THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 9 August ~

The Argentine first division was supposed to start on the same weekend as England's Premier League this year, but to those who pay attention to the goings on in Buenos Aires, Wednesday's announcement that the Apertura championship probably wouldn't start as scheduled came as no surprise. A possible delay to the season's commencement was first hinted at shortly after the fixtures were released a couple of weeks ago, when the Argentine Footballers' Union announced that unless their members were paid the debts they were owed by their clubs (and, in some cases, former clubs) the season wouldn't be allowed to kick off.

Since then, Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona -–who's also a FIFA vice-president and was named last year by World Soccer as the fourth most powerful man in international football – has been gladhanding politicians and waddling from meeting to meeting in an attempt to get the nation's football running on time again. A cynic – where Grondona is concerned, there are plenty in Argentina – might say it's the most work he's done in his three decades at the top, which if the waistbands of his and his AFA deputies' suits are anything to go by, have been mostly spent eating five-course meals during board meetings. In fairness to him, Grondona has admitted that some of the fault lies at his feet. "I – that is to say, the AFA – gave them money in the past, which allowed them to get further into debt," he's confessed. It goes a little deeper than that though, as evidenced by the grievances of a placards and-graffiti-based protest by around 60 fans outside AFA headquarters on Tuesday night.

During the last decade in particular, but perhaps coincidentally over the period of Grondona's presidency more generally, the role of the hooligan gangs known as the barra bravas in Argentine football has increased. Grondona's implicit toleration – by failing to stamp it out – of clubs' allowances to the gangs has been a stain on the country's football which has repercussions for the present scenario. Club presidents eager for the members' votes controlled by the barras allow free tickets, transport to away games and many more privileges to the gangs. A recent murder trial after a River Plate hooligan was killed by rival gang members in 2007 revealed that the domestic league's most successful club had even given jobs in the club's social facilities to their hooligans. The rumour that high-up River hooligans took a cut of Gonzalo Higuaín's transfer fee when he moved to Real Madrid has stuck ever since the transfer went through in December 2006.

That last point is the salient one here, because the hooligans – by this and many other means, such as driving ordinary fans away from the stadiums – have been a massive drain on the country's footballing finances. Grondona has made a lot of noises about the TV companies, at one point stating that “the TV companies should give the AFA more money to pass on the clubs”, as if it were the moral obligation of Fox Sports and TyC Sports to bail out the clubs when, in a country as deeply mired in the global recession as any other, they have their own houses to keep in order. It's within his own organisation that he might want to look to apportion some of the blame, though. It could happen in a lot of other countries and merely cause a bit of a fuss, but if football went off the schedules in Argentina, the AFA would have more to worry about than merely where the next course is coming from. Sam Kelly

Hasta El Gol Siempre

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