(Ben W) #1

n August 2018, Racing Club de
Avellaneda crashed out of the
Libertadores Cup, losing 3-0 to
River Plate. “I have been here
nearly three years and we
haven’t won anything,” lamented
captain Lisandro Lopez afterwards. Aged 36, this
was to be the striker’s last Libertadores campaign.
Like many Argentina players, after a successful spell
in Europe, he was winding down his career at the
club where he started out and he had unfinished
business. “It is time we started winning titles.”
Fast forward seven months, the Racing captain
lined up in the wall to defend a free-kick against
Tigre in the league. He was in tears. His nearest
team-mate consoled him. News had filtered through
from the other side of Buenos Aires where Defensa
y Justicia failed to win their game. It mattered little
that Tigre equalised. Racing were champions.
Loved by Racing fans, respected by other clubs’
supporters, skipper Lopez was the team’s compass,
the striker whose 17 goals made him the oldest top
scorer in league history. Fifteen years previously he
had been top scorer in the league with the club, but
this year his goals helped lift the title.
Racing’s checkered history, from bankruptcy and
over three decades without a title, make it a unique
story. So too supporters like Gabriel Aranda, who
took his grandfather’s skull to the title celebrations
in the centre of Buenos Aires. “He would be proud,”
said Aranda.
While Racing were the best side in the country,
Defensa y Justicia commendably pushed them to
the penultimate round. “We celebrate second place,”
wrote the club on its social media account, going
against the grain of the famous line from Carlos
Bilardo that “nobody remembers
the runners- up”. “We value the
dedication and effort of the
squad. We are proud of this team.”
As so often the case in
Argentina, it is returning heroes
whose experience proved vital.
On the pitch for Racing it was
Lopez; off it, it was former striker
Diego Milito, who is now sporting
director and oversaw a mini-
revolution in running the club’s
scouting and business. Racing
also found in Eduardo Coudet


Racing are


champions


Lopez leads his side to the title


a coach who gauged the mood among the supporters
and carved out a clear identity with which the team
played.
Behind Racing and Defensa y Justicia were Boca
Juniors and River, who were still recovering from last
year’s Libertadores Final.
The inflated league format – 26 teams, with points
averages still deciding relegation – continues to pose
problems. Meanwhile, six clubs went through three
coaches each over the course of the season. Exequiel
Carboni was particularly unlucky, ending a contract
with two clubs: taking charge of Lanus for three match
days, Argentinos Juniors for six. In addition, San Lorenzo
and Huracan were deducted points for financial
irregularities, with sanctions suspended awaiting appeal.
Belgrano, Tigre and the two clubs named San Martin


  • one from Tucuman, one from San Juan – were
    relegated. And while league directors consider altering
    the points-average system which decides relegation
    over three seasons, for now the controversial format
    remains in place. This leaves two historic clubs, Rosario
    Central and Newell’s Old Boys already facing a
    relegation battle next season.
    But first up – because the league does not allow a
    home-and-away format and because a single round of
    games leaves a several-month long gap in the calendar

  • comes the Superliga Cup. To give the new cup added
    value, with it comes Libertadores qualification. So,
    should one of the sides relegated this year win the cup,
    they would play in South America’s premier tournament
    while playing in Argentina’s second division.
    While that may be unlikely, a re-run of last year’s


On a high...Racing

Identity...Eduardo Coudet (in black)

Racing found in Eduardo Coudet a coach who
gauged the mood among the supporters and carved
out a clear identity with which the team played

I


Argentina


JOEL RICHARDS