forget to listen to our podcast. The perfect build-up for the match against Paraguay in Asunción:

Simply click the audio player above or right-click on the following link and save it as an MP3 file or listen to it in your computer: download.

Enjoy! And don't forget to send us your views to or right here in the comments' box. If you want to participate in a future edition of our podcast, make sure to drop us an e-mail too.


John said...

I'm really puzzled by the fact since we fans seems to know so much about this, I wonder FIFA (the so-called International Federation of the game) is aware about this?

Raj said...

Very insightful article. I hardly follow the local Argentine league and was not aware of all this politics involving the bigger clubs not getting relegated. It was news to me all that you had written. It seems to me that there are far more complicated issues on hand than just the Maradona one.


pisingh said...

Thanks Seba- I am an English follower of Argentinian local football for 10 years through Channel 5 airing the show Futbol de Primera (although it has now ended and I use Al Jazeera). When I started watching River played the best football, had big players and now they deserve relegation...Aguilar must be kicked ou too...The Maradona decision smells like a pension payout for Maradona, hopefuly followed by his retirement soon.

David N said...

Best thing you've ever written on here, Seba, great stuff. Passionate and angry but measured, sensible and articulate too, you do a good job of revealing what the numerous problems facing football in Argentina mean for the average fan.

Grondona is not alone in his corruption and seeming lack of care for the future of the game, however, he's joined by the likes of Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner. Football never seems to be governed by football fans.

Sebastian said...

Thanks for your words, people!

I'm glad I could shed some light on these very important subjects and I wish I could give you more information.

Sometimes, due to lack of time, mainly, I concentrate on the football (the lineup, the standings, the players, the performances, the breaking news), but I wish I could give you all more inside information from the nasty behind-the-scenes in Argentine football.

Since I'm here, I'd like you to visit another website that I'm doing with a couple of journalists/friends and it is about Argentine football too (local league and national team).

We only did a 'soft-opening', but we've got some interesting features and another podcast show for you to listen while you wait for the Paraguay match.

It'll get better with time, I promise. But in the meantime, you can start visiting.

Soy_de_River said...

Well said Seba. I too look forward to the day that grondona steps down. However knowing argentine politics like I do, the successor will probably be worse than the original. I've heard two statements from fellow argentines about us. 1. Sometimes I wonder if we should govern ourselves. ( I think we should but our track record says different) 2. We are born to suffer. (I think this may actually be true!)

Anyways, well said my friend, well said. From one Seba to another, abrazos!

Anonymous said...

ecuador won and uruguay is leading paraguay.

Anonymous said...

leading colombia*

johnny said...

Great job Seba ! It must be painful to write such an honest appraisal of your beloved sport in Argentina, but we, the readers, are much the better informed because of it. Much thanks !

Anonymous said...

Rune said...

Fantastic article, Seba. Very well written I agree with you with all of my heart.

Also nice work with the podcast.

sirus said...

wtf... what a shame... :((

msi2 said...

We are in deep shit!

Anonymous said...

Lost again, it shouldn't be with such talents. Maradona should be replaced in my point of view. Pekerman does a good job, can be consider as the new manager

Sir Raul

MaxiLopez said...

Keep the good work SEBA. Common fans don't know why the situation we are stuck is happening. You are here to show them the truth.

Serenity Now said...

This is a great post, Seba, but for me the blatant corruption and incompetence of the AFA is merely a reflection of the broader problems in Argentina's institutions.

Argentina is a country that was, less than a century ago, one of the wealthiest in the world. Even through to the 1960s, when the country had already commenced its decline, people came to Argentina from all over the world in the hope of improving their lives. They came to a country filled with magnificent architecture, wide avenues, parks, famous shopping districts (including the first and only branch of Harrods outside of the United Kingdom), opera houses, museums, the first underground rail system in the Southern hemisphere (the incredible Línea A), the finest and most expensive cemetery in the world in Recoleta, a top class education system... A country whose citizens would even go on grand tours of Europe, bringing back antiquities and works of art.

Today Argentinos live beneath the shadow of these past glories. Resigned to a standard of living closer to the developing nations of the world than to the countries that were its peers not so long ago, to dirty, rubbish strewn streets, to crime, to a mediocre education for most of the population, to a chaotic and inefficient transportation system, and to corruption at every level. Today the collectors and dealers of arts and antiques come from Europe to return the works of art brought to Argentina back to the Old Continent.

There's been the Peso Moneda Nacional, the Peso Ley 18.188, the Peso Argentino, the Austral and the Nuevo Peso Argentino[1], but never the fiscal discipline required to maintain their value. Civilian and military governments, orthodox and non-orthodox policies - the result is always the same. Only now the government destroys the credibility of INDEC by manipulating the inflation statistics. In the end, such was the manipulation, that the workers of INDEC actually went on strike to protest against it! Is there any other country in the world where the statisticians would be pushed into something like this?

And, while the likes of Chile and Brazil take advantage to the positive shock to their terms of trade from the commodity price boom to save and to improve the long-term growth potential of their economies (both, it must be noted, with leftist governments also), in Argentina these gains are squandered on cheap populism and blatant clientism and patronage. If the Chilenos and the Brazucas can make policy in a more sensible, open and non-politicised way, why is this not possible in Argentina?

Then, with each economic crisis, more people queue outside the embassies of the countries that their parents and grandparents left for Argentina with the dream of making a better life for themselves and their families.

You can delete this post if you don't think it's appropriate, but in my opinion what Grondona and his Mafia have done to Argentine football is simply a microcosm of the broader failings that are unfortunately endemic in Argentina and have been for decades.

[1] See this wonderful video of the late, great Tato Bores.

Budi said...

nice article.... it's funny since we have the same 'bastard' here in Indonesia. Although he is criminal (just released from jail)he still lead the organization. No wonder our football is disaster... what a beautiful life