Tag Archive | "football"

Hand of Pod: River and Boca Joint Top, and the Problem for Independiente


Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

In the 181st episode of Hand of Pod, Sam, English Dan, Andrés, and Peter look back on a weekend of action that left River Plate and Boca Juniors joint top of the table as they prepare to head into their clash at La Bombonera on the 3rd May (there are no matches this weekend). The two will also clash twice after that in the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores, but we’ll do a full preview of those matches next week; this time round we look at Racing and Independiente, who both drew their matches 0-0 last weekend, and consider some of the league’s less heralded heroes so far. This week’s history bit has Dan telling us about the time Alfredo Di Stéfano was kidnapped by a Venezuelan group of political protesters.

There’s no Mystic Sam this week, but as a team we’re predicting a River win over Huracán in Saturday’s Supercopa Argentina, and for Aldosivi to turn their 1-0 advantage with an hour to play into a win away to Arsenal when that match is finished (which is what Sam originally predicted for that game anyway), also on Saturday.

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

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Hand of Pod: Late goals, and Central’s 100% start ends…


Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

The 177th episode of Hand Of Pod sees Sam and Andrés discussing a weekend of Primera action that was notable for late goals deciding the outcomes of matches, and for Rosario Central’s perfect start to the campaign coming to an end with a draw away to the bottom club, Atlético de Rafaela (Central remain top, though). Argentinos Juniors’ unbeaten record came spectacularly undone, Aldosivi and Unión produced a 3-3 draw and Boca Juniors goalkeeper Agustín Orión is in hot water after breaking San Martín forward Carlos Bueno’s shin (though we say it was accidental). Perhaps most surprisingly of all, both Independiente and River Plate managed to keep clean sheets! All this and more awaits, though we’ve almost no discussion of Argentina’s upcoming internationals, since they’re only friendlies.

Mystic Sam’s seventh round predictions (last week: 6/15)
Quilmes v Sarmiento
Central v Colón
Olimpo v Atlético de Rafaela
Banfield v Huracán
San Lorenzo v Lanús
Crucero del Norte v Temperley
Belgrano v Newell’s
Boca v Estudiantes
Gimnasia v River
Godoy Cruz v Independiente
Racing v San Martín
Unión v Vélez
Arsenal v Aldosivi
Tigre v DyJ
Argentinos v Chicago

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Hand of Pod: Previewing the 2015 Monster Championship


Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

Hand Of Pod returns from the summer break with our first episode of 2015. Sam, Andrés, Peter and Gustavo preview Argentina’s controversial new 30-team top flight in this episode. Which teams have done best and worst in the transfer market, who’s already had some form of competitive action to get warmed up for the task ahead, and should Argentine sides be expected to make waves in this year’s Copa Libertadores? All these questions are answered, along with some more, probably.

Mystic Sam’s first round predictions:

Vélez v Aldosivi
Racing v Central
Gimnasia v Defensa y Justicia
San Lorenzo v Colón
Godoy Cruz v San Martín
Newell’s v Independiente
Banfield v Temperley
Crucero del Norte v Tigre
Quilmes v Lanús
Unión v Huracán
Boca v Olimpo
Argentinos v Atlético de Rafaela
Sarmiento v River
Arsenal v Estudiantes
Belgrano v Nueva Chicago

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

 

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Police Raid Football Clubs Over Corruption Claims


Futbol para todos logoTwenty-five first and second division teams were raided by the Federal Police in Buenos Aires, Santa Fé, Córdoba, San Juan, and Mendoza.

The raids were ordered by Judge María Servini de Cubría, who is investigating alleged irregularities in the use of public funds transferred by the state to the clubs within the ‘Fútbol Para Todos’ programme. The police seized the ledgers of the clubs that have been involved in the programme for at least a year, except for those of San Lorenzo, as the club’s administrative offices are not in its headquarters.

The books will be analysed by experts from the Supreme Court, at the judge’s request, which will look at each club’s income and expenditure related to Fútbol Para Todos since 2009.

