One of the unintended consequences of the years of tinkering that Argentine football has been subjected to is that the bottom rungs of the ladder have been stripped almost bare. To make up for the imbalance, one of the most ambitious, revolutionary expansions in league history is now underway – one which will welcome no less than four teams into the lowest level of the 'Metropolitan' competitions.
First, a brief explainer. From its very inception the game has been technically split into two distinct groups: clubs directly affiliated to the Argentine Football Association (AFA), mostly from the Buenos Aires, La Plata and Rosario metropolitan areas; and the indirectly affiliated teams, who are registered to dozens of local leagues across the interior of the country and come under the umbrella of the AFA's Federal Council. The difference is academic in the elite Primera and Primera Nacional, run on a nationwide basis, but under the two top divisions sides are separated depending on their affiliation, with those belonging to the former group playing the Primera B, C and D Metropolitana tournaments and the latter organised into a host of regionally based competitions such as the Federal A and Regional Interior, just a step up from the provincial leagues.
By the start of 2021 just 12 teams were left in the fifth-tier Primera D, leading to the AFA to decree that four further participants would be welcomed to the fold for the upcoming edition. Unsurprisingly, this news has met with a raft of enthusiasm: no fewer than 30 clubs have applied for inclusion, with a final decision on the lucky quartet due to be given in April.
Among those hopefuls are a number of eye-catching names. Pergamino's Douglas Haig were until 2017 a mainstay in the B Nacional, but the Federal A side are willing to drop two entire divisions in order to start afresh at the bottom. There is more than one motivating factor: entering the metropolitan competition would cut down on travel times and costs, while the format also allows for more straightforward progression back up the pyramid than the tortuous Federal competition “We haven't been told no yet and that is a big step for us,” club president Leandro Moschetti explained to Doble Amarilla. “As soon as there is a formal meeting at the AFA, we will be there.”
Over in La Plata, meanwhile, another Primera D suitor has attracted strong support from both sides of the traditional football divide in the Buenos Aires province capital. Everton La Plata's bid has received public backing from both Estudiantes president Juan Sebastián Verón and Gimnasia counterpart Gabriel Pellegrino, while Lobo favourite Pedro Troglio has also put his weight behind the project. Otherwise, the club – which is one of the oldest in La Plata, having been founded in 1905 – espouses similar motivations as Douglas Haig for the push for the D, as president Marcelo Fortes told Grupo La Provincia: “It was my idea... [I was] worried about playing the Federals. An away trip with hotel now costs us 100,000 pesos a game.”
Among the other applicants are Futsal heavyweights Villa La Ñata – who used to boast among their ranks ex-Governor of Buenos Aires and presidential candidate and current ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Scioli – as well as the beach football team Buenos Aires City FC, who have aped both the name and shirt colours of English club Manchester City since coming to life in 2016 and Mercedes-based SAT, representing Argentina's television trade union. Chances like this do not come about too often – Real Pilar were the last new club admitted to the D in 2017, and prior to that four decades had passed without the AFA opening up their affiliations – meaning that, although the requisites and criteria for entry have been kept wholly mysterious, a stampede has formed at the AFA gates as clubs battle for one of these precious spots.
A stampede has formed at the AFA’s gates as clubs battle for one for a one-in-four-decade chance.