Look who’s back, and the endgame approaches

Sao Paulo, River Plate, Santos, Internacional and any other sides with designs on a big party following the 2008 Copa Libertadores final may as well cancel those plans right now. On Monday, it was all-but confirmed that Juan Román Riquelme will be a Boca Juniors player again by the end of this year – and if Boca get their way, before the Club World Championship kicks off in Japan. Elsewhere, Central have a new manager and the two small clubs at the top of the table have both been making noises about a possibly impending championship…

Villarreal’s directorship have finally reached an agreement with Riquelme, presumably to do with the player’s unwillingness to miss out on all those lovely euros he’d have earned had he sat on the bench sulking for another two years until his contract ran out. As I type, two directors are travelling to Buenos Aires to meet Boca vice-president Pedro Pompilio and put the final touches to the contract which will seal Riquelme’s sale back to his boyhood club. Boca have already sent their squad list for the CWC to FIFA, but are hopeful that they’ll be allowed to include Román as a last-minute call-up.

Rosario Central, meanwhile, were unveiling a new signing of their own. The directors had originally planned to wait until the end of the Apertura before announcing their new manager, but the truly appalling results they’ve had all season finally made them fed up, and they’ve revealed the stirring name who’ll reinvigorate the squad and give hope to the fans. They’re to be managed by Leonardo Madelón. What do you mean, ‘Who?’?!

Madelón is the permanent replacement for caretaker boss Hugo Galloni, who took over after Carlos Ischia’s resignation earlier in the season. He’s the man who took Olimpo up into Primera A last season, and resigned shortly afterwards. And now he takes charge of a side in very real danger of going straight back to where he himself has come from – B Nacional. Central have lost four straight matches, and their last win – their only win of this championship – was against Newell’s (typical that it would come in the city clásico), eight rounds ago.

The two unexpected pace-setters, meanwhile, are very much still with their managers, for now. And they’re making bold sounds about their respective chances. Lanús boss Ramón Cabrero told journalists on Monday that, ‘We’re not considering anything other than being champions. The alternative would be a scandal.’ He’s got a point, with his side holding a three point lead over Tigre going into the final two matches.

The thing that really adds to the intrigue and suspense, however, is that with two matches to go, both of these top two have to visit the side currently in third – and that side is Boca Juniors. Lanús play them in La Bombonera this coming weekend. Tigre were due to host them in the final round of matches.

That last-day fixture was rearranged, though, due to Boca’s participation in the Club World Championship, and thus Tigre and Lanús will now be playing their ‘final round’ matches tomorrow, Wednesday 28th November. Before the penultimate round. It’s the TV scheduling of these fixtures which has caused Tigre boss Diego Cagna to speak out. Cagna had a very good point to make, claiming that the ‘last-weekend’ fixtures of Tigre – Boca and Lanús – Gimnasia La Plata should be played simultaneously, ‘So that neither side has an advantage.’ The schedule currently has Tigre – Boca being played two hours before the Lanús – Gimnasia clash. Should the result be anything other than a Tigre win, victory for Lanús would clinch them the title – and Gimnasia, of course, would be opponents with nothing to play for…

Cabrero, for his part, agreed with Cagna (and with 92.7% of the Argentine population, according to an online poll by Olé); ‘It seems correct to me.’ Boca manager Miguel Russo’s opinions on it all haven’t yet been recorded, but Cagna, who played for Boca, admitted that if after this championship is over, they approached him about the manager’s job, he’d have to listen carefully to the offer.

Complicated situations all round, then. But if it all gets a bit much, just look back to the start of this article. Because the most tedious headache of the year finally looks like being killed off…


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