The case was opened after legislator Graciela Ocaña filed a lawsuit in which she claimed that, despite the funds transferred by the state to the clubs, their financial situation did not improve. The prosecutor has charged Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich and his predecessors Juan Manuel Abal Medina and Aníbal Fernández. AFA President Julio Grondona, who died earlier this year, had also been charged.

The clubs raided were River Plate, Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors, All Boys, San Lorenzo, Vélez Sarsfield, and Huracán in the city of Buenos Aires; Racing, Independiente, Lanús, Banfield, Olimpo, Tigre, Arsenal, Quilmes, Estudiantes, and Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata in the province of Buenos Aires; Rosario Central, Newell’s, Atlético Rafaela, Colón, and Unión in Santa Fé; San Martín in San Juan; Belgrano in Córdoba, and Godoy Cruz in Mendoza.

On 5th August, AFA’s headquarters were also raided in search of evidence supporting the case.

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AFA President Julio Grondona Dies


AFA President Julio Grondona died today (photo: Wikipedia)

AFA President Julio Grondona died today (photo: Wikipedia)

The president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) Julio Humberto Grondona died today of a heart condition. He was 82 and had been AFA president for the last 35 years.

Grondona was admitted to a private clinic in Buenos Aires this morning, where he underwent open heart surgery due to an aneurysm in the aorta. However, the surgery was unsuccessful and he passed away at 12.50pm.

AFA established seven days of mourning for the loss of its president, causing the beginning of football championship, due to start this weekend, to be delayed by a week. The organisation also announced that the press conference by the coach of the national squad, Alejandro Sabella, which was scheduled for this afternoon, has been suspended. Sabella was expected to formally announce his resignation today.

Grondona became president of AFA in 1979, and a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee in 1988. He was also FIFA’s vice-president.

He was re-elected nine times as head of AFA, the latest in October 2011. He was accused of having been appointed in his post by the military dictatorship ruling the country at the time, however he said on his defence that “I was elected by the clubs, not by Admiral [Carlos Alberto] Lacoste [organiser of the 1978 World Cup].”

During his tenure, the Argentine football team won a world championship, two Olympic gold medals, and six youth championships. He was known for his strong leadership and had been accused in several occasions of fraud and corruption.

AFA Vice-President Luis Segura, recently involved in a scandal related to irregular sales of World Cup tickets, is expected to remain as acting president until 2015.

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Indy Eye: Thousands Celebrate Despite Argentina’s World Cup Final Loss


Tens of thousands took to the streets last night to celebrate Argentina making it to the World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. Despite losing 1-0 to Germany in extra time, festivities went on into the early hours in public plazas around the country. However, in Buenos Aires, despite the mostly peaceful gatherings, at the Obelisco the celebrations ended violently after groups clashed with police. Around 120 people have been detained.

This morning, hundreds of people turned out to greet the squad upon their return to Argentina, and various kilometres of cars packed the streets around Ezeiza international airport and the Argentine Football Association terrain, where the players went after landing. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner travelled to the AFA site to meet with the players in an official ceremony.

Foto: Alejandro Amdan/enviado especial/Télam/lz

Argentina’s hopes lay on the shoulders of these 11 men (Photo: Alejandro Amdan/enviado especial/Télam/lz)

 

Vecinos de la Villa 31 palpitaron la final de la Copa Mundial 2014 en la calle, donde se instaló una pantalla gigante. Foto: José Romero/Télam/dsl

Thousands turned out to watch the final on giant screens in public plazas around the country, such as this one in Villa 31 (Photo: José Romero/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf

Many were inconsolable at Argentina’s extra time defeat to Germany (Photo: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf)

 

Foto: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf

But Argentina’s star striker Lionel Messi won the tournament’s ‘Golden Ball’ (Photo: Juan Roleri/enviado especial/Télam/cf)

 

Foto: Pepe Delloro/Telam/cf

Although that wasn’t enough for some, like this girl in Neuquén (Photo: Pepe Delloro/Telam/cf)

 

 Foto: Osvaldo Fanton/Télam/dsl

Thousands headed to Buenos Aires Obelisco despite the loss, to celebrate Argentina making it to the final for the first time in 24 years (Photo: Osvaldo Fanton/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto: Alejandro Santa Cruz/Télam/dsl

