June 28th, 2011
12:07 PM ET

River Plate's fate a warning to Latin American giants

River's players stand dejected after their relegation was confirmed.
River's players stand dejected after their relegation was confirmed.

Back in 1978, when he was a star at River Plate, Daniel Passarella lifted the World Cup trophy for Argentina at the Estadio Monumental. It was at the same venue on Sunday, as club president, that he experienced the humiliation of watching Los Milionarios being relegated for the first time in their previously illustrious history.

Many of River's irate supporters have blamed their former captain and coach for the club's demise, but the reasons are rooted so much deeper. This has been brewing for a long time.

Don't get me wrong, Passarella is one of the culprits, but it would be narrow minded to point the finger at a man who has just been there for a couple of years, when for at least a decade, presidents and sporting directors have been destroying the club by selling their most prized assets and replacing them with mediocre talent, while hiring and firing coaches at an alarming rate.

There are two numbers that jump outwhen considering River's recent history: In the last three Argentine seasons, the club had six coaches and fielded a grand total 64 players. It's a ridiculous turnover and it tells a story of instability, both on and off the pitch.

If the number of managers employed was silly, as each coach had an average of only 19 games in charge, then the club's haste in selling young players before they reached their potential was simply self destructive.

Over the last six years, River has sold the likes of Javier Mascherano, Lucho Gonzalez, Gonzalo Higuain, Radamel Falcao and Diego Buonanotte, all stars who are currently shining in Europe. Granted, all are players who would have left sooner or later, but they were dispatched too early. They left before they matured and before the club found suitable replacements.

It would be naive to fail to understand that Latin American clubs need to sell players in order to make money and balance the books. However, River's policy made absolutely no sense.

While they sold solid and skilful young players, they brought in the likes of Ariel Ortega, Matias Almeyda and Marcelo Gallardo to replace them. Now these were players who may have enjoyed some stellar seasons in the past at the Monumental, but when they returned to the club, they had little to offer while commanding huge wages. Far from having a positive influence on the dressing room, they struggled to stay in shape or in form and deserted the squad when they were needed the most.

This all tells the tale of a truly tragic story. Not only because River is the most successful club in Argentina, or that we won't get to watch them play in the Superclasico against Boca Juniors next season, but because it might be a while before they come back up and because it could be a sign of things to come for more of South America's traditional powerhouses.

While in Brazil, the likes of Palmeiras and Vasco da Gama have been recently relegated, who's to say that Boca won't follow suit in Argentina? Los Xeneizes have only won one of the last six league titles and finished 12th and 7th in this season's Apertura and Clausura respectively. Like River have done, Boca have also consistently rotated managers and players without ever giving anyone a proper chance.

So this could be a crucial time for Latin America's football elite. Learn from River's mistakes or follow in their footsteps and fall into the abyss.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Rafael

    Interesting article. Suggesting that Barcelona will be a role model to follow, and Real maybe the future european River...

    June 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  2. Margaret

    Excellent comment.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  3. Leomar

    Brazil's football is following River Plate footsteps, there's no real football here anymore. We'll live on our memorys, Pelé, Ronaldo, Kaká or maybe switch to Women football and praise Marta, best player ever.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  4. Marco Antônio

    River Plate means a lack of management. In Brazil there are some football clubs that have been investing in marketing and young talent players and they are getting great results and titles like Internacional and São Paulo. That is the way they need to seek.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  5. Juan

    River Plate is one of the giants of global football, and this is the FIRST TIME in its 110-year history that it has been relegated to 2nd division! Note that among the numerous stars it developed include DiStefano, Labruna, Moreno, Pedernera, Onega, Alonso, Passarella, Fillol, Francescoli, Ortega, Crespo, Saviola, Aimar, D'Alessandro, Mascherano, Higuain...and the list goes on. The cause of its fall is the gross mismanagement of its Directorate which began 10 years ago. During that time, its prized players were sold while incurring overwhelming debt. Passarella was elected President 18 months ago and promised to clean-up the situation, but he has yet to release the financial audit of previous years. It is believed that the audit 's findings may lead beyond the walls of the club.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Reply

    regresaran y boca juniors no esta lejos. it no so far

    June 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  7. OP

    Real Madrid will never get relegated because no team in the world besides Barcelona can match their talent and football and also unlike River Plate and other big South American teams, Real Madrid don't need to sell players to balance their books rather they buy them to play the football that fans of Real like maself enjoy to watch (except for when we play Barcelona but am very sure that will change this upcoming season)

    June 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  8. Andres Quintero Ojitos

    I will happen the same to America de Cali from Colombia.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  9. Eduardo

    The vulnerability of Argentine and Brazilian soccer clubs are pretty much similar to drug dependency of states around the world.
    Drug money can buy a lot of people amidst public servers and so on...
    With soccer it happens the same. Provided that the "club's presidents" are merely representatives elected from of a bunch of old fellas within the club's organization, without any financial responsabilities regarding club's life, it turns out that those guys are very "vulnerable" (unwantedly ???) to FIFA associates soccer agents...
    Try to figure it out what takes place behind the scenes when someone aproaches Latin American soccer managers with a proposition for trading some Messi-class player to Europe... Easy to end up with conclusion...
    Enhancement of the game in our countries pass necessarily through morality !!!
    Argentina and Brazil = best in the world !

