Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
They’re fighting fit, lean, tanned, and raring to go.
Gruelling double sessions over the summer have prepared Argentina’s players for the Clausura 2010.
Diego Simeone, far from content with punishing his San Lorenzo squad in the heat a mere twice a day, ordered triple sessions.
The new season is upon us, fitness is good, kits are new, fútbol is still para todos, for everyone, morale is high and expectations are higher.
That is, unless you are Cristian Fabbiani.
The description 'former River Plate striker' may soon have to be shortened to just ‘former striker’.
After Fabbiani was thrown out of Núñez for being atrocious last season, his agent was hard pushed to find him a new club.
Huracán and Chacarita both politely declined.
Uruguay’s Nacional were less gentle. "We wouldn’t have him for free," said their president, making sure Mr. Fabbiani’s Mr.15 percent realised they were talking about both the transfer and the wages.
Fabbiani has always had a fixation with Ronaldo (which one? Well Fabbiani's nickname is The Tank).
When he arrived at River, he requested the 99 shirt in homage to the Brazilian.
This pre-season, out of work but looking for a club, Fabbiani showed further signs of Ronaldo-adulation.
Unimpressed with traditional methods of getting in shape – like watching your diet, not spending the summer at the beach with your wife, running, doing sit-ups and so on – Fabbiani simply went under the knife.
(We should say at this point that his WAG, Victoria Vanucci, denied that her man had had liposuction. The papers aren’t so sure. Neither are we).
What will be next for Fabbiani then, adventures with ladyboys of the night? Watch this space.
One thing he won’t be doing is taking part in the Clausura ’10, which starts this weekend.
When it comes to who is expected to dominate proceedings, supporters have perhaps spent too much time under the sun and lack any imagination whatsoever.
In Olé’s poll of who will be Clausura 2010 champion, 23 percent have gone for River Plate, 22 percent went for Boca.
First up is River, a side that finished last a year ago and haven’t moved out of the bottom half of the table since.
Hoping to turn their fortunes around, the Gallinas have brought in a number of decent-looking reinforcements.
Defenders Juan Manuel Diaz and Alexis Ferrero have arrived, along with Paraguayan midfielder Rodrigo Rojas and Chilean striker Gustavo Canales.
Meanwhile, River have also tied their two teenage stars Gabriel Funes Mori and Daniel Villalba to four-year contracts.
Winning both superclásicos in the pre-season has helped the morale boost, but the rot spread deep at the Monumental in recent years.
Leo Astrada himself admitted that his side would be happy with a top-five finish.
Boca, meanwhile, fired their manager less than a week before the season started, didn’t manage to convince the man (some of) the board wanted to take over, and have gone for the reserve team coach.
However, Abel Alves, who is in charge of the Xeneize this term, is an ‘hombre de la casa’ – so he knows what’s needed and what’s expected.
He also groomed a number of the current first team squad as they made their way up through the club’s youth team system.
Alves has a number of new faces to help him improve (and boy, must he improve) on last season's finish of 11th.
Last season’s most impressive midfielder, Jesús Méndez, joined from Central.
They have also bolstered midfield with World Cup hopeful Sebastián Prediger from Colón and Matias Gimenez from Tigre.
Nicolás Gaitain, arguably the best player in the Argentine league, is fighting for a place in Maradona’s squad, as is Palermo. Riquleme is back fit.
While the big two dominate the fans' expectations, there is little love, respect or regard for the current champions.
Just 1.3 percent believe Banfield can repeat the feat of lifting the league title in four months' time.
The Drill have lost centre-back Sebastian Méndez, who retired, and centre-forward Santiago Silva, who refused to answer calls from the club when they reasonably tried to discuss a contract extension with the Uruguayan.
Julio Falcioni has replaced both, but Banfield will no doubt be focusing on a bash at the Libertadores. Maybe 1.3 percent is generous.
Most Improved Side should go to Racing, where they seem convinced they can not only improve, but also challenge for the title.
Claudio Vivas says his side start the league with a ‘final’, but not because it’s a title six-pointer: it's a relegation one.
As things stand, Racing will play the dreaded relegation play-off come the end of the season.
Bringing in forward Gabriel Hauche and striker Claudio Bieler should keep the ghosts of the descenso away, but whether they will challenge for silverware is another matter.
Elsewhere, the best team of 2009, Vélez, have benefitted from Santiago Silva’s ambition and avarice and so now have last season’s top scorer to add to their already-impressive squad.
While Lanús will rely on Sebastián Blanco more than ever having sent Eduardo ‘Toto’ Salvio to the footballers' graveyard that is Atlético de Madrid.
Estudiantes, meanwhile, are not interested in the league and will concentrate on the Libertadores.
Maybe one of the Big Five will live up to their name and tradition and take the title, or perhaps Newell’s will build on last season and go one better than runner’s up.
Just don’t expect them to look for help from former player Cristian Fabbiani.
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