Argentina wakes up to the nightmare of no football

Football in Argentina

Argentina wakes up to the nightmare of no football.

The unthinkable is unfolding in Argentina as the Apertura season looks set for a false start. A delay looms as clubs find it increasingly difficult to raise funds against the backdrop of the global economic downturn.

The new season is scheduled to start on August 14th but with clubs facing combined debts of over £50 million AFA chief Julio Grondona has made it clear there is no guarantee the football will kickoff on time.

There is no doubt that the beginning of the tournament is at risk because several clubs have very big debts." Grondona told TV channel TyC Sports.

Several of Argentina's big boys such as River Plate, San Lorenzo and Independiente all find themselves in financial dire straits and unable to pay their players let alone bring in any fresh faces for the new campaign.

The player's union, Agremiados, has taken legal steps as it demands money owed to footballers is paid. While the money remains outstanding the club's become inhibited which means their assets are frozen until their debts are resolved.

"[The clubs] are paying high salaries and one of the main resources was the sale of players and now it's very difficult to transfer them," Grondona said. "The teams are making their best efforts to pay their debts but it's a tough situation."

The financial problems are not just the preserve of the top echelons of the game in Argentina.

News of the Apertura's delay came just a few days after it announced the start of the Metropolitana B division has been pushed back a few weeks to allow clubs a little financial breathing space.

Grondona has been running football in Argentina for 30 years now and negotiated the end of a players strike in 2001. Now he is charged with getting things back on track by raising more funds for the clubs through television and betting revenues.

The football supremo stands by his treatment of clubs during his tenure but concedes he may have done too good a job in enriching the teams.

I was too kind-hearted. I have given money, or rather the AFA has, and I gave them the opportunity to spend more," said the founder of Arsenal de Sarandí. "Until 1979, AFA had never given money to anybody. When I arrived at AFA, we helped the clubs."

A traditional source of income for Argentine clubs in recent years has been selling players to Europe. Although a fair few players are still leaving for Europe the revenue stream has been bitten into by third-party ownership.

One of the financially cash strapped clubs is Clausura runners-up Huracán. El Globo's shining light last season was Javier Pastore and it would be fair to presume the midfield talisman's £6 million transfer to Serie A's Palermo would generate the kind of income to keep the Buenos Aires' club afloat.

However, Pastore was never officially on Huracán's books. Instead he was at the club at loan from lower league Talleres who owned 45% of his registration while the majority was owned by an investment group for which they paid £200,000.

The Pastore deal sees a chunky £3 million plus leaving the game in Argentina and more and more of these third-party deals are leaving clubs out of pocket.

Combined with the global financial crisis pushing down transfer fees AFA chief Grondona recognised the impact third-party ownership is having on the game in Argentina.

Before, the players were part of the assets of the clubs. The invention of agents was a misfortune." The FIFA vice-president said. "It can't be that a person owns 30 percent of a player and another 40 percent. It seems like we're talking about cows."

Grondona, who has seen Argentina in two World Cup finals since taking his post, has called for an urgent meeting with Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, national Chief of Ministers

Anibal Fernandez and Secretary General for the Presidency Oscar Parrilli.
Grondona has picked his time well to petition the government with the Peronista party's popularity plummeting. In an effort not to lose more public support the government issued their own statement saying they would do everything they could to get the football back on.

What the AFA boss hopes to achieve with these meetings is a tweaking of Argentina's complicated provincial betting laws to ensure his federation gets a fair cut of the profits which come from gambling on their league. His argument is that people are making tidy sums off the back of their product and the AFA is entitled to their taste.

He also wants dispensation to renegotiated his league's television deal. It is widely felt that the AFA have been burnt with the current contract and he wants it ripped up so clubs can get more money.
"The moment has arrived to put things in order," Grondona said. "This can be sorted out in one day, two days or several weeks. We have asked for meetings in the coming days but we must put things in order, there's a limit to everything."

There was no specific date given for the start of the Apertura after the initial delay was announced. Before any football can be played the player's union must be appeased.

All the AFA tournaments are postponed until the Argentine Football Player's Union, Agremiados, gives the OK to lift the restrictions." Cherquis Bialo, AFA press coordinator, said.

For his part 77-year-old Grondona is worried that any solution now may only be a band aid covering a bigger problem.

"It's going to be solved. But I'm worried about the future. I don't want to leave debts, I want resources and financially healthy clubs." The former Independiente president said. "I'm not a fortune teller, so it's impossible for me to say when this will be solved and when the football will return."

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge &

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