Are there changes on the way in the Argentine league?

Claudio Tapia

Over the next few years, like, not necessarily immediately. AFA president Claudio Tapia spoke to the press on Wednesday, and at least one of the things he said gave hope to those of us who’ve hoped for improvements to the Argentine league system for ages. What did he say, exactly?

Well, most excitingly, he said that, ‘If it were up to me, I’d get rid of the promedios.’ (If you want to see a source for this quote in Spanish, clicking the photo above should take you to a brief story on the TyCSports website.)

The promedios are the system the Argentine league uses to decide relegation across its divisions. Points won in the last three years (currently the last three-and-a-half years, because of the transitional championships we’ve had lately) are added together, and divided by the number of games played in that time. In each case, this is only done for a team’s current duration in the division – so Boca Juniors, say, who’ve been in the top flight uninterrupted for over a century, have the last three-and-a-half years counting towards their average, whereas Talleres de Córdoba, who were just promoted this time last year, only count the 2016-17 campaign towards their own (and that would continue to be the case even if Talleres had been relegated and come back up again within that period. They haven’t, so this isn’t a great example, but hopefully you get the idea).

This sounds like a system devised to protect the big clubs because, essentially, it was devised to protect the big clubs, having been used (over two years) for a while in the 1950s and then been reintroduced in the 1980s when San Lorenzo went down. In its first year, the promedio saved River Plate from relegation, and relegated Racing, who wouldn’t have gone down under the previous system. In 2011, of course, it relegated River, a story so huge you might well have heard about it even if you’ve never come across this blog or much else to do with Argentine football before.

Anyway, Tapia says he wants to do away with the promedio. There’s been talk about doing this for a while now, with the upcoming reorganisation of the top flight acting as a catalyst to make things a bit more sensible. It would also make things much less confusing to work out during the run-in, as we wouldn’t have to divide different points totals by different numbers of matches to work out who can overtake or draw level with whom on the last day. Previous rumours have suggested the promedios might be scrapped as early as next season in the B Nacional (second division), and perhaps for whatever top flight championship begins in the second half of 2018 (whether it’s another transitional six-month one, or a 2018-19 season) in the Primera. Fingers crossed.

We already knew the other thing mentioned in the TyC piece linked to above: the Primera will get smaller in the next little while. Tapia hints it’ll happen more quickly than previous suggested; he says in two years’ time, it should be down to twenty-two, which is where the AFA want it to stay. The Primera has consisted of thirty teams since the start of 2015, but will be down to twenty-eight for next season after relegating four teams (Aldosivi, Sarmiento, Atlético de Rafaela and Quilmes) at the end of last season, and only allowing two to come up (Argentinos Juniors, who won the B Nacional championship on Wednesday after securing promotion at the weekend, and one of Guillermo Brown or Chacarita Juniors (Brown are currently three points better off, but have played two games more). The same will happen at the end of the 2017-18 season, so Tapia might have inadvertently suggested that we’ll see perhaps six relegations and only two promotions at the end of the following campaign.

Elsewhere, an apology is due from me to one of my Twitter followers, Brett Elmer. A couple of days ago, I told him this:

as part of an exchange regarding the story that Primera clubs (specifically, the Big Five) want to do away with the ‘extra’ round of matches full of clásicos for next season. I had read the previous week – or, I thought I had, though I can’t remember now where I saw the story – that the Primera/Superliga’s new broadcasters, Fox Sports and Turner, were behind this change. It’s now apparent, though, that they want to keep the clásico round and that it’s the clubs who want to get rid of it.

Why do the clubs want to do away with it? For one thing, because as *cough* some people *cough* have been saying since it was introduced, it distorts the competition. It gives River Plate and Boca Juniors a much harder extra fixture, for example, than it hands to Godoy Cruz, whose rivalry match is against San Martín de San Juan. If there’s a tight title race featuring, say, River and Godoy Cruz fighting it out at the top, this could have a material effect on the destination of the trophy.

For another thing, the clubs don’t really gain much financially. The big clubs don’t make much extra money from these matches – if any at all – because they still have to pay for the security operations, but places in the stadium are all or nearly all taken by fully paid-up members, meaning extra ticket sales don’t happen for those games.

The ideal, and presumably the goal once a twenty-two team league is reached, would be to have a ‘European-style’ championship in which everyone plays everyone else, home and away, over a long season, and relegation is decided by performance over the course of that single season. Slowly but surely, we just might be moving towards it.

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