Celebrations continued into the early hours, in a carnival-like atmosphere (Photo: Alejandro Santa Cruz/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto:Víctor Carreira/Télam/dsl

And whilst the real cup will be heading to Germany, some took the chance to pose with this giant model (Photo: Víctor Carreira/Télam/dsl)

 

Foto: José Romero/Télam/ddc

This morning fans flocked to Ezeiza to greet the national squad upon their return (Photo: José Romero/Télam/ddc)

 

Foto: Leonardo Zavattaro/Télam/lz

Star players Messi, Lavezzi, Demichelis, and Mascherano touch down in Argentina (Photo: Leonardo Zavattaro/Télam/lz)

 

Thousans lined the steets to wait for the team's bus to pass (Photo: José Romero/Télam/ddc)

A multitude lined the steets to wait for the team’s bus to pass (Photo: José Romero/Télam/ddc)

 

Foto: Presidencia/Télam/dsl

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with the national team (Photo: Presidencia/Télam/dsl)

 

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Hugo Moyano Elected President of Independiente


Hugo Moyano, of Agrupación Independiente, was elected president of Independiente (photo: Julián Alvarez/Télam/cf)

Hugo Moyano, of Agrupación Independiente, was elected president of Independiente (photo: Julián Alvarez/Télam/cf)

Unionist Hugo Moyano was elected president of first-division football club Independiente yesterday, after winning the election with almost 70% of the vote.

The early election was called in the midst of a crisis that followed the resignation of former president Javier Cantero, who was unable to restore the club’s financial situation and who received threats from the barra bravas whose leadership he attempted to challenge.

Moyano, the secretary-general of the opposition faction of umbrella union CGT, will now have to face the club’s $400m deficit, among other challenges. “We will have to support Independiente because the club’s situation is alarming, both in the financial and economic aspects. We will do all it takes, we’ll make our best effort and sacrifice to normalise the situation. We won’t let the institution or its members down,” said Moyano once the election results were confirmed.

As well as president and first and second vice-presidents, all 162 members of the board were elected yesterday; 135 of them are members’ representatives. Politics are also well represented in the Board of Directors, with second vice-president Carlos Montana, from the national Ministry of Social Development and alleged ties to Security Secretary Sergio Berni, and Board member Cristian Ritondo, city legislator for PRO. Pablo Moyano, Hugo’s son and head of the truck drivers’ union, will also become a member of the Board. He and the new Secretary General Héctor ‘Yoyo’ Maldonado were involved in the administration of Julio Comparada, Cantero’s predecessor.

 

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Club Independiente: After a Season in Hell, What Next?


Francisco Pizzani had just scored the second goal. Wheeling away under intense rain in the Estadio Unico in La Plata, his teammates jumped him and formed a human mountain. The 2-0 result would assure promotion for the ‘Diablos Rojos‘ (Red Devils). A little under a year after relegation – the club’s worst sporting moment – Independiente were back in the Primera Division.

Independiente players celebrate winning promotion back to the Primera Division (photo: José Romero/Télam)

Independiente players celebrate winning promotion back to the Primera Division (photo: José Romero/Télam)

This achievement comes at a time when the club is preparing for an institutional change, with early elections set for 6th July. While different groups make deals and parade their candidates, whoever wins the presidency will inherit a difficult situation. Aside from the club’s $400m debt, there are also numerous conflicts with employees over unpaid wages. In addition, a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) has given Independiente 30 days to pay US$1.8m owed to Greek club Olympiakos for the transfer of Lionel Nuñez in 2010. If it fails to comply, it will begin the next season with a six-point penalty.

In the middle of all this, and despite frequent problems with its management, in April Independiente reached 100,000 members, the target set in 2012 as part of a plan to stimulate new revenue inflows.

‘A National Pride’

How to explain all of this? If you believe what the fans sing on the terraces, it’s because Independiente is a “national pride”. Leaving aside blind faith, Independiente is not just any other club in Argentina. Founded in 1905, it is the third most successful in terms of domestic trophies, and regional leader in terms of Copa Libertadores titles, with seven. For decades, the club’s 16 international trophies made it a global leader, earning it the nickname “King of Trophies”.

