If this is the calm before the storm, then it is going to be quite some storm when River Plate meet Boca Juniors next Tuesday evening.
The derby widely regarded as the most passionate and intense in world football (see the world’s most violent football rivalries) rarely needs an introduction, except on this occasion. This time around, one could write Lord of the Rings size novels solely about the turmoil that is reeking havoc at each club – not even touching upon the hugely disappointing start to the season made by both teams.
With Frodo and Gandalf out of the equation, the crux of this story would undoubtedly revolve around two other larger-than-life central characters – deposed River Plate coach Angel Cappa and current Boca coach Claudio Borghi. The pair have done their best/worst to hog the headlines for most of the Apertura season so far and, with Cappa receiving the boot last night, followed by Borghi’s claim that he does not know if he will be coach for the Superclasico, their part in the story is key.
Along with the aforementioned duo, there is another interesting character who could make a surprise appearance – Marcelo Bielsa. After stepping down from his role as Chile coach less than a week ago, following Jorge Segovia’s appointment as president of the Chilean football federation, he is now thought to be a prime candidate for River’s vacant position. Along with Bielsa, there has been talk of bringing a former coach back to the helm in the shape of Americo Gallego, who, coincidentally, worked under current River president Daniel Passarella when he was coach of the Argentine national side.
Passarella’s part in this story should not go unnoticed either as he was the primary reason why Cappa’s reign lasted as long as it did – without the support of the president the other directors would have surely forced the coach out a long time ago. Perhaps if they had their way it would have been better too, as now, River have just one week to not only find a new coach but to get him accustomed to the club, the players, the set-up and of course, to prepare him for the Superclasico.
Boca on the other hand still have a coach, for now, but have endured an even worse start to the season then their arch-rivals. Los Xeneizes have lost six of their thirteen games during the Apertura and most recently were humbled by Argentinos Juniors – even with their main character Juan Roman Riquelme back in the midfield. The return of the experienced number ten served to show both how much Boca miss his presence in the centre of the pitch when he is out and how fragile they remain elsewhere on the pitch.
Unfortunately for Borghi, while some of the problems do clearly lie on the pitch, many of the main issues stem from his management, such as the stubborn system he refuses to change and his poor relationship with some of the players. With just a week to go until the derby rolls around it does seem unlikely that he will be replaced but, after seeing Cappa’s swift exit from River on Tuesday, his position is now more tenuous than ever.
As well as the coaches, some of the players have key roles to play in this story – most notably those at River Plate. Diego Buonanotte is one of those whose tale needs to be told, especially as he could be tried for triple manslaughter after crashing his car last Christmas and killing three of his friends in the process. With the weight of that incident on his shoulders it is remarkable that the youngster has even been in contention for a spot in the River squad, let alone playing for the first team.
Unsurprisingly though, he has not looked at his best when he has been given a chance to play and he reportedly had numerous arguments with Cappa about been left on the bench. Another youngster whose progress has stuttered lately is Rogelio Funes Mori, who made such a promising start at River when he arrived from FC Dallas but has been in disappointing form as of late.
Perhaps with Cappa gone, both Funes and Buonanotte will begin to rediscover their best form, but whether they will do so within the space of a week remains to be seen. Indeed, River’s hope could rest on the shoulders of more experienced players, such as Ariel Ortega and Matias Almeyda, the latter of whom is desperate to return from injury in time for the Superclasico.
Likewise, for Boca, if Riquelme is not able to provide some spark in the midfield it is hard to see who is going to be the match-winner for the visitors, especially with the man who scored two goals in the last derby, Gary Medel, potentially missing the game due to international duties.
At the moment, Boca are reportedly negotiating with the Chilean football federation to allow Medel to play, meaning that he will not take part in the national side’s clash with Uruguay the next day. Should they be successful and the 23-year-old does start in the midfield it will be a huge boost for the visitors and will surely give them the edge in the midfield come Tuesday night.
In such chaotic times, Boca will also have the luxury of an experienced head up front in the form of Martin Palermo – top-scorer so far this season and a veteran of Superclasico’s. River on the other hand have a wealth of talent at their disposal but none of them are in particularly good form – Funes has not scored for nearly two months, while Mariano Pavone has netted just two goals this season.
All the pre-match chaos is sure to make for a dramatic clash when the two sides do finally meet on Tuesday evening and, more than ever, it is nigh on impossible to predict a winner at El Monumental. With home advantage playing such a big part in the Superclasico, River go into the match as slight favourites but also potentially without a coach, while Boca have been less than impressive so far this season but will be buoyed by the presence of Riquelme in the midfield.
Added to everything is the long-term tale that, should River lose to Boca and continue to slide down the table as they have done all season, they could well find themselves relegated – a thought which, were it not for the backdrop of existing madness in the capital, would be almost unthinkable. At the moment it is admittedly still a distant and highly remote possibility, but there is still a long, long way to go in the stories of both Boca and River this season, starting with the first big battle next week.