BUENOS AIRES - A more highly anticipated
Argentine league championship than in recent years kicks off on
Friday with the main transfers involving leading senior players
and a possible farewell ending for two of the most popular.
Ricardo Gareca, coach of joint favourites Velez Sarsfield,
and his River Plate counterpart JJ Lopez have both said River's
arch rivals Boca Juniors are the team to beat in the Clausura,
the second championship of the 2010/11 season.
Boca have signed a new coach in Julio Cesar Falcioni and he
has brought with him two top midfielders, Walter Erviti from
Banfield and Leandro Somoza from Velez in the ever more numerous
over-30s age group in Argentine football.
To see Erviti linking with Juan Roman Riquelme in the Boca
midfield is a treat fans have been savouring ever since his
protracted transfer finally came though last week while Boca's
all-time record scorer Martin Palermo at 37 is still unsure if
he wants to make this his last season.
In a league programme that even a Hollywood script writer
might not have dreamt up, Boca are away to perennial strugglers
Gimnasia-LP on the final day in mid-June with Guillermo Barros
Schelotto lining up for the side from La Plata.
Palermo and Barros-Schelotto, who has returned to his first
club from a successful three seasons with Columbus Crew in Major
League Soccer in the United States, shared a rich attacking
partnership at Boca in the early 2000s and both are favourites
at the country's most popular club.
Barros Schelotto, also 37, is definitely retiring in June,
he has said, but not before trying to secure Gimnasia's top
flight survival as they grapple with a poor three-season
relegation average that determines which sides go down.
Boca aside, title holders Estudiantes and Velez, runners-up
in the Apertura in December, will be top candidates for the
Clausura although their focus will be on two fronts since they
are taking part in the South American Libertadores Cup.
To this end, Velez have strengthened their squad with the
addition of former Mexico striker Guillermo Franco and
midfielder David Ramirez, both in their 30s, while Estudiantes
continue to be led by 35-year-old Juan Sebastian Veron.
Veron's influence at the club which he one day dreams of
leading as chairman is now being reported in the media as being
a factor in coach Alex Sabella's shock resignation last week.
The champions appear to have fallen into equally good hands
right away though having signed Eduardo Berizzo, former
assistant of the highly regarded ex-Argentina and Chile coach
Marcelo Bielsa, early this week.
River are the one big club to have steered clear of the
market during the mid-season break as president and former
captain and coach Daniel Passarella grapples with a massive debt
left behind by the previous administration a year ago.
They will continue to rely strongly on 37-year-old former
Argentina holding midfielder Matias Almeyda, having loaned Ariel
Ortega out to modest All Boys whom some fans believe may come
back to the Monumental to haunt them in the teams' clash in May
as they too seek enough points to avoid relegation.
A defeat away to All Boys in October in the Apertura spelt
the end at River for coach Angel Cappa and the appointment of
former River midfielder Lopez.
Cappa, meanwhile, has bounced back at Gimnasia where his
attacking philosophy, however, may take another battering.
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