While there is still no concrete indication as to when action will kick off once more in Argentina’s football stadiums, behind the scenes the game's movers and shakers are a veritable hive of activity. This week saw big changes looking ahead to the projected 2020-2021 season, while elsewhere continuity was the name of the game.
Coronavirus, of course, has made impossible, at least for now, the secretive asados, furtive coffees and backroom meetings that are such a hallmark of the Argentine Football Association’s (AFA) historical modus operandi. In lieu of those semi-official summits, those in charge in Viamonte Street have been forced to turn to technology, holding a video conference on Tuesday to determine the next steps in its latest overhaul.
This brave new world proved too courageous for some: Primera D delegate Salomón Santa Cruz, and Esteban Milcoff, president of the Northwest Chaco League, had to sit out the Extraordinary General Meeting after failing to find a serviceable Internet connection. There were to be no real surprises: Claudio 'Chiqui' Tapia was awarded a fresh four-year term as AFA president, a decision made unanimously and without having to resort to a vote, the ex-Barracas Central supremo thus consolidating power in the finest tradition of predecessor Julio Humberto Grondona, through a sea of raised (virtual) hands.
Tuesday's conference first and foremost was a confirmation that the AFA has regained the unflinching control of Argentine football it was obliged to loosen in 2018. The semi-autonomous Superliga organisation now officially dissolved, a warm welcome was extended to the new Liga de Fútbol Profesional, which was announced along with its new president, San Lorenzo chief and media mogul Marcelo Tinelli.
While the short history of Superliga was marked by butted heads with Tapia and Co, a much more fluid – not to mention interconnected – working relationship is likely with the new governing body. Even the LFP's shield, a rather lazy knock-off of the AFA's own logo, suggests that it will be a subsidiary organisation expected to fall into line in a way that the now ex-Superliga and its president Mariano Elizondo was often reluctant to do so.
Jobs for the boys
Any possible opposition to the new structure of Argentine football was prevented in another classic manner: the handing out of new jobs like the ripped up shreds of newspaper fans throw onto the pitch to greet their heroes. Inside AFA Tapia is backed up by no less than six vice-presidents, including Boca Juniors' Jorge Amor Ameal, River Plate chief Rodolfo D'Onofrio and Tinelli himself. D'Onofrio and Ameal also gain a place on the LPF board as does Independiente's Hugo Moyano and Víctor Blanco of Racing Club, the latter doubling up as AFA’s secretary-general.
In total 21 seats across the two bodies were shared out on Tuesday, a move that guarantees both unity and obedience when it comes to any contentious topics going forward. Even San Martín de Tucumán's Roberto Sagra – who has taken the AFA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the promotion denied to his team following the suspension of activities – declined to offer a dissenting voice in the conference despite earlier the same day denouncing the governing body as a “dictatorship” in a radio interview.
What all the above means on the pitch itself is essentially a confirmation of the plan the AFA had already announced for life after coronavirus. The 2019-2020 season in all its guises is officially over and no teams will be relegated from any level of the pyramid, while promotions will continue depending on a series of play-offs still to be determined (to the chagrin of San Martín, who currently occupy along with Atlanta one of the top spots in the Primera Nacional). The suspension of relegation will be maintained throughout 2021, so that by this time next year the top flight will have swollen to a Grondona-esque 28 teams.
Old habits can be hard to shake, and even if the AFA has embraced Zoom out of necessity, it may be a while yet before it sheds its traditional shadowy manner of conducting business.