Argentina's superclásico loses luster as River, Boca become sellers
For a minute, the illusion was intact. River Plate burst forward, Carlos Sanchez delivered a cross from the right and Manuel Lanzini climbed to head in the opening goal of the superclásico. The clock showed 43 seconds -- the fastest goal in the history of this famous fixture. Perhaps the two sides could defy the expectations and deliver a match that was worthy of its name.
Yet by halftime in Sunday night's 1-1 draw between Boca Juniors and River Plate in the Bombonera, the match had lost its impetus. Sanchez missed a straightforward chance to double the lead, and Santiago Silva equalized for the home side.
The second half was dreadful, at least when the supporters allowed the teams to play. The match was halted twice, once when Boca fans let off blue and yellow flares -- a practice banned from matches in Buenos Aires -- and secondly when firecrackers rained down on River Plate goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero.
While the spectacle is always guaranteed, the football on show has become a major concern. River may be third in the league table, but it has not completed a full year since the club's return from the second division. With this draw, Boca set a new club record of 11 league games without a win, which helps explain its league position of 18th.
Yet between them they have dominated Argentine football, sharing 57 first-division league titles. They are also world renowned for producing young talent. On Sunday, River started four youth-team players -- center backs Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Eder Alvarez Balanta (who has yet to sign a professional contract), Gabriel Funes Mori and Lanzini.
Lanzini is a talented No. 10, and though the young playmaker hasn't settled into his role as swiftly as was expected, there are high hopes for the Argentina youth international -- both in terms of what he can achieve on a personal level and the income from a transfer for River Plate. When he was loaned to Fluminense last season, the contract stipulated a buyout clause of €12 million. While he would not fetch that price for a transfer, it nonetheless speaks of how he is viewed at the club.
Both River and Boca depend on their youth teams. Faced with a long injury list, Boca boss Carlos Bianchi ended the game with seven players from the youth system on the pitch -- Leandro Marin, Nahuel Zarate, Federico Bravo, Juan Sanchez Miño, Leandro Paredes, Guillermo Fernandez and Gonzalo Escalante. Yet while the two clubs rely heavily on bringing talent through for the first team, few players remain at the club long.
Argentina is second only to Brazil in terms of sheer number of player transfers, according to FIFA figures. And with clubs in Argentina facing spiraling debt, selling players is vital not so much to balance the books, but to avoid bankruptcy.
It is a historical issue, but one which has become more pronounced as the years have passed. Diego Maradona had already been the league's top scorer on five occasions with Argentinos Juniors when he moved to Boca in 1981 for $2.5m plus five other players. Yet, in his first spell, he stayed at Boca for just one year before Barcelona signed him after the 1982 World Cup.
In the 1990s, current River manager Ramon Diaz's successful first spell at the club coincided with the emergence of a talented crop of youngsters including Ariel Ortega, Hernan Crespo, Marcelo Gallardo and Matias Almeyda.
River soon cashed in on those players, and Diaz brought through a new generation. With Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola up front, River delivered three consecutive league titles, before being moved on for big money.
Nowadays, Argentine football has long lost the battle to keep its talented youngsters for more than a handful of games. The league is characterized by young, skilful players who swiftly move on to Spain, Italy or Russia.
Ahead of October 2012's clash at the Monumental, the newspaper Ole picked its Superclasico Exile Team. River lined up with Juan Pablo Carrizo and a back three of Mario Yepes, Martin Demichelis and Luis Fernandez. The attacking formation included a midfield four of Lucho Gonzalez, Javier Mascherano, Erik Lamela and Andres D'Alessandro, with an impressive front three of Gonzalo Higuain, Radamel Falcao and the Chilean Alexis Sanchez.
Boca, meanwhile, had Willy Cavallero in goal, the back three all playing in Italy of Matias Silvestre, Nicolas Burdisso and Walter Samuel. The midfield included Gary Medel, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega and Jesus Datolo. The front line was led by Carlos Tevez, with Rodrigo Palacio and Nico Gaitan down the wings.
While certain players are not strictly speaking youth-team products -- Samuel started out at Newell's Old Boys, while Sanchez only played on loan at River -- it points to the trend in Argentine football.
The players go where the money is. Agents, and particularly investment groups that own players from a young age, are keen to move players to Europe as soon as possible. Lamela barely played a season at River before moving to Roma. Higuain played nearly 100 games, though a brilliant brace -- against Boca -- placed him on the front pages and he was soon gone.
The midfield duo of Gago and Banega was sold to Real Madrid and Valencia, respectively, for over £34m milliond while River sold Falcao for under £4 million, a fraction of the striker's move from Porto to Atletico de Madrid, River still see five percent of those multi-million pound transfers as the club that nurtured the player.
And so, as River and Boca have become selling clubs they have lost their historic hegemony in the domestic league.
"Superclasico" by Joel Richards is the first story from "90 Minutes," a new digital-only series of sport shorts. They are available exclusively through the Kindle store or on your Kindle app for iOS and android devices. Each is available in a standard format or with video content, priced $4.75.