    June 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  10. Juan

    This is for OP: Real Madrid, Barcelona and the European teams are the recipients of Latin American talent! They purchase the players and often re-sell them for sizable profits. Argentine players, in particular, are of interest because they often have dual nationalities (most of their grandparents were European immigrants), so they can qualify as EU players. This opens up space "foreign" space on the rosters which are filled up with other Latin American players (esp. Brazilian), as well as African, etc. In the case of Real Madrid, Higuain was purchased directly from River Plate for 12M in 2007 and DiMaria arrived via Benfica, a team which made a healthy profit after purchasing his rights from Rosario Central (which was recently relegated to Argentina's 2nd division in 2010!) . Sergio Aguero, originally from Independiente and currently with Atletico Madrid, will likely end up at Real Madrid within a month from now!

    June 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  11. Bryan

    I´m an American and, I was in Argentina when this happened. What a lesson of passion I've got. I have never seen such devotion towards a sporting club in my life. River meant life to their 15 million fans. People cried in their streets, commentators were as emotional as possible. Latinos call Anglo-Saxons "pechos frios" (cold chests) for a reason, there is fire in the veins of these people; some of them took it to the extreme of destroying part of the stadium and stuff (which I disagree) but the way they feel football (and I mean REAL football, not the crap we play in the US) is just incredible, I have never felts so emotionless, gringo, and cold blood in my life.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  12. Rafael Think when you write

    Real next River ?? Sure why not...they just lost 4 games this season...and won the Del rey's cup and went to the semis in the champions...think better next time you post something..the Article is pretty good anyway...

    June 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  13. To op

    It will hapen to real madrid the debt o real is huge it will go to bancrupcy

    June 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  14. XCrob

    Unfortunately for those anti-spanish people leaving in Catalonia, Real WONT EVER DISSAPEAR, instead of that, each day more and more people are getting tired of them.

    Leave Spain, and leave Spanish championship.

    Catalans, GO AWAY!!

    June 28, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  15. Boca

    River Plate fans: The first time is always the hardest and painful.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  16. Arturo

    And Real Madrid has been brought to context because... the truth is that River is a great team with not that great players.. but they have the capacity to get back to 1 division en one season...it'll depend on the directive and the management..they cant blame others than themselves for this and is a warning to all teams (not just powerfull teams) in latinamerica.. good management = high spirits = good results ...not everything must be about the benjamins..

    Aguante el River!!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  17. Robert

    Besides the humiliation, the problem is that a big structure sustained almost by the income from the soccer can't withstand such a decrease in income. I've heard that the Monumental stadium costs around $750,000 (US dollars) per month, and the club received around $10,000,000 a month from broadcast rights, but now it seems that they could get no more than one million a month. Their fate looks dark.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  18. Carlos

    Excellent article. It takes a non argentine to grasp -with very much ease- a situation that the argentinian heart cannot; the same heart that put Maradona as coach of a dream team. Get a non argentinian coach for the national team, stop (the argentinian press) playing Woody Allen and Corin Tellado, and let those kids play.

    June 29, 2011 at 12:48 am | Reply
  19. Charles Carroll

    Sorry, Pedro, but Boca Juniors is by far the most successful club in Argentina. While River could only win domestic titles, Boca was conquering not only South America (6 Copa Libertadores cups to River's 2), but the rest of the world, as evidenced by its 3 Intercontinental Cups and 18 international titles, a record matched only by AC Milan. By contrast, River has only won 5 international titles in its history. And Boca's illustrious alumni include Maradona, Caniggia, Batistuta, Riquelme, Palermo and Tevez.

    June 29, 2011 at 12:51 am | Reply
  20. Jesus Herrera

    Argentina has a Short Tournament model by which they have two League championships per year.
    This short tournaments put a lot of pressure on Coaches, because losing a couple of matches leads to the impossibility to be Champion.
    Then the press and fans start asking for the Coach head. At some point, Presidents opt to change the Coach...and then, the new one asks for players that accomodate better to his playing style; but, in short tournaments there is no time to get results with new players and strategies, so the team starts losing...and the whole process starts again until the team is destroyed.
    This is specially true for big teams.
    So, look out Mexico, short tournaments destroy the spectacle and destroy the institutions...

    June 29, 2011 at 1:12 am | Reply
  21. Marcelo

    Two comments
    -Boca Juniors was the most successful team in Argentina for the past decade , winning 9 local titles , 4 Copa Libertadores and 2 World cups'...River used to be the most successful, long time ago, perhaps during the 70's.
    -The major cause by which River lost so many games during these past months was the open and public criticicism Daniel Passarella made against Julio Grondona , Argentina's Soccer federation president. Since then, nothing was the same for River .

    June 29, 2011 at 3:54 am | Reply
  22. TheDood

    a soccer team is relegated. who cares! The sun will still rise tomorrow.......

    June 29, 2011 at 5:47 am | Reply
  23. Emiliano

    Real will never be relegated because it's a two horse race in Spain. Seriously, Real's point totals in the last two seasons are insane, were it not for that Barca's were even better, they'd be dominating the league...

    June 29, 2011 at 7:18 am | Reply
  24. Bryan

    Absolute disgrace Iv played in south America and have had friends play for big teams, and the stuff Iv seen and heard is pretty my what I see is happening at river poor management obviously lack of production of players last big player to leave river is probably Mascherano whoa is captain of the Los hermanos Argentina and pretty successful in Europe but alot has to do with alot of crooks within the club it's one big mafia with no stability everyone after the money and looking to see who they can take down within. Seems like in south america there's many club with no stability and no more of that heart and passion from those who run the club. Really feel for the river fans with all that history and tradition to going to nacional B Is a disgrace and slap in the face. Maybe they should run the club I'm sure their passion and heart will take them back to winning ways !

    June 29, 2011 at 8:38 am | Reply
  25. alehandro

    Surely this situation is not just confined to South America. Porto of Portugal appear to base their own prosperity on grooming players and coaches and then selling them on to bigger, richer clubs for giant fees, and from what I understood at the time of the Villas Boas move to Chelsea the Dragoes' finances are in rude health. Small clubs, or big clubs in poorer leagues inevitably have to cash in on their assets whenever the billionaires come calling. Expecting them to resist or defer sales is an idealistic notion because, unlike the top clubs in Europe which are bankrolled by insanely wealthy investors, or, in the case of Real Madrid, by local government itself, their margins are extremely narrow and they have to get while the getting's good. So, assuming the money is not being misappropriated, I don't believe the survival method is at fault. It's born out of necessity and it works for some clubs. Instead I believe that River is dying of impatience. Continuity is everything in football, and changing coaches as often as diapers can only promote instability. Selling a player is one thing, but a coach's methodology permeates the whole team, so if he goes it's back to square one. Hopefully, River will stabilize and re-group for a year or two down in the second tier and come back strong having learned from this reality check. And let their story be a cautionary tale to others, they're not the first giant to take a tumble, and in these days when many directors/owners worldwide are seeking instant gratification, they may not be the last.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  26. John

    Rafel – that was a stupid comment. Barca have shown over the past 5 years that their books are just as in debt as Real. Get over your love for them and call it like it is.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  27. Christian

    Holas comento en español para que lean mi comentario sino es uno mas del monton. Mi opinion es que esto es una verguenza para mi querido pais porque esto no deberia pasar, pero bueno los Argentinos somos asi. Ojala Cambiemos de actitud y seamos mas tranquilos. Pero Argentina es un gran pais. Estamos progresando mucho y tenemos muchos recursos naturales y mucha riqueza que ninguno otro pais la tiene. Vamos Argentina!!

    July 2, 2011 at 1:34 am | Reply
  28. juancito

    Damn what crazy talk here about Real going to second? Real is a club not a business and has a bigger fan base than River. A lot of sponsorships and is a desired club to play for. It has a much more solid management foundation. South American clubs are riddled with corruption and debt. More so than european clubs. Yeah south america produces more talented players... perhaps its the europeans fault for over farming south american talent and the south americans fault for not harvesting their local talent correctly. Greed greed greed. Independiente and Boca aint far away from River. But considering that Argentina is playing so terribly in the Copa America I think its a local issue, not a global club business attitude.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:53 am | Reply
  29. Bruno

    Latin America Giants? Nowadays no one can even compete financially with Corinthians. Over 30 milion fanatic fans led by an agressive and profissional management and willing to spend more then total population of Argentina can. Did hear about yesterday bid for Carlitos Tevez – USD 58 milion? Unthinkable for any other Latin American soccer club.

    July 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  30. peixe

    Giants fall in Argentina and Brazil because of bad management, and also because of a factor that does not exist in abundance in most leagues in Europe: Giants.
    Spain has 2 juggernauts (Barça and Real Madrid) and a bunch of weak clubs. England has 3 giants (Man. Utd. Arsenal and Liverpool), some emerging clubs owned by multimillionaires (and these clubs will perish when the owner's support ends), and lots of weak clubs. Italy has just 4 giants: Inter, Milan, Juventus and Roma. Germany has Bayern basically.
    In Argentina, there are 5 giants: Boca, Independiente, River, Racing and San Lorenzo. In Brazil, it's even more balanced: Santos, Flamengo, Cruzeiro, Internacional, São Paulo, Grêmio, Palmeiras, Corinthians, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama and Botafogo. ELEVEN giant clubs in national scenario, not counting other popular clubs who became national champions, like Atlético Mineiro, Bahia or Guarani.
    In Argentina, just the two mentioned first were not relegated. In Brazil, just the four mentioned first were not relegated (São Paulo was relegated in state level, but the championship allowed clubs who played in the lower division to challenge for the title in the next year, which São Paulo, coming from the group equivalent to state's second division, managed to win).
    That difference must be mentioned!!!

    July 19, 2011 at 2:43 am | Reply
  31. Emmanuel

    Real the next River Plate? Funny joke, funny funny joke.

    July 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Reply
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    December 5, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Reply
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