The moment that fans of fútbol Argentino have been waiting for. Here's Sam Kelly. Oh, and there are some matches too.
The big moment is almost upon us in Argentina. One week from this evening, proper competitive domestic top flight football will return to the stadia of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mendoza, Santa Fe, Bahía Blanca and last but certainly not least La Plata, the home of the defending champions Estudiantes. The summer break is never exciting in Argentina, as I mentioned last weekend, but after the appetiser served up by Independiente's two-legged Copa Libertadores qualifying success against Deportivo Quito, more regular serious action is edging closer.
It's Estudiantes who've provided the country with the biggest entrée to the main course, though not due to big-name transfers or a stellar pre-season campaign in the meaningless summer tournaments. On Wednesday manager Alejandro Sabella – formerly of Sheffield United and Newcastle, in his playing days – shocked the country's football press and fans by announcing his decision to quit with immediate effect. The club were in such a state of shock that when canchallena.com, the sports website of one of the country's biggest newspapers La Nación, phoned him for his thoughts, club president Rubén Filipas simply said, 'well, he's told me he's leaving.' And put the the phone down.
Directors and players seemed equally bemused, with key midfielder Rodrigo Braña insisting after training on Wednesday that he had no idea why Sabella had walked out. The decision seems to have been taken over transfer policy, with the board refusing to sanction moves to strengthen an already strong squad ahead of another tilt at the Copa Libertadores. It's left Guillermo Trana, one of the coaches, in charge of training momentarily, whilst the likes of former Boca Juniors boss Claudio Borghi and Luis Zubeldía are being mentioned in connection with the job on a permanent basis.
Zubeldía would be an especially enticing prospect. The youngest manager in Argentina's first division until he left Lanús last November aged just 30, after two years of overachieving from the side had given way to six months of poor football, he'd deserve a chance at the top level again and is definitely one for the future, having started his managerial career aged just 27 after retiring as a Lanús player due to injury. How he'd get on with a squad which includes the overbearing presence of living club legend Seba Verón – nearly five years Zubeldía's senior – is another potentially fascinating aspect to the tale, but we'll have to wait and see whether Zubeldía does indeed get the job first.
Elsewhere, injury has thrown a major spanner in the works of River Plate's ongoing relegation struggle, which under J.J. López in the latter part of the Torneo Apertura looked to be back on track. A bad fall in training led to an ankle injury which will keep goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo out for at least the first two months of the Clausura, and there's no entirely satisfactory replacement for him. Leandro Chichizola, who will only turn 21 next month, has been trusted with the gloves in pre-season and former second choice Daniel Vega is seemingly going to have to accept being relegated to third on the goalkeeper podium at River. Chichizola hasn't had an error free couple of games so far; some thought he should have done better with Martín Palermo's header in River's 1-1 draw against Boca Juniors in Mendoza. As Carrizo says though, 'it's better that these things happen during the summer friendlies.'
Zubeldía's old club, meanwhile, have been involved in perhaps the biggest incoming transfer story of the summer. After failing to interest River Plate sufficiently for them to match his terms, Italy's naturalised World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi has returned to his homeland and will play for Lanús. Camoranesi had stated his desire to play for River – who he's supported since he was a child – but that deal didn't go through and he's ended up signing for the local rivals of one of his previous clubs, Banfield. Back then they were in the second division, and he left for Cruz Azul in Mexico when they won promotion. Having only otherwise played for lower-league Aldosivi de Mar Del Plata in Argentina, this year will finally see his debut in the country's top flight, 16 years after his first appearance for Aldosivi and at the age of 34.
Whilst Lanús parade their new world champion signing and River and Estudiantes worry about how to replace vital cogs in their machines, Boca Juniors are giving their fans reason to get excited about the future, having reinforced more than any other club during the summer. Former Banfield manager Julio César Falcioni, who joined the La Ribera side right after the end of the Apertura, has finally brought in his old club's playmaker Walter Erviti for a shot at helping out/replacing Juan Román Riquelme, who is stuttering back to fitness as usual. Gary Medel has of course been sold to Sevilla, but the squad has otherwise only got stronger, and Falcioni seems to think one-time West Ham target Pablo Mouche is the solution to a previous woeful lack of pace in the forward line.
Mouche has played alongside Martín Palermo in most of the summer matches, replacing Lucas Viatri, and thus a very slow player has been exchanged for a quick one capable of the spectacular. Mouche is also capable of incredible acts of idiocy – during the Apertura he got sent off against Independiente for committing two yellow card offences in a single goal celebration after scoring a brilliant late winner – but if he escapes suspension long enough to play regularly this term, things could be looking up for Boca after a woeful Apertura.
Boca have impressed the most in the summer, but in the past sides have done that and then gone on to have dreadful campaigns in the real business of the league. Which way Falcioni's new charges – and, for that matter, Estudiantes, River and Camoranesi's Lanús – go has yet to be seen, but after a long, hot summer starved of meaningful football, the Argentine public are just looking forward to getting things started again.
As well as writing for IBWM, Sam is a regular contributor to Soccernet and When Saturday Comes, and also runs his outstanding Argentine football blog, Hasta El Gol Siempre. Follow him on Twitter @HEGS_com.