Big clubs beware: River Plates fall from grace

by Michael Healey

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The world of one part of Argentina’s top two clubs, Club Atletico River Plate (referred simply as River Plate in most circles) is on the brink of disaster. Having suffered defeat to CA Lanus (2-1 at home) the club then faced the prospect of a two-leg playoff with second division outfit Belgrano for a place in next season’s Premier Division. The first leg was played at Belgrano’s home ground, Estadio Gigante de Alberdi, and the home side defeated their illustrious visitors 2-0. This completely enraged the away supporters who vented their anger by attacking their own players.

River Plate are traditionally known as Argentina’s top club along with arch-rivals Boca Juniors, and play their games at the National teams stadium El Monumental. Boasting an impressive history including two Copa Libertadores (Latin Americas version of the Champions League) and 33 National Championships.
This begs a very important question:

How has it come to this?

It is common knowledge that Argentina’s Premier League is suffering from financial woes and River Plate are no different. The club consistently sell their best young players (players over the years have included Pablo Aimar, Ariel Ortega, Javier Saviola and Radamel Falcao) the club have also consistently bought badly to replace the outgoing players.

The club, nicknamed Los Millionarios (Millionaires) have also been reduced to selling young players’ contracts to outside investors to reduce the financial burden. This puts the club out of pocket when highly rated youngsters are sold for a big profit and the majority of the cash goes not to the club itself but to the outside investors.

The clubs current predicament is precarious. Adding the almost unthinkable outcome of relegation would be a living nightmare. A club held in the same esteem in South America as European counterparts Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona, would be on the edge of oblivion.

So what can European giants learn from the mess in Buenos Aires?

The first thing that European clubs will be wary of is getting themselves into a similar financial mess like River. In recent years clubs such as Liverpool, Valencia, Manchester United and even Barcelona have suffered huge debts. Only just last October, Liverpool where close to going into administration due to an American ownership that spiralled out of control. Only a strong stance from Chairman Martin Broughton and his board helped the club be sold against Tom Hicks and George Gillets wishes to New England Sports Ventures.

Valencia have suffered heavy debts, at one point at a staggering £547 million and potentially going bust. However, selling key players David Villa and David Silva and qualifying in two consecutive seasons to the Champions League has helped the club significantly.

Barcelona have recently announced massive debts that the club are working on reducing, including selling the rights to the Qatar Foundation for sponsorship from next season whilst Manchester United owners, the Glazer family, have flirted with the idea of floating the club on the Hong Kong stick market.

Another lesson big clubs can learn from River Plate is a simple one and an age old cliché. You’re never too good to go down. Aston Villa, one time European Champions, where battling against relegation for the latter part of last season before securing survival with a few games to spare whilst in Italy Sampdoria, who had qualified for last seasons Champions League, were unable to stop the rot in time and were relegated to Serie B.

There are plenty of reasons why European clubs will look at the recent story of South America giants River Plate and will be more than aware that even the biggest clubs are never safe.

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  • darren

    great blog, lets hope the same happens to both Manchester clubs and a certain team that plays in dark blue. Keep football real again!

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