Neutral ball boys needed in Argentina?
It is becoming a familiar trend in Argentine domestic football. The home team is winning by a single goal, the clock is ticking….and suddenly all the balls have disappeared and visiting players have to go searching for them.
The latest incident happened on Sunday during River’s match at home to lowly Gimnasia-Jujuy. One of the ball boys took his time in returning the ball to visiting goalkeeper Gaston Pezzutti, who angrily hurled it at the youth and was sent off.
It was a four-edged punishment for Gimnasia, who had to bring on a substitute keeper, reshuffle their team, play with a man down and lose precious seconds.
No action, however, was taken against River apart from the dismissal of the ball boy.
A similar controversy blew up earlier this month in the derby between Gimnasia-La Plata (the first division has two clubs whose full names are Gimnasia y Esgrima, one from La Plata and one from the northern city of Jujuy) and Estudiantes.
With Gimnasia 1-0 ahead in the second half, the balls mysteriously went missing. The referee added on six minutes of injury-time, Estudiantes equalised with the last kick of the game and Gimnasia even had the cheek to protest about the amount of time added on.
Ball boys are currently supplied by the home teams and are often apprentice professionals, as was the case at River on Sunday.
The idea of neutral ball boys has been discussed. Some say the fourth official should make sure there are enough balls and others have suggested that ball boys who are sent off should be suspended from youth level matches.
But, with nearly one coach losing his job a week in the first division alone, the demand for success in Argentina is so high that teams are almost certain to think up even more cunning ways of gaining an advantage if the current practice is stamped out.