Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
Usually when an employee breaks the terms of contract with their employers and simply doesn’t show up for work, they are sacked. This is the case particularly when the number of non-appearances for duties moves into double figures, and all the more so when said skiver is nearing retirement.
Rarely are they shifted on to someone else for a few months (or even up to a year and a half) on the condition that they sign a brand new three-year contract.
Ariel Ortega’s sacking at River Plate was as run of the mill, and yet at the same as unorthodox a dismissal as they come.
The pre-season may be a predictable beast - naïve optimism, players back-stabbing loyal clubs, meaningless friendlies and the like. News that Ariel Ortega failed to turn up for Day One of River Plate’s pre-season simply added another par for course ingredient.
The difference this time was that The Burrito, Little Donkey, has pushed his luck too far. Ostensibly the decision came from coach JJ Lopez, although professional whisperers aren’t ruling out that the decision ultimately came from River Plate’s president, Daniel Passarella.
‘It was for the good of the team,’ López said after informing Ortega that he was surplus to requirements at the Monumental. ‘I had to look beyond the surname.’
Sacking Ortega is a delicate business. Along with Passarella, or Enzo Francescoli, or Ángel Labruna, he is one of the club’s greatest players. Six league titles and a Libertadores underwrite his brilliance on the pitch. Over the past couple of years, as the club slid into the murky waters of mediocrity and were on the verge of relegation, it has been ‘Ortega’ that fans chant as the teams come out, in the hope that he could rescue the club.
"The exit's that way is it? Well, see ya..."
His name was also the one River Plate fans sang while the team misfired and entered its downward spiral, while he was exiled out to Mendoza on Diego Simeone’s orders.
Episodes of Ortega’s ‘indiscipline’ are legendary and merely not turning up for training is certainly the least colourful of his misdemeanours off the pitch. Those in the know speak euphemistically of his ‘illness,’ and how he needs to be at an institution that deals with addiction rather than one that focuses on playing professional football.
So between them, the powers at River Plate decided they wouldn’t take any more. His no-show at the start of preseason was the excuse. In truth, 36 year old Ariel Ortega is no longer the player who can single-handedly turn River’s fortunes. He was largely ineffectual for the team last season and 70% of club members agreed with the decision to allow him leave.
Around £700,000 in unpaid wages and bonuses caused River Plate something of a headache when it came to sacking the 36-year-old. So too did the political ramifications of going down in history as the coach, or president, who let Ortega leave River.
Finally, they granted him the freedom to choose where he wanted to move, on the condition that he signed a new three-year contract. He will be away for half of that period, but he can still retire, technically at least, as a River Plate player in 2014. For now, the problem at River Plate has been resolved.
In the meantime, what would happen to Ortega? He has said himself that he would play anywhere - well, anywhere apart from Boca. He wouldn’t even discount playing in the lower leagues.
Step forward All Boys - official ‘Surprise Package of the Season’ from the Apertura with giant-killing attacking football - just months after winning promotion to top flight after a 30 year absence. In an audacious bid, which could prove to be the transfer coup of the year (in Argentina, of course), they landed Ortega on a free, paying him around £125,000 for six months, with the option to an extra year.
Ortega will line up alongside Esteban Cambiasso’s brother, Nicolás, while the second of the four Zarate Kids, also Ariel, will provide competition for a place in the side. Alongside him up-front will be the WAG-chasing Cristián ‘The Shrek Monster’ Fabbiani (the 27-year-old made a habit of donning a Shrek mask after scoring during his time in Chile) - if he ever gets fit.
The arrival of Ortega at All Boys has unleashed euphoria at the club. Over a year ago, they were in the second division and had less than a 1,000 members. His new coach says it will be ‘an honour’ to have him in the squad, while the president says Ortega is the most important signing in the club’s history.
One of the club’s top fans, a well known match commentator on the big local sports network, announced how excited he was via twitter, and even forwarded how he will commentate one of his goals. Needless to say, it will include lots of OOOOOOOOOOOOOs in between a ‘G’ and an ‘L’. How many more goals he has left in him remains to be seen, but it seems the Ariel Ortega story is still far from over...
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