There's something of the 'Pre-Italia 90 Robert Robson' about Claudio Borghi. A good man, with a fine record at Colo Colo and Argentinos Juniors, Bichi is now in the extreme glare at stuttering Boca. Sam Kelly reports from Argentina.
This is much more like it. After an eighth round of matches that was frankly a bit dull, the ninth round of the Torneo Apertura was a massive improvement. It started slowly, with title-challenging Arsenal grinding out a 1-0 away win over relegation-threatened Quilmes, but thereafter there was only one other match that featured fewer than two goals – the showdown in Nueva Pompeya between third-placed San Lorenzo and league leaders Estudiantes, which the Seba Verón-less visitors won 1-0.
The weekend as a whole saw 36 goals in the ten matches, with Saturday serving up some especially memorable encounters. There was a 3-3 draw between All Boys and Tigre, more misery for Independiente, who were thrashed 4-1 by Godoy Cruz in Mendoza, and a ridiculously entertaining game between Gimnasia La Plata and Argentinos Juniors which saw Argentinos, the reigning champions, win 4-2 to claim only their second win of the campaign.
On Sunday River Plate came from behind to lead 2-1 before throwing the game away and drawing 2-2 away to Banfield, Olimpo lost 2-3 at home to Colón, and Boca Juniors lost at home to Lanús after taking the lead. There's a lot to get stuck into.
The juiciest story of the week has involved River manager Ángel Cappa and his Banfield counterpart Julio César Falcioni, who've engaged in a bit of a slanging match after Cappa criticised – or rather, pointedly refused to criticise – the tactics used by last year's Apertura winners in the 2-2 draw in El Sur. 'They stick a lot of balls up to the forwards, even the goalkeeper does it,' Cappa told one of the country's main radio stations after a frustrating draw for River during which he'd been sent to the stands in the first half for protesting too long and loud at the referee. 'But I'm not going to complain about it because they get results that way. It works for them.'
Understandably, Falcioni wasn't too impressed by Cappa's idea of 'not complaining', and bit back. 'Cappa's pissed me off,' he started, before reminding everyone that, 'my team won a championship here in Argentina. He's never done that... he's remembered by Banfield fans for getting them relegated [in the 1980s].'
If those two weren't bad enough, Boca Juniors boss Claudio Borghi has also – not for the first time recently – been quoted saying all manner of confusing things in the press. I like Borghi. A playing legend at River Plate, and unlucky with the timing of his move to Milan, he's won titles as manager with Colo-Colo in Chile and, in May, Argentinos Juniors here in Argentina. He's humble, honest to a fault and no-one sane would have a bad word to say about him personally. But the pressure of the job at Boca does seem to be getting to him somewhat.
Having already sparked talk that he was close to walking out a few weeks ago, after making a statement he later backtracked on, Borghi's been at it again in the last few days. There was talk after his side's defeat on Sunday to Lanús that he'd offered the board his resignation, but his explanation on Tuesday was that he'd done no such thing, but rather had told his employers that the decision was 'in their hands.' Which does sound rather like he'd offered his resignation.
It's hard not to wonder at times whether Borghi isn't a bit too nice a chap to be in charge at Boca. I don't mean to insult Boca by saying that, merely that he's not previously been quite so relentlessly in the full glare of the media spotlight as he is with his new club. The fact that a number of first-teamers, the key figure of Juan Román Riquelme among them, have yet to be available for selection (Riquelme's been injured since the end of last season and only started training again last week), hasn't helped his settling-in period, but in my opinion, whilst he's tying himself in semantic knots a little too often at present, the club are best off sticking with him for the mid-to-long term.
From Cappa's point of view, he might well reflect that he has at least taken some pressure off his players after a poor recent run of form that's seen them gain just two points from their last three matches. They've slipped away from the title race and, at the same time, are finding themselves frustrated in their fight to get away from the relegation places. Their next match, on Monday evening against Gimnasia La Plata, will be absolutely key from the relegation point of view. River need a win to start clawing back some ground.
The big news for the coming weekend, though, is the clásico de Avellaneda, the country's second biggest derby, played between Independiente and Racing, whose stadia sit just a couple of hundred metres away from each other in the suburb of Avellaneda in the south of Gran Buenos Aires. Having been moved from Saturday afternoon, to the Monday evening slot (we've got a long weekend coming up), the authorities finally decided that Sunday afternoon was the best time for the match. This fixture has, on a couple of occasions in the last few seasons, kicked off at 11am, so a lot of fans will be grateful for that.
Independiente have finally brought in a new manager; Antonio Mohamed, the man who left Colón the day after Daniel Garnero and César Luis Menotti stepped down at Independiente, took charge on Tuesday and is preparing his squad for what will be a tough opening test against their great rivals, who are in fantastic form. If any of you are planning to try and catch the game, keep an eye on Racing's Colombian number 10, Giovanni Moreno, who after a slow first few matches has caught fire recently. He'll spend the majority of most matches looking utterly disinterested, and then do something incredible to score or set up a goal. Just how playmakers ought to be.
So no clubs have lost their coaches this week, but with a shower of goals, various managers grabbing the front pages and a tasty derby to look forward to, it's been an interesting few days in Argentina all the same. Here's hoping the coming weekend sees the standard remain high.
Sam also writes for Soccernet and When Saturday Comes, and you can follow all the day-to-day action at his blog Hasta El Gol Siempre during the Argentine season.