Boca Juniors enter the 2010/2011 season amidst much uncertainty and several question marks hanging over the club. A disappointing 11th place finish in the 2009 Apertura was followed by a simply woeful showing in the 2010 Clausura, (when they were the bookies pre-season favourites to win the title) Boca finished an unthinkable 16th. Internal wrangling at boardroom level, player disputes with coach Abel Alves and lack of form of key players like Juan Roman Riquelme were all reasons given for Boca’s dreadful campaign. A good showing in the early games is vital if the Xeneizes are going to challenge for the league title. The season runs from August to December, ( Apertura or Opening Championship) and unlike most European leagues, the Argentine league is split into 2 campaigns with each team playing 19 games, meaning there are 2 champions a season. The 2nd half of the season (Clausura or Closing Championship) runs from January to May 2011.
The biggest and most important challenge for Boca before the start of the season is the Riquelme situation. Still arguably 1 of the best players in Argentine football, Riquelme has not yet signed a new contract at La Bombonera and at the time of writing is no closer it seems to agreeing a deal. A lifelong Boca fan, Riquelme would prefer to stay at the club, but as of yet has not received an offer he deems worth signing. If he does leave, Boca go from likely title contenders to likely mid table contenders. Most Boca fans, myself included, hope Riquelme can stay on. The signings of Christian Cellay from Estudiantes and Cristian Lucchetti from Banfield will help, but the loss of regular starters Gabriel Paletta and Federico Insua will mean Cellay and Lucchetti will need to slot in immediately and contribute. Midfielder Damian Escudero returns from spanish side Villareal after failing to establish himself in La Liga, while fan favourite Martin Palermo begins his last season before retiring, and Boca fans will hope he goes out in a blaze of glory, as his goals will be vital in sustaining any real title challenge.
Aside from Boca, the main title contenders are likely to be Velez Sarsfield, Estudiantes, Independiente and possibly River or Racing Club. Velez seem to have an exciting blend of youth and experience, and in Maxi Moralez they possess one of the best young attacking players in South America. Estudiantes have been challenging on all fronts in the last year, the highlight being their brilliant Copa Libertadores win last season. Having missed out on the Clausura title to Argentinos Juniors by just 1 point in May, they will be likely contenders again. Boca’s fiercest rivals River Plate have endured their own bad spell in the last two years, not being in the top 8 since winning the 2008 Clausura, effectively 4 seasons ago. But they do have genuine talent such as experienced old heads Ariel Ortega and Matias Almeyda along with hugely promising 18 year old Daniel Villalba, which could see River re-emerge as contenders. Independiente have a young team who were impressive in finishing 4th in the Clausura and more big game experience could see them as genuine dark horses for the title. Racing are looking to bounce back from near relegation last season but there are encouraging signs that 1 of Argentina’s “Big five” are beginning to rediscover their form after a respectable 8th place finish in the Clausura.
As ever when talking Argentinian football, a fascinating season awaits, likely filled with drama, controversy and passion, both on the pitch and on the terraces. I for one can’t wait for it to start!