However, in recent years, Independiente has moved further and further away from the title fights. In the last 18 years, it has only had two triumphs: the Copa Sudamericana in 2010 and the Apertura league title in 2002.

Like almost all sports clubs in Argentina, Independiente’s central activity – the engine and measure of the institution – is football. But if anything has made this club an example, it is its relationship with the local community. Football brings the most money and the biggest problems, but every day hundreds of sporting and cultural activities take place in the club’s many installations, which include a community library that recently reopened after a group of volunteers worked to restore it.

The 1965 Independiente team that won the Copa Libertadores (photo via Wikipedia)

The 1965 Independiente team that won the Copa Libertadores (photo via Wikipedia)

Moreover, Independiente was the first club to move into formal education: the education centre that today has more than 1,500 students from nursery to secondary school is just metres from the stadium.

The construction of the arena itself – the Libertadores de América – is arguably the club’s biggest milestone, and frustration, of recent years. The ‘Red Devils’ should have their new ‘Hell’ by now, but though it was opened for matches in 2009, it is still not finished. Because of this, and because no one knows the true costs of its construction, the stadium has become a symbol of Independiente’s current situation.

The Comparada Era

Julio Comparada has businesses in the insurance sector, among others, linked to the company El Surco, which many investigations indicate belongs to Julio Humberto Grondona, the president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and FIFA vice-president, who was once also president of Independiente.

Comparada became president in 2005 with the task of stabilising the club’s finances after a marked deterioration under his predecessor, Andrés Ducatenzeiler. He faced the challenge of rebuilding a competitive team while managing a debt of $50m. During his term, the club received record sums from the sale of players that had come through the reserve teams. The sale of Sergio Agüero to Atletico Madrid brought in €20m, while Oscar Urstari’s move to Getafe brought in another €8m.

But despite these major inflows, and two terms in office, Comparada left the club in 2011 with a debt pile of nearly $200m. Moreover, construction company Unión, which took part in the building of the new stadium, had filed for bankruptcy, and was accused of misappropriating funds by making payments to companies that did not exist, as well as using the club’s money to finance the travel and accommodation of the barra brava (hooligans) in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Independiente's new stadium (left), next to that of rival club Racing, in the Avellaneda neighbourhood (photo via Wikipedia)

Independiente’s new stadium (left), next to that of rival club Racing, in the Avellaneda neighbourhood (photo via Wikipedia)

The Cantero Era

Javier Cantero, member of the HYTSA consultancy firm, assumed the presidency in December 2011. His objective? “To be the broom that sweeps the dirt from the club.” In the first annual general meeting (AGM) of his management, the results of an audit clarified Independiente’s true situation: liabilities of $320m and a monthly operational deficit of more than $600,000.

At the same meeting, Cantero offered to undergo a monthly audit. This attitude was added to his proposal to allow all the members to access the club’s numbers. But what really gave him a certain level of recognition was his fight against the barra.

Reporting the figures that Independiente spent on the barra ($70,000 per match, according to Cantero) and their place within the club, combined with his attitude to cut of all ties with the violent section of its fans, led him to not only face repercussions but also gain various problems.

In May 2012, a group of at least 30 barras, led by Pablo ‘Bebote’ Álvarez burst into the administration and made it to the president’s office to demand that their benefits be re-established, that they be given the tickets and coaches to travel to the matches again. It would be the first of various confrontations which provoked, among other things, a march by fans in support of Cantero and high-ranking national officials calling him to meetings.

But the constant tension would cause many problems within the club’s board. On the 21st May, after receiving various threats, the club’s vice-president, Claudio Keblaitis, handed in his resignation, although he was later convinced to just take leave of absence.

Independiente's 'barra brava' (photo via Wikipedia)

Independiente’s ‘barra brava’ (photo via Wikipedia)

But who is ‘Bebote’? Álvarez has been the head of Independiente’s barra since 2003. He took power upon his release from jail, having been imprisoned for four years for robbery. He cemented his leadership during Julio Comparada’s administration, making use of his ties with politicians and the police. As with all the barras, he built a network of illicit businesses to make money via the re-sale of tickets and by controlling everything around the stadium, such as informal parking and other posts.

Additionally, Álvarez was behind the idea to create Hinchadas Unidas Argentinas (Fans United Argentina), an NGO whose founding letter is signed by 11 barra brava heads, with the support of high political echelons tied to the national government, which allowed the barra to travel to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Management Problems

But the management of the club’s most important areas was not doing well. After a succession of bad seasons, on 15th June 2013 an unprecedented event took place: for the first time, Independiente was relegated from the first division to play in the National B.

Two weeks after, on 28th June, the balance sheets were supposed to be presented at the AGM. However, the meeting only got as far as the order of the day, then it was taken over by the barra brava who began throwing chairs up in the air and kicked the members of the Board out.

Hugo and Pablo Moyano, leaders of the Truck Drivers’ Union, were accused by the members of the Board of being responsible for the agression. “I don’t know any barra. The only one I know is Bebote, but everyone knows him because they’ve seen him at the stadium or on the media,” said Hugo Moyano on TV. The conflict immediately translated to national politics, with Cantero closer to the government and the Moyanos as part of the opposition.

After relegation, the club’s economic situation worsened. If this was not enough, the return of Álvarez to Argentina after a short period in exile created tension within the barra’s leadership, which was in the hands of César ‘Loquillo’ Rodríguez, Álvarez’s former second-in-command, who now refused to give up power. The fight over the profit to be made outside of the stadium has several chapters. Stolen flags. Threats through social networks. Cars shot at on the street. In the midst of it all, the fight over links with the police, local Peronism, and different unions, such as UOCRA (construction workers) and Truck Drivers.

With a debt of around $400m, economic problems became even more evident. In February, employees began a strike demanding the club pay them over $3m it owed them. From then on, workers had to resort to different measures every month in order to get paid.

Union leader Hugo Moyano has been closely involved with Independiente for years. (Photo: Santiago Trusso)

Union leader Hugo Moyano has been closely involved with Independiente for years. (Photo: Santiago Trusso)

To make matters worse, by the end of March the club received a judge’s order to pay a debt with a former player, Luciano Leguizamón, within five days. If it did not do it, all of its trophies would be seized. The ex-Arsenal forward had got to Independiente in 2012, but he only played 16 games and scored one goal. At the time, the debt reached $2.39m.

After trying in December, and due to the economic difficulties they were facing, on 28th March the Agrupación Independiente, whose best-known member is Hugo Moyano, made an offer to the club leadership: they would bring in $10m to pay for players’ wages from February to June in exchange for early elections and participation in the transitional government. Negotiations lasted for a month, and involved suspended meetings and accusations between both sides.

As negotiations went on, the last two resignations of Board members took place. In a little over two years, 16 out of the 27 members resigned. Whilst the first of these resignations were caused by the threats made to those who attempted to bring down the barra, the latest were justified by differences with the team’s leadership and even a refusal to sign the balance sheets. Finally, on 24th April, Javier Cantero resigned as president of the club.

The Transition

Keblaitis, the same person that had been first to hand in his resignation, was left in charge of the club. The deal with Moyano was signed immediately. It’s not the first time Moyano has been involved with Independiente: he played an influential role during Comparada’s first term, when his son, Pablo, was president of the club’s amateur football division.

Just a year after that dark day of relegation, part of the opposition have denounced an operating deficit of $4m and put the total debt at more than $195m. For this reason many are asking for the application of Law 25,284, which governs the rescue of sporting entities.

Today, amid the celebrations for the return to top flight football, different groups discuss their candidates for next month’s elections. As so often happens, many of those who were involved in the club’s recent history will return as candidates. The possibility of turning Independiente into a top tier club is at stake – the decision is now in the hands of the members.

 

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Swedish Football Player Reveals Detention by Argentine Military


Ralf Edström (photo: Wikipedia)

Ralf Edström (photo: Wikipedia)

Ralf Edström, a football player who was part of the Swedish national team in the 1970s, revealed he was detained and questioned by the Argentine military while he was in Buenos Aires for the 1978 World Cup.

Edström told Swedish radio yesterday that he had gone out for a walk before a match against Austria when he was picked up by two armed men whom he suspected were military personnel. He was then taken to an office where he was questioned by a man sitting behind a desk, wearing sunglasses.

After answering some questions about his nationality and showing his accreditation to the World Cup, he was released. “My heart was beating fast, though at the same time I was sure they wouldn’t dare do anything to a World Cup player. But I can’t even imagine what would have happened had I not had my ID on me,” said Edström.

The player believes the incident could have been related to a chance encounter he had had with a stranger a couple of days before, when he was sitting at a café on his own. The man turned out to be a lawyer, who told him about the situation the country was going through with tears in his eyes, and the two men ended up hugging.

“I think that’s why those men, who I understand belonged tot he military junta, kidnapped me a couple of days later, because they had seen me with that person.”

Asked about the reason why he is making these revelations now, Edström said he thought the moment was “right”. After the incident, he talked about it with some of his fellow players, but did not tell his coach. “I thought about telling the media, but I thought it was a sensitive issue, keeping in mind we were halfway through the World Cup and that we were in Argentina,” said Edström.

 

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Verón and Zanetti Call Full Time on Glittering Careers


Two of Argentina’s most iconic footballers of their generation, Juan Sebastián Verón and Javier Zanetti brought the curtain down on their long and illustrious careers when they played the final home games for their clubs at the weekend.

Juan Sebastián Verón (left) and Javier Zanetti (Photos via Flickr and Wikipedia)

Juan Sebastián Verón (left) and Javier Zanetti (Photos via Flickr and Wikipedia)

On Saturday in the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, home of Estudiantes, Verón bade a tearful farewell as he made his last appearance against San Lorenzo for his boyhood idols. There, his career had undergone a staggering renaissance since returning to Argentina from Europe in 2006, winning the first division title that year, the 2009 Copa Libertadores (in which he was named ‘man of the tournament’), and the domestic title again in 2010. He told the crowd: “Estudiantes is my home, I was born here, and in the career of a player I could not ask for more.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday in Milan’s San Siro stadium, Zanetti came off the bench to a rapturous reception from Internazionale fans in honour of nearly two decades of distinguished service for the Nerrazzuri. After helping his club defeat Lazio 4-1, an emotional Zanetti told Sky Sports Italia: “I am crying inside thinking of saying goodbye to these marvellous fans, that have supported me though all the years of wearing this shirt and playing as captain. I have had an incredible career. The atmosphere today has been something special, I will always remember it.”

The Tractor and the Little Witch

The older of the pair, born on 10th August 1973, Zanetti was born and grew up in the working-class barrio of Dock Sud, just south of Buenos Aires, where in addition to his school studies he laboured as bricklayer alongside his father in order to supplement the family income. This instilled a work ethic that would become a feature of his later footballing career. He gained his professional break with Talleres de Remedios de Escalada in the second division where his energetic performances ploughing up and down the right-flank earned him the nickname ‘El Tractor’ and a swift transfer to top flight team Banfield in 1993.

Born in La Plata on 9th March 1975, Verón had football in his genes as the son of Juan Ramón Verón, a skilful winger in the notorious Estudiantes team of the late 1960s. His father’s nickname of ‘La Bruja’ (‘the witch’) led to Verón Junior being christened ‘La Brujita’. He started his career with his boyhood idols, Estudiantes, before joining Boca Juniors where he played alongside Diego Maradona in 1996.

International Careers

Both Zanetti and Verón made their international debuts in the mid-1990s under coach Daniel Passarella, who was putting together a new team of talented youngsters after the disappointing early demise of Argentina at the 1994 World Cup. They helped their country gain a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and were mainstays of the team that reached the World Cup quarter final in 1998, a competition in which Verón was the subject of unsubstantiated slurs about a failed drugs test.

In 2002, they again both lined up together at the World Cup in what was considered the best Argentine side for many years, starting the tournament as many pundits’ favourites. However, the team fell to an ignominious first round defeat with Verón made the scapegoat after series of ineffectual displays. This disappointment signalled the start of a turbulent period in both players’ international careers.

Javier Zanetti in one of his last matches for Argentina, in 2011. (Photo: Fanny Schertzer, via Wikipedia)

Javier Zanetti in one of his last matches for Argentina, in 2011. (Photo: Fanny Schertzer, via Wikipedia)

Zanetti was controversially omitted from the 2006 and 2010 World Cup squads, despite his fine club form, by José Pekerman and Diego Maradona respectively. He was later restored by Sergio Batista for the 2011 Copa América, when he won the last of his record 145 caps for Argentina.

Meanwhile, after a period in the international wilderness, Verón was rehabilitated to the national team by Alfio Basile in 2007, giving a series of bravura performances at that year’s Copa América before ending his international career with 73 caps at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Italian Jobs

After earning rave reviews whilst playing for Argentina at the 1995 Intercontinental Cup in Riyadh, Zanetti netted a dream move to Italian giants Internazionale, where he soon established himself at right-back, earning comparisons with the Inter legend Giacinto Facchetti. Loved for his metronomic consistency of performance, the highlight of his career was captaining the Milanese side to victory in the UEFA Champions League in 2010, on his 700th appearance for the club.

Verón was not slow to follow his international colleague to the land of his forebears, signing for Sampdoria after just one season at Boca Juniors. His impressive performances earned him further big money moves to Parma and Lazio, where he won a number of trophies. However, his spell in Italy was overshadowed by question marks over the validity of the Italian passport used to gain him status as an EU player, which became part of a wider criminal investigation of fake passports, though Verón was acquitted of any wrongdoing by an Italian court in 2007. At the peak of his career – in 2001 – he joined English giants Manchester United for a club record fee of £28 million, but played out of position by Sir Alex Ferguson his career stalled, moving onto Chelsea in 2003 and spending a spell on loan with Internazionale before his joyous return to Estudiantes.

A tribute to Juan Sebastián Verón at his ast home game for Estudiantes (photo: Carlos Cermele/Télam)

A tribute to Juan Sebastián Verón at his ast home game for Estudiantes (photo: Carlos Cermele/Télam)

Off the Pitch

Despite the comparative riches that they have earned during their careers compared to some of their compatriots, the pair have never lost touch with their roots in their home country, donating both their time and money to causes close to their heart.

Whilst playing in Europe, Verón donated the funds to help his beloved Estudiantes to build a new training centre in the City Bell district of La Plata. Meanwhile, in response to the 2001 financial crash that devastated Argentina, Zanetti founded a charitable group – Fundación Pupi – named after his childhood nickname, designed to give children in some of the poorest barrios in Greater Buenos Aires a better start in life by providing facilities and programmes for health, nutrition, physical exercise and education, as well as trying to help their parents into work.

Outlining his motivation, Zanetti said: “When I look back to my childhood, many clear scenes come to mind, good ones and bad ones. I had a difficult childhood and even though I don’t live in my country at present, I’m well aware of what’s going on there and the devastating effect it’s having on our poorest children. I’ve always believed that our public actions need to take account of social responsibility.”

Mural of Javier Zanetti near the San Siro stadium in Milan (Photo: Stefano Stabile, via Wikipedia)

Mural of Javier Zanetti near the San Siro stadium in Milan (Photo: Stefano Stabile, via Wikipedia)

For Zanetti the immediate future remains in Milan where he will remain with Inter in an ambassadorial role on the board of directors. As he recently told UEFA.com: “For some reason I have always felt at home here at Inter and this is why I have never thought of leaving.” Meanwhile Verón will also remain with his current club Estudiantes as Director of Sport.

As they prepare for another assault on the World Cup, Argentina’s current crop of stars will do well if they can emulate the career longevity and success of these two icons.

 

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24th March marks the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought Argentina's last dictatorship to power, a bloody seven year period in which thousands of citizens were disappeared and killed. Many of the victims passed through ESMA, a clandestine detention centre turned human rights museum

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