The unbearable lightness of being – or how a thin piece of synthetic cloth can become a lead weight

June 9, 2011

By Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires

Argentines often talk about how heavy a particular football shirt can be, River Plate’s, Boca Juniors’ or Argentina’s.

“La camiseta pesa” (the vest weighs (a lot).

This is what is happening to the players of River Plate, one of Argentina’s “Big Two”, who could be relegated for the first time this month.

The responsibility of being in charge of a squad that could go down to the Nacional B division is affecting coach JJ Lopez, who was a part of a great River team of the 1970s and early 1980s.

River were playing badly at home to Colon last Sunday so Lopez decided to bring off two midfielders and sent on two central strikers to add to the one he already had in the team.

It made matters worse because there was a gaping hole in midfield. River fell behind and only managed to equalise because they played “a los ponchazos”, like Indians waving their ponchos in air and charging forward without any organisation.

Former River and Argentina defender Roberto Perfumo, now a pundit, noted in a column in the sports daily Ole that River had become unrecognizable as a team of brilliant attacking traditions and needed to reinvent themselves playing football, passing the ball to each other.

Captain Matias Almeyda tried to diffuse the pressure saying: “If we have to we’ll play the promotion (playoff). It’s nothing to be ashamed of… do what we have to do and accept what happens.”

River are easy to knock in this situation because they have a long way to fall. A team like Olimpo or All Boys or even Quilmes, who have all spent time in the second tier, will not be disgraced by relegation. For River it is like a death.

There is a reverse issue with Argentina. National coach Sergio Batista picked a squad of fringe players for full internationals against Nigeria and Poland last week and lost both, leading to criticism Argentina were damaging their prestige.

Critics, who slammed Diego Maradona for similar reasons in 2009, said it had become too easy to don the Argentina shirt. It lacked weight.

Picture: River Plate’s Alexis Ferrero (R) fights for the ball with San Lorenzo de Almagro’s Nestor Ortigoza during their Argentine First Division soccer match in Buenos Aires, May 22, 2011. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

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