The morning after the night before, River Plate are being forced to adjust to life as a Nacional B institution. J.J. López is gone as manager, and might leave the club altogether. Ramón Díaz, who watched the game on television in Miami, has offered to take charge in the second division. Juan Pablo Carrizo returns to Lazio, Mariano Pavone is already on his way to Mexico, and of course Diego Buonanotte’s transfer to Málaga was done in April. López’s entire first-choice back three might also be out, and of course Erik Lamela is bound to head to Europe now – one would think for several million euros less, although with both Milan and Roma interested, who knows? Player representative Néstor Sívori, though, claims River could end up with a few big names in la B anyway…
It’s been suggested that Matías Almeyda might retire again, only a month or so after he’d insisted he wanted to play until at least the end of this year. Lamela’s situation is going to be most interesting, because we’ll see whether the two Italian clubs end up bidding against each other and paying a similar price to what they would have done already – River will have to hope they do, because the institution has no money at all as it stands, and still owes around AR$18,000,000 to its players, many of whom are now leaving.
As well as Buonanotte’s departure for Málaga and Carrizo’s return to Lazio after his loan expires, Jonathan Maidana, Adalberto Román and Carlos Arano – essentially three of River’s four first choice defenders – are all expected to leave, as are Alexis Ferrero, Leandro Caruso Lombardi (the only forward who looked even a bit like a goalscorer during the Clausura) and Walter Acevedo. That last one will at least ensure River don’t have a defensive midfielder who insists on shanking a ridiculously ambitious shot into the stands once a game.
Some of those departures are bound to free up space for younger players who got little or no playing time this season due to the pressures of the relegation fight. Ezequiel Cirigliano could come in for Acevedo or Almeyda at the base of midfield, whilst Leandro González Pirez impressed me in the couple of games he played. If Lamela goes, then Manuel Lanzini will surely get more playing time next season, whilst Gustavo Bou and Daniel Villalva – both of whom already have goals for the first team in their sporadic appearances – also look set to break through during River’s season in the second division.
Néstor Sívori’s involvement could be key though, because he’s the agent of a number of former River players who want to return to the club to help them out of the Nacional B, according to what he told Radio La Red on Monday afternoon. Ariel Garcé – best known for his startling inclusion in Diego Maradona’s Argentina squad for last year’s World Cup – is one of them, and that’s an underwhelming prospect perhaps (although he’d surely be good enough for Nacional B). The others – and we have to assume they’re all fully aware among other things of the enormous pay cut they’d have to take – are Germán Lux, the goalkeeper who was surprisingly left out of José Pekerman’s squad for the 2006 World Cup, Alejandro Domínguez, who’s had a few seasons in Russia but fallen out with Valencia’s directors at the end of his first in La Liga, and Fernando Cavenaghi, who’s exactly the kind of goalscorer with whom River would never have ended up getting relegated in the first place.
With Ramón Díaz also offering to return to the club (and some sources are even claiming he’s offered to work for free), and the possibility of other former figures offering their services, it could be a very interesting winter for River. The financial situation is more perilous now than ever, and can’t be ignored – River are going to lose out on millions upon millions of pesos just from the TV deal in the second division, and bringing back former greats is a strategy that’s not worked well in recent years (with the notable exception of Almeyda). Nacional B is a very hard division to get out of, so they shouldn’t underestimate it – but if the club are able to get the right blend of experience to go with the young talents they have coming through, they’ll be optimistic.
River will also have a number of opponents they’ve never played against before in their history. The more famous among them are Aldosivi, of Mar Del Plata (the club where Mauro Camoranesi started out as a teenager) and Almirante Brown, who’ve established themselves pretty well as a Nacional B side since their first promotion to the division in 1998. The others are Boca Unidos of Corrientes Province (who in spite of the name and the jokes of Boca fans, have no official connection at all to Boca Juniors), Defensa y Justicia, Deportivo Merlo, Patronato, and there’ll be a trip to Patagonia, to take on Guillermo Brown, of Puerto Madryn, who have just won promotion from Argentino A.
Managed correctly, River might just find that 2011-12 provides an opportunity to bring through more of what’s considered a highly promising crop of youngsters, and regain some of their institutional composure. If they do come straight back to the Primera at the first attempt, they’ll also start in a very strong position for the 2012-13 promedio – points won this season will still count, so they’d begin with an average of 1.5; enough to put them fourth at present. But that’s probably looking too far ahead for the moment. If the club can block out the hysteria surrounding their relegation, and concentrate on getting the right things done, we could see a very interesting River Plate side next season.
Well, those of us in Argentina with TyC Sports, at least.
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.