It's easy to wish a series of relegations on your local rivals, but you know you'll miss them when they're gone. Welcome to IBWM Thomas G. Clark.
On Saturday 20 November Argentine club Rosario Central played in a Rosario derby, however it was not the world famous clásico rosarino with Newell's Old Boys, it was a game against Tiro Federal played in the Argentine 2nd division.
There will be no "proper" Rosario derby this season for the first time in 25 years because at the end of the 2009-10 season Central were relegated for the first time since 1984 when they lost a relegation/promotion playoff against Buenos Aires minnows All Boys after a surprise 0-3 home defeat in the 2nd leg.
Fans of South American football will miss the clásico rosarino as it is one of the most vibrant and colourful derbies in world football. The rivalry dates back to 1905 and has been played as a championship decider in 1974 when Newell's beat Rosario Central in the final of the Nacional championship and on the continental stage in the Copa Libertadores in 1975 and the Copa Sudamericana in 2005.
The team’s nicknames derive from the same incident. Central are known as canallas (scoundrels) because in the 1920s they refused to play in a friendly match for a leprosy charity, Newell's Old Boys played instead and earned themselves the nickname los leprosos (The Lepers). Central fans are notoriously proud of the claim that Che Guevara was a loyal Central supporter, giving his voluntary work at the Peruvian San Pablo leper colony in 1951 an aspect of penitence for the actions of his club.
People often ask which Rosario team is the best, the answer is usually that it is too hard to call, Central have 105 wins to Newell's 100 in the derby, Newell's have 5 league championships to Central's 4, Newell's were twice runners up in the prestigious Copa Libertadores final but Central have actually won an international tournament, claiming the less prestigious and now defunct Copa CONMEBOL in 1995. This season however, the answer must be Newell's, they have played in the Primera División continuously since 1963 and Central are currently the most successful and well-supported team in the second division.
It is hard to explain how such a grand and well-supported club has come to be in this position, only 10 years ago they reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores and 5 years ago they were still good enough to qualify to play at the continental level. The first major signs of problems were an embarrassing bottom of the table finish in the Apertura 2007 tournament with only two wins in nineteen games and a turbulent 11 months between December 2006 and November 2007 in which they had five different directors including a court appointed emergency team.
It is not often a useful exercise to draw parallels between sides in different leagues and on different continents, however a comparison with the situation at Leeds United is hard to avoid. Both clubs have large fan bases, they both have four major domestic honours and have had success in lesser continental competitions, they both played in the semi-finals of the premier continental championship at the beginning of the last decade, they both found themselves in severe financial difficulties and have suffered relegation to the lower leagues. Another link between the clubs is that Central's distinctive blue and yellow colours were inspired by the blue and yellow Leeds United kit that was phased out by Don Revie in 1961.
Despite all these similarities, the causes of the economic problems at the two clubs had different origins and to simplify things a lot, Leeds United borrowed beyond their means to compete at the highest level of European football and Rosario Central suffered from a number of distinct problems, including the aforementioned boardroom instability, the sale of their two most promising players Angel di Maria & Andrés Díaz to Portuguese side Benfica in order to pay off some of the debts in 2007, then the loss of highly regarded midfielder Tomás Costa to FC Porto in 2008. The club has also suffered from extraordinary instability in the dugout with an astonishing 21 managerial changes since the departure of Miguel Ángel Russo in 2004.
Their poor form continued into the following season despite their chairman Horacio Usandizaga's idea of a motivational speech in which he threatened to kill the players and coaching staff if the club were relegated. At the end of the season they finished 17th in the relegation table and faced a two legged playoff with Belgrano de Córdoba. They won the game to remain in the top flight however despite the return of iconic player Luciano Figueroa in 2009 they finished in 17th place again in 2009-10 and this time they lost their place to All Boys who had until then been stuck in the lower leagues since 1980.
After relegation Central seriously struggled to adapt to life in Nacional B failing to win any of their first four games and occupying a place in the automatic relegation places until October. Their form has steadily improved and they have gradually climbed towards the promotion places. Before the derby game with Tiro Federal they slipped back a bit, losing to debutants at the national level Boca Unidos and then suffering a 4-2 defeat at promotion rivals Atlético Túcuman on the Wednesday before the derby game.
Their first derby against Tiro Federal since the smaller club’s single season in the Primera División in 2005-06 went well for Central, they won 1-0 with an 80th minute penalty from Luciano Figueroa. They currently lie five points behind league leaders Atlético Tucumán and three points shy of the promotion places. With 23 games of the season remaining there will be plenty of opportunities to close the gap, however a poor run of results could land them back in the relegation places as anything less than 1.25 points per game would probably leave them amongst the bottom four teams in the relegation table and in danger of slipping into the regionalised 3rd division, which would be unthinkable for a club of their stature.
Thomas is the main writer for Fútbol Fútbol Fútbol, a blog about South American football.