It was a bombshell that resonated across the football world. Manchester City, the Premier League powerhouse strengthened beyond measure over the last decade by the influx of funds from the club’s owners, the royal family (and, by extension, effectively the principality itself) of Abu Dhabi, were sentenced to two years in the European wilderness after falsifying financial statements to evade Fair Play rules. The news was greeted with no little glee by fans of other clubs, somewhat hypocritically given that few teams at the top level can be said to be free of sin; but in Argentina, it sent supporters of Independiente and, as a knock-on effect, Newell’s Old Boys, dreaming of what could be.
One need only witness the hours of television time occupied to interviewing Argentines remotely connected to the coronavirus outbreak that centring the news agenda, whatever the story, to include the country even in the most tenuous context is a national pastime.
In this case, however, the links might just be based on a more solid foundation. Two years without Champions League football is an eternity for City and its playing staff and one player in particular who has come under the spotlight is Sergio Agüero, the Independiente favourite who since 2006 has plied his trade elsewhere.
El Kun will turn 32 in June, meaning that unless his current employers manage to reduce their punishment on appeal he will only return to the elite stage in the twilight years of his career. Having flirted with a return to Avellaneda more than once in his public declarations the chances of his coming back are now higher than ever, with Independiente fixing their sights on a free transfer once his City contract expires in 2021.
Even before the UEFA ruling sections of the English press had reported that, in recognition of just under a decade of sterling, indeed record-breaking service in City colours, the club would not stand in his way should he wish to end his career in the Libertadores de América. Whether such a move would appeal to Agüero’s head as well as his heart, of course, is another matter. Still reeling from a disastrous clásico defeat at the hands of nine-man Racing at the start of February, and with President Hugo Moyano under more pressure than ever, the atmosphere around the Rojo is far from alluring for a player of his stature. Perhaps more plausible, at least at this point, are the reports surrounding his club and international team-mate Nicolás Otamendi, linked strongly with a move to River Plate once the transfer window re-opens in the winter.
City’s woes also made their presence felt in Barcelona. Lionel Messi reportedly had been considering a reunion with Pep Guardiola in Manchester, but without the promise of Champions League football such a move can be at this point ruled out as dead in the water. Not that things are all too rosy at Camp Nou. The most bizarre news of the past week emanated from the Barça camp, where it emerged that the club’s directors had allegedly paid a social media company to post insults and reams of negative press against former and current Blaugrana figures – including, almost unbelievably, their Argentine captain and talisman.
“It caught me a little by surprise because I was not here, I was travelling. When I arrived I found out about everything,” Messi told Mundo Deportivo when asked about the allegations. “The president told us the same thing he said publicly, in the press conference.
“In truth I think it is strange for a thing like that to happen. But it was said as well that there was proof. We will have to see if it is true or not. We cannot say much, just wait and see what happens with all this. It does seem very strange to me.”
Just as in the case of Agüero, Newell’s chances of repatriating the player who slipped through their fingers as a boy due to his need to keep up growth hormone treatments appear slim. Messi has repeated time and again that his first concern is his young family, with all three of his sons having spent their entire lives in Barcelona. The prospect of uprooting them to Rosario may not seem particularly attractive, not least because the city finds itself stricken in the middle of a lethal war between rival drug gangs that has claimed more than 40 victims in the first two months of 2020 alone. As with his close friend Kun, this passing scandal is unlikely to prompt any immediate wishes to return home.
Still, hope springs eternal in football fans, and the Independiente and Newell’s faithful will continue to picture the day their prodigal sons finally reclaim club colours as their own.