Editorial: Lessons to learn?

Now personally, I’ve never paid too much attention to the idea of new year’s resolutions (the last editorial aside, that is). Making promises to yourself which you admit from the start won’t be kept seems rather to be shooting oneself in the foot. Besides which resolutions are always so dull – why doesn’t anyone resolve to make a change for the better which they might actually enjoy, such as travelling more, or reading those books they’ve never got round to, or taking a nice long holiday after a few stressful years of buggering up the affairs of one of their country’s most popular football clubs?

The last of those quandaries is the one Fernando De Tomaso is currently facing. Should he have taken the plunge and made that resolution after all? The resolution in question, of course, is the one that would’ve been painful and maybe involved a fair bit of emotional turmoil (and would perhaps have left him worse off financially), but might ultimately have been for the better – to give up Racing.

The weekend’s developments have sent things at La Academia into even more confusion than they already were. Martín Romagnoli’s furious exit makes him the seventh player since the start of the month to leave the club following the dispute with holding company Blanquiceleste over unpaid wages to the squad. First-team manager Miguel Micó almost followed him on Monday, which can hardly inspire confidence throughout the squad in the people above him. The fact that the side’s 0-0 draw on Tuesday with a Boca team made up of kids and reserve players was seen as a disappointment for the opposition gives some indicator as to how serious things have become.

De Tomaso and Blanquiceleste are at the centre of all this ridiculousness, having well and truly lost the confidence of both squad and fanbase during the last twelve months. It’s a shame, because one or two good things have come of the company’s involvement – for one thing Racing as an institution and a club still exist, and that at least can hardly be a bad thing. Another major plus is the exclusion of La Guarda Imperial and other barra brava organisations from the home terraces after Blanquiceleste under former boss Fernando Marín, and subsequently under De Tomaso, refused to sanction their actions. Good work has been done at Racing, and the latter is an admirable policy which we can only dream might be taken up by more clubs around the country.

Of course Racing’s private ownership, leaving them free from having to worry about pleasing all the fans for votes when it comes to presidential election time, is what made that ban on the barras possible. It’s precisely the ownership structure, though, which has angered not only the barras, but the entire fanbase of the club. The protests by Racing supporters against Blanquiceleste which were organised throughout the latter half of 2007 were all peaceful and organised via the club’s supporter-run unofficial websites; not violent outbursts perpetrated by hooligans incensed at their exclusion from the stadium.

It’s these protests which make commenting on Blanquiceleste a tricky issue, because much as it’s clear a change is needed, it’s difficult to totally condemn a regime which has at least tried to take what would be a major step forward in the fight against Argentina’s hooliganism, if only other clubs were willing and able to follow suit. Yet the other problems facing Argentine football off the pitch – poor organisation, lack of financial planning or transparency, and the resultant suspicion (whether justified or not) of corruption – are all epitomised at Racing more than any other club at present.

Who is De Tomaso? He’s a former businessman who worked in the Argentine arms of companies like the Morgan Bank and Goldman Sachs, as well as having been a vice-president at L’Egalité, the company who owned the Argentine TV rights to, among other events, tennis’s Davis Cup. Now, I’m not going to fall into the trap of stating that because De Tomaso doesn’t have a footballing background, he’s got no right to be running a club now. After all, I myself am useless at playing the game, but here I am writing about it. What’s not quite so clear about De Tomaso, though, is whether he was a Racing supporter before he pushed former head Fernando Marín out of the directorship of Blanquiceleste in April 2006. Being an Argentine, it’s difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to imagine that De Tomaso had no interest in football before, and Blanquiceleste was set up by fans with business connections in order to save the club – so there’s a fair chance he was a Racing fan, at one point.

Any such connection now, however, is certainly not one he makes a big show of. This isn’t a ‘people’s president’ we’re discussing, one who feels the need to justify himself to the fans by identifying as one of them, or by bowing to their pressure. He’s seen as ruling by decree, as one Racing fan blog, which refers to him repeatedly as ‘Fernando the Second’ (former Blanquiceleste head Marín being the First) and personifies him in one recent entry as a vampire, sucking the club dry through his organisation, makes clear.

Whether De Tomaso and Blanquiceleste actually have their hands in Racing’s coffers, or whether the suspicions of the fans are misplaced, the company can’t continue in charge for much longer without being held accountable for the finances. When players are owed half a year’s wages, the issue of paying their employees surely becomes a legal one as much as the simple PR side of running a football club, and even in an economy like Argentina’s, there’s surely only so long it can go before a registered company can be brought to account for wages outstanding.

It looks very much like Blanquiceleste are going, at the very least, to have to change directors during 2008, if not hand Racing Club back to the fans completely. De Tomaso, the man who once gave conference talks on ‘How to Manage a Club’ prior to taking over, is learning the hard way that it’s not as easy as he might have imagined. If he pays the wages, if he allows some stability and support to the manager, and if the team see an on-pitch upturn in fortunes, he might enjoy a Clausura campaign a little steadier than that of the Apertura. If the fans’ protests continue, though – as they surely will at the matches, win lose or draw – De Tomaso could find himself having to come up with some very different resolutions for 2009.

To read the previous editorial, click here.


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