Split between club president and fans
18 July ~ It's starting to feel almost as if historic relegations are becoming commonplace in Argentina. Two years on from River Plate's drop into the second tier, another of Argentina's "Big Five" have gone down – and like River in 2011, it's their first ever relegation. Independiente will be playing in the B Nacional next season. Only AC Milan and fellow Argentinians Boca Juniors have won more international trophies than Independiente, whose seven Copas Libertadores is a competition record. The 2013-14 season will be a big step down for one of the world's most trophy-laden clubs.
The degree of public shock at Independiente's relegation hasn't been quite the same as it was when River went down – they collapsed late in the season in 2011, while Independiente's fate already seemed all but certain with about ten matches to play. There's also the difference in size between the clubs to consider. Independiente may be one of the country's bigger clubs but River and Boca tower over the others to such an extent that there's little comparison in terms of the amount of media coverage now compared with two years ago.
Relegation has brought trouble for the club at an institutional level: president Javier Cantero has been in a stand off with the club's barra brava since he was voted in in late 2010. Some barras are no more than glorified hooligan gangs but many are more like mafia organisations. Cantero's war on Independiente's barra, combined with the team's woeful form in the last three years (Argentina's relegation system involves averaging out points won over the last three seasons, not just the last one), has given the violent element of their support – and Cantero's political opponents – the perfect excuse to get more vicious.
Two weeks ago, at a meeting of club members and directors, security staff allowed barras and opponents into the hall in which Cantero was due to give a statement – the club president was then bombarded with objects ranging from cigarette lighters to chairs when he got up to speak. Among those opponents, and supporting the barra's violent actions, was Hugo Moyano, the leader of Argentina's largest and most powerful trade union. He is currently in the midst of a major disagreement not just with Cantero but also with the president of the nation, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – politics are never far below the surface in Argentinian football.
Back on the pitch, the pressure will be on next season. Plenty of fans, remembering how competitive the B was during the season River were down there, will be cautious in their predictions. But with River having eventually come back to the Primera at the first time of asking by winning the division, albeit on the last day, Independiente fans will be hoping for the same outcome.
It won't be straightforward, since next season's second tier looks competitive and Independiente haven't been able to benefit from quite the same pull on former heroes or World Cup-winning boyhood fans that led to Fernando Cavenaghi, Alejandro Domínguez and – halfway through 2011-12 – Buenos Aires-raised David Trézéguet to pull on the club's shirt. What's more, when River went down thanks to Argentina's three-year-long system, they'd actually just finished the 2010-11 season eighth in the top flight, Independiente have just ended up 17th.
They have got a lot more to work on than River did, and the barra seem to be doing their best to ensure that there will be a fair share of off-pitch distractions as well. The majority of Independiente fans, though, will be coming into the new season with cautious optimism. After the club's recent travails, surely the only way is up. Sam Kelly