35-years-old and having given a good few years’ service to Boca Juniors, Hugo Ibarra left the club on Thursday after failing to come to an agreement over the new contract deal he’d been offered. Where he’ll end up remains to be seen, but the outpouring of thanks from the fans to El Negro has been huge. Meanwhile, the secretary general of Argentina’s Professional Footballers’ Union (the Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados) has warned there may very well be a delay in the start to the Torneo Apertura if pay demands aren’t met by a number of clubs.
Ibarra announced on Thursday that after a week of contract negotiations with Boca president Leandro Ameal, who was offering him a renewal with lower wages than he’d previously had, he was leaving the club. Ibarra played his first first-team football for Colón in 1992, and didn’t join Boca until six years later, but in three separate spells with the La Ribera club over the last eleven years, he’s won everything going: six domestic championships and nine international trophies, including four Copas Libertadores and the 2000 Intercontinental Cup. He won’t be happy about leaving La Bombonera, but it’s an economic decision he isn’t alone in taking.
That’s because the FAA (see first paragraph for what that’s an acronym of) secretary general Sergio Marchi told the press on Thursday that there was a real and present danger that the start of the 2009 Torneo Apertura could be delayed. ‘With the current level of debt owed by the clubs to their players, it’s impossible for the championship to begin in August as is currently scheduled,’ Marchin said.
The clubs under fire include five of the big Buenos Aires sides as well as both Rosario clubs, Newell’s Old Boys and Central. Racing are expected to reach an agreement with their two main ‘creditors’, goalkeeper Hilario Navarro Montoya and forward Diego Manicero (now with Belgrano de Córdoba), who are owed a total of AR$100,000 (around US$26,300). Various other cases though are only just getting underway.
The Ezeiza Pact was signed by the country’s leading clubs ten years ago in agreement that clubs who were in debt to their playing squads wouldn’t be able to begin the new season. At the time it was a way of preventing inflated salaries and poor book-keeping from adversely affecting the finances of the league, and it still is – the problem is that many clubs, notably of course River Plate as well as the two rosarino clubs, haven’t bothered to observe it. River owe a significant debt to Danilo Gerlo, yet they still want to make new signings before the season begins.
‘Plenty of sides have debts of AR$6 million [US$1.6m],’ Marchi said, ‘and they think that if they sell one player the problem is sorted. But what happens if they’re not able to sell anyone?’ Julio Grondona, the AFA chief and FIFA Vice-President, is blaming television. ‘If the TV companies gave us more money this wouldn’t happen.’ Yes Julio, but there’s a recession on, perhaps you’ve noticed. One club director told Olé off the record, ‘the Apertura will start on time for sure, even if it’s with reserve squads.’ Now there’s a thought…