One of football’s universal truths is that there is no substitute for experience. And while it is generally accepted that older players have less to prove than the emerging youngsters trying to break through, this time the opposite could be said going into Argentina’s Torneo Inicial 2013, which starts on Friday.
Several iconic players, including Juan Roman Riquelme at Boca Juniors, Juan Sebastian Veron at Estudiantes and David Trezeguet and Gabriel Heinze at Newell’s Old Boys are determined to demonstrate they can still make a difference.
In a country where both top-flight debuts and players' departures for foreign soil are getting ever earlier, the weight of expectation on the members of the old guard increases. Although each of the aforementioned quartet will have to contend with different challenges at their clubs, the level of responsibility they carry will be comparable over the next five months.
However, players are not the only household names to be in the limelight this term, with much-acclaimed coaches Ramon Diaz and Carlos Bianchi, at River Plate and Boca respectively, set to attract plenty of attention too.
El Virrey Bianchi will be counting on Riquelme to help Boca avoid a repeat of the last championship where, despite the high expectations following the return of the club’s most successful ever coach, Los Xeneizes finished in their lowest position in history, down in 19th spot. Riquelme made just five appearances due to a string of injuries, but the No10 has looked sharp and ready to spearhead the team during pre-season. Eight reinforcements have been brought in, including the returns of former idols in midfielder Fernando Gago and veteran centre-back Daniel ‘Cata’ Diaz.
“We’re very confident that we can have a good season,” said the 35-year-old Riquelme. “We can compete on an even footing with anyone.”
Trezeguet eyeing landmark tally
In coach Diaz, the star name will be on the touchline at River Plate. After ending the last campaign as runners-up, it will be fascinating to observe the side’s progression with a new-look squad.
Trezeguet was deemed surplus to requirements, while Colombian duo Teofