AFA president died last week
4 August ~ Julio Grondona often said that when he eventually left his position as president of the Argentinian Football Association (AFA): "They'll have to carry me out feet first." On Wednesday, after 35 controversial years in charge of the organisation, that prediction finally came to pass when doctors confirmed his death from heart complications at the age of 82. In 1979, when Grondona took charge, no previous AFA president had lasted longer than three years in the position.
The national team were the World Cup holders and the domestic league was strong; of the squad which won the tournament on home soil in 1978, only Mario Kempes played his club football abroad.
Starting from such an advantageous position, it was perhaps not surprising that Grondona swiftly broke the previous record for longest incumbent – under his presidency, Argentina would underperform at Spain 82, but would be world champions again in 1986 and reach a third final in four World Cups in 1990. After that, though, success dried up at national team level. The 1993 Copa América remains the last senior trophy Argentina won.
Combined with this drop-off in national team performance, the league has seen a downturn in quality and a perceived increase in spectator violence under Grondona's stewardship. When he took charge, Argentinian football had witnessed 102 deaths, of which 71 occurred in one tragic incident at River Plate's stadium during a Superclásico in 1968, when a crush caused by an exit not being opened killed many Boca Juniors fans. Since April 6, 1979, when Grondona took his position at the AFA, 183 people have lost their lives as a result of football-related violence (according to the website of NGO Salvemos Al Fútbol).
Added to this, there has been a decline in quality in the league – also affected by the country's economic instability – and corruption scandals, one as recently as last month. This involved senior AFA officials including Grondona and his son being implicated in the resale of World Cup tickets,. The fact he had such a quantity of tickets to sell illustrates that his death will have wider effects than just in Argentinian football; Grondona was a FIFA vice-president as well, considered by many as second only to Sepp Blatter within the organisation.
The big question is what happens next, because it would be simplistic to think that the replacement will be better just by virtue of not being Julio Grondona. "The clubs [who vote for the AFA president every four years] know I'm the least bad option," he once said. If Argentinian football takes this opportunity to reinvent itself, things might improve – but at this stage, that feels like a very big "if". Sam Kelly