The murky world of Argentine football

The top flight will comprise 30 teams, according to the new plans drafted in by the AFA.

Fans of the smaller teams will get a chance to rub shoulders with the elite [REUTERS]

There is nothing unreasonable or illogical in Argentine football these days.

What Julio Grondona, who has been president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) since 1979, wants, he gets. Those in close proximity have confirmed that Grondona, the man currently second in power at FIFA, hears only two words when laying down his cards: “Yes, Julio”.

This past week, he heard those two words again as he wielded his power at AFA’s weekly executive board meeting. He took the opportunity and managed to change the face of football by implementing a 30-team field in the top flight while also going against Sepp Blatter’s recommendations in 2006.

New plan

Under Grondona’s plans, the 20 teams in the top division will form the core of the new league. The second division –comprising 22 teams – will see a short tournament starting in August where they will be divided into two groups. The top five teams from both groups will earn promotion thus completing the 30-team lineup.

There are some potential caveats in the plan, though.

The teams that are relegated have a good chance of making it back in the top division by the end of the year. There is also the potential of seeing a team that is currently playing in the Metropolitano B (third division) making a pit stop in the Nacional B before going straight up into the top flight. The odds will be low but knowing how even football in Argentina is, it may form a great fairy tale.

As things stand, there is no plan in place as to how that tournament will be played. Grondona, and many members of the AFA, were talking about a 30-round tournament where you would also see a derby round but details are yet to be confirmed.

“We have to see how things are going to play out first,” former Argentine international Juan Pablo Sorin told Al Jazeera. “We have to see if the format will make things even for the smaller clubs. Argentina is the type of tournament that you’ve seen many big clubs lose their protagonist in that last few years. It will be interesting to see how they perform in a different format.”

Money talks

Although people like Sorin remain cautiously optimistic about the format, critics bashed the change, arguing that it will, once again, favour the big clubs and help them stay up in the top league.

The way that Grondona has planned it out, it is truly football for everyone now. It's going to be interesting to see what the clubs can do to make it even

by Mario Kempes, Former Argentine international

Yet, Grondona knows there is one way to silence his critics – money. This is why he will re-negotiate with Fútbol Para Todos in order to obtain more money for his pet project. He will look to see if he can make the pot bigger and hand over more cash to the clubs.

Being in the top flight is no small matter financially. Promoted teams will be earning around €314,000 annually based on television revenue. The big mission for Grondona now is to convince the government to give AFA more money while the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner government looks to tighten its belt.

In the press conference following the announcement, Grondona confirmed that “the money was there”.

Football and politics

There was speculation that Grondona would put an end to his 34-year reign at that point. But he’s had his Sepp Blatter-like change of heart as well on that matter. But while 2015 may possibly be the final year of Grodona’s reign, there is also another topic that has to be mentioned. Kirchner, Argentina president, will have to fight tooth and nail in next year’s election to remain in power after nightmarish mid-term election in 2012. She failed to handle two hot topics going into this election – inflation and insecurity – and she has felt it in the ballot box as well as a in popularity polls.

For her, football is her logical weapon of choice to sway public opinion and votes. The one that owns the bread and circus in Argentina has the power. This was one of the reasons why the government was so adamant in taking the television rights away from Grupo Clarín to begin with.

“The way that Grondona has planned it out, it is truly football for everyone now,” said former Argentine international and World Cup winner Mario Kempes. “It’s going to be interesting to see what the clubs can do to make it even.”

It will be an interesting 2015 in Argentina. Smaller clubs will feel the economic impact of big clubs coming into their stadiums and will help people believe that Argentina is no longer just about Buenos Aires. From a football standpoint and from a political one, 2015 promises to be a year where drastic changes could be seen as one big send off or the beginning of another crazy era of football in a country where “crazy” is quickly becoming the new normal.

Source: Al Jazeera