Bad luck, or karma? River Plate relegated for the first time in their history

Juan Pablo Carrizo leaves the pitch in tears as River are relegated for the first time ever

Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny in Buenos Aires, but there’s a metaphorical black cloud hanging over the Estadio Monumental as, against what everyone expected back at the start of the Apertura, the unthinkable has actually come to pass: River Plate, the most successful club in the history of Argentina’s domestic league, are relegated. They’ll play in the second division during 2011-12, for the first time in over a century since they won promotion in December 1908. The goals are right here, as well as my initial thoughts as a River fan.

Primera División/Nacional B Promoción 2011, second leg: River Plate 1 – 1 Belgrano de Córdoba (Belgrano win 3-1 on aggregate)

The very first thing to say is that as I type, a lot of utter goons masquerading as River fans are tearing up the streets around the Monumental. One River fans is being reported as having died inside the stadium after the match due to heart complications (the same thing happened after the 2-1 loss to Lanús a week ago). I’m very glad I wasn’t able to get to the game in the end.

Now, to the football. River’s problem throughout the season has been a lack of goals. Asking them to score twice in today’s match was always going to be too much, as I tweeted in the days before the second leg. Mariano Pavone got a cracker very early on to give them hope (and Belgrano’s even earlier goal was correctly disallowed for offside, in case the picture in the video above isn’t clear enough), but once Belgrano got an equaliser to leave River needing two more in the final 25 minutes, River were down.

2011-12 is an unknown now, in no small part due to River’s parlous financial state. How many of the squad stay with the side is anyone’s guess. Mariano Pavone is already gone, of course, but Daniel Passarella’s decision to hold Benfica to ransom for Rogelio Funes Mori (turning down an offer of €15 million in January) now looks very silly. Has a player’s value ever dropped so sharply in the space of a few months? Erik Lamela is bound to be off to Europe, as he surely would have been anyway – but having been relegated, will the fee be as much as it might have been?

Most of River’s squad are very young, of course. That in my opinion is a major part of why the pressure got to them in the end – after an impressive season which in any other league (that is, one with a proper relegation system) would have seen them saved long ago, the pressure of fighting the three-year points-averaging system (see text below the second table down here for an explanation if you’re unfamiliar with it) got too much, and the side slid into the playoffs thanks to just three points from their last seven regular season matches.

I’m guessing at this, but I would think Matías Almeyda will stay with the club, and aim to lead a young side out of Nacional B at the first attempt. River’s football was nice for most of the 2010 Apertura and 2011 Clausura, and if they can just find a striker who’s capable of scoring regularly – will Funes Mori find his level in the B? – they might just end up steamrollering the division, especially if this is taken as a chance to clear out the dead wood both in the squad and institutionally. A young side could gain a lot of confidence if they spend a season winning games. Insitutionally (if not from a short-term footballing point of view), this could be the best thing that could have happened to River. Financially, however, it may well cripple them. How severely remains to be seen, because the AFA being happy to see River go down is one thing, but they surely won’t want them to be bankrupted by it. Don’t be surprised if the government end up stepping in to help River out with some of their debt.

Above all, of course, is the historic nature of this day. River were promoted to the Primera División on the 27th December 1908. In the one-hundred-and-two-and-a-half years since (almost to the day!), they’ve not been below the top flight for a single season. Boca Juniors and Independiente are now the only two remaining sides to have not played a single season in the second division since Argentina turned professional in 1931. And given that the promedio system of relegation was reintroduced in 1983 specifically to save River from relegation, there were many who never believed they’d see this day – never believed River would be allowed to be sent down.

18 years on, having not finished in a bottom four place in any of the last three season-long tables, it’s the promedio system that has condemned River. So call it karma. They might well come straight back up. Next season might prove to be the making of a young side whose youth academy has shown signs in the last couple of years of flickering into life again. But tonight, no-one is thinking about that. Tonight, for the first time in over a century, football fans in Argentina are trying to get their heads around a few simple words: River es de la B.

You can follow the ins and outs during the 2011 relegation playoffs, as well as the latest news from the selección in the buildup to the Copa América direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here. And remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.

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10 thoughts on “Bad luck, or karma? River Plate relegated for the first time in their history

  1. I thought seeing River Plate relegated would be more fun than this. From a football point of view, I enjoyed the game. But the violence puts it all into perspective. Hope the Belgrano fans have a safe journey home.
    It’s a historic stadium, whether you like River Plate or not, and it’s quite upsetting to see it being smashed up like that. :-(

  2. I’m truly happy to see River relegated and even more so given the reaction of so many of their “fans”. On the other hand, the violence and destruction, the madness, the extraordinary inept security arrangements, these are all reasons to be sad and/or furious. We all talk here in BsAs in such resigned tones when we discuss the entrenched barra bravas and their cozy relationship with clubs, the government and to some degree the police. I suppose I would be foolish to think that the horrible scenes today might get some important folks talking about how to fix some of these problems. Vamos a ver.

    1. So presumably you’d be just as happy to see Boca go down, Johnny? The same proportion of fans would react in the same way, after all (except they’d be smashing up Paseo Colón right outside my front door, so I’m glad they’re not…).

      1. No I’m a Bostero so I wouldn’t want to see Boca go down !:) And, maybe I’m biased (maybe!), but I don’t see the Boca “fans” as being quite as out of control as the River folk. Of course being relegated would be a disaster at Boca as well. We’ll see what happens next year with Boca, but now that Schiavi signed up I think Boca is out of danger.:)

        1. Hahaha… they’re all the same. Though La 12 without Di Zeo at the top, you might have a point on, perhaps.

          And quite right. With Rolando ‘Speed’ Schiavi at the back, how can Boca possibly lose?

        2. Boca should be fine, mainly because I suspect the new goal post they put in is one of those optically-correct small arcos! The first signing usually isn’t the best signing…

  3. From a football perspective, I have to agree that a year of winning will be good for young players, but I just can’t help but be a bit skeptical. Belgrano are a small club and they played toe to toe with River and honestly, in Belgrano they were much better than River! I’m sure not all of the teams in the B are that inferior to Belgrano. River’s defenders once again gave up such a horrendous blooper of a goal. How many cheap goals do they give up!?! If that doesn’t change I dont care if they’re playing in the 3rd division against 40 year olds!

    Also psychologically it probably is good for the players, coaches and administrative people to be humbled a bit and get back to working hard to earn their way back.

    But how can they maintain the Monumental without the ticket sales of big matches? Who knows?

    No superclasico for an entire year is going to be strange, but assuming they can come back up in a year, that first River-Boca will be as big as ever, and hopefully River, from a futbol stance, will be better prepared to compete…

    1. Hey, there’ll be the chance of a superclásico draw in the Copa Argentina, remember!

      I think the VERY different form of both sides going into the tie played a big part against Belgrano. And as I say, the player turnover this winter is going to be considerable. They’ve got to concentrate on keeping the young guys from the reserves and telling them ‘this is your chance to really break into the first team.’

  4. what a day today was. after pavone’s first goal, i was in the clouds. but that was really as good as it got. totally disgraceful reaction from some of the river fans inside and outside the stadium. to me, it totally defeats the purpose of being a fan. if youre going to celebrate the championships, you have to support the team through its lows regardless of how low those lows are. i mostly came to terms with what was happening after the game on wednesday and it wont fully hit me until we’re playing against jujuy, rosario central and ,of course, boca unidos next year.

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