Grondona faces trouble at home
By Rex Gowar
River Plateâ€™s dire relegation situation is the principal talk of Argentinaâ€™s TV soccer chat shows, a bigger story than the crisis at FIFA where Julio Grondona, in power since 1979 and fending off corruption allegations, said he will seek yet another term in office as president of the Argentine FA.
River president Daniel Passarella â€“ who like Michel Platini has occupied most of the top positions in the game: club skipper, national captain lifting a major trophy, national coach â€“ attacked Grondona after his teamâ€™s defeat by Boca Juniors in the â€śsuperclasicoâ€ť over his appointments of match officials. Passarella said it was a disgrace the number of penalties the referee, who was not suspended, had missed in the Boca box.
â€śYou must go,â€ť an angry Passarella said in a rare appearance at the weekly meeting of the AFA board where most of the directors are Grondona lackeys mindful of the AFAâ€™s financial support for the clubs in an impoverished league with the government holding the TV coverage rights.
Grondona, who hit the headlines in England this week after attacking the F.A at congress, created the three-season points averages to determine relegation â€“ a device to save Argentinaâ€™s traditional big clubs like River from the drop at the end of a bad season.
Now River, having taken only two points out of the last 12 in a relatively decent season but paying for poor results in the previous two, are in the bottom four of the relegation standings with three matches to go and facing a survival playoff against a Nacional B division side.
Noisy chat show discussions centre on the team choices of coach JJ Lopez and the fear that is gripping the River players and affecting their performances, while in Buenos Aires cafes and offices and on street corners fans wonder whether Grondona will intervene to prevent the club with most league titles from being relegated.
Former Fulham striker Facundo Sava, who has a university degree in psychology, wrote a sports newspaper column advising the players to discuss their fears openly as a way of reducing tension on the pitch having experienced a promotion playoff as captain of Racing Club in 2008.
Grondona, power broking at all levels, appears also to be at the kernel of Carlos Tevezâ€™s â€śpardonâ€ť and inclusion in Argentinaâ€™s 26-man provisional Copa America squad, having been overlooked by coach Sergio Batista since last year for indiscipline.
His relationship with Diego Maradona deteriorated after Grondona slammed the Argentina door in his face after last yearâ€™s World Cup. Now the man who delivered the World Cup in 1986 to help cement Grondonaâ€™s reign has put his lawyers to work on a court case against the AFA chief for â€śslander, libel and discriminationâ€ť.
Grondona, a man with a very thick skin, wears a gold ring engraved with the saying â€śTodo pasaâ€ť which translates as â€śEverything happensâ€ť and is comparable to â€śLife goes onâ€ť
TROUBLES FOR BATISTA TOO
Meanwhile Argentinaâ€™s resounding defeat in Nigeria has gone down like a lead balloon back home with critics lining up to accuse coach Sergio Batista of damaging the countryâ€™s footballing reputation.
The timing of the match in Abuja, a 4-1 defeat, was also questioned given that only the day before Batista had named a 26-man provisional squad for the Copa America which included only two players in the squad he took to Nigeria.
Batista is running three national teams at full international level, his first choice who are on holiday before the build-up to hosting the Copa America next month, the European-based â€śunder-25â€ť squad now on a tour of Nigeria and Poland and a squad of home-based players.
Grondona, speaking on Radio Mitre from Zurich where he attended FIFAâ€™s congress, said: â€śBatista asks for these matches, you canâ€™t (take) a risk like that… One level is not the same as the other, Nigeria picked their best players.â€ť
Grondona denied such matches were arranged for the revenue a national team of Argentinaâ€™s standing can demand on the world stage.
This would appear to contradict a recent news conference announcing national team matches along with broadcasters TyC Sports and World Eleven, the company the AFA outsourced Argentinaâ€™s friendly calendar.
Batista, at the post-match news conference, said: â€śSure this puts the prestige of the national team on the line, we know what weâ€™re risking but if we donâ€™t play we donâ€™t know what players we have for the future.â€ť
River Plate midfielder Matias Almeyda, a veteran of the 1998 and 2002 World Cups with Argentina, said: â€śLately, itâ€™s (become) very easy to use the national team shirt. Before you had to bust your guts to use it.
Velez Sarsfield midfielder Victor Zapata slammed former Argentina coach Diego Maradona for his perceived gifting of easy caps to fringe players when he fielded home-based sides to test players ahead of last yearâ€™s World Cup. Maradona called up more than 100 players in his year and a half in charge.
A TV chat show on the Fox Sports channel discussing on Thursday had a headline on screen that read: â€śNo other country has three (senior) national teamsâ€ť.