Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
“When I arrived we were fighting relegation, but now we are champions,” beamed Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi on Sunday night in the kind of self-congratulatory manner which would leave even Harry Redknapp blushing.
While riot police clashed with Huracan fans at one end of the pitch at the final whistle of the Clausura 2010, at the other end the 10,000 Argentinos Juniors fans were euphoric.
Twenty-five years since the last title, the club that saw Maradona, Redondo, Riquelme, Cambiasso and company all start out were Argentine champions once again.
Between them, Godoy Cruz, Independiente and Estudiantes had all taken turns in leading the table this season. But after a slow start, Argentinos quietly went about putting together a 12-match unbeaten run. An epic 4-3 win over Independiente that put them in pole position for the final day of the season, which ended with their third league title in the club’s history.
Twleve months ago, these celebrations were completely unthinkable.
When Borghi was brought in just over a year ago, Argentinos finished the season twentieth, rock bottom of the table, owing to the groundwork laid by previous coach Claudio Vivas.
Borghi wasn’t exactly dealt the best hand when he took over. Morale was low. There was no cash. The club sold star striker Gabriel Hauche to Racing. The man the fans say is the side’s best player is carrying a few too many kilos and looks like a cross between Gladstone Small and a hedgehog.
The man Borghi said was the player of the year – Jose Luis Calderon - is five months shy of his 40th birthday. The team was built up on players that Velez, Independiente and Estudiantes no longer wanted, all brought in on loan, an a free, or in the case of Calderon, out of retirement.
And even after a reasonable Apertura, finishing sixth, Argentinos started this term poorly. With just one win in the first five games of the Clausura, the ‘Bicho’ faced Estudiantes - the side who they would fight for the league title on the final weekend of the season.
The man who had quit the game after being pushed out of Estudiantes, and who Borghi convinced to return for one more season, Jose Luis Calderon, scored the winner.
After that game, Argentinos won 11 and drew three. They lost none.
The loanees and freebees brought in to make up the squad started to shine. In midfield, the Juan Mercier and Nestor Ortigoza duo provided the constructive and destructive engine for the side.
Mercier, who scored the first on Sunday, is now looking at the chance of going to South Africa as Javier Mascherano’s deputy after his performances. His midfield partner, Nestor Ortigoza (the hedgehog), may go with Paraguay. The pair recently admitted why they had built up a strong partnership in midfield. “We’ve played alongside each other for three years - it’s a long time.”
It’s hardly Scholes, Giggs and Neville longevity, but in Argentine football three years is an eternity. Eight clubs have been champions in that time. And rather than building on the success, clubs are used to having to move on and change both their coaching and playing staff.
Since 2006, Estudiantes, Lanus, San Lorenzo, River, Boca, Banfield, Velez and now Argentinos have all won the league title.
And like many of those teams that won championships, Argentinos are just as likely to be dismantled from top to bottom.
Agents will already be on the phone, touting their players new and improved CV which includes Clausura 2010 champion in bold type at the top.
And despite starting out at the club at the age of 10, despite having won league titles, a Libertadores Cup and almost beaten Platini’s Juventus in the Intercontinental, despite now winning the title as coach, and despite only becoming president left on the to-do list, Borghi may also be leaving.
“If we win the title,” he said a few weeks back, “I will leave.” Boca are interested in his services, even if he himself claims he doesn’t have the experience for his job. He may return to Chile, where his family - and that of his backroom staff – live.
The fans want him to stay, to lead the side in the Sudamericana and then in the Libertadores. But while hangovers wear off, while the club’s website is updated, while murals are planned and repainted, everyone knows, or expects, this to be a fleeting success - all the more reason to enjoy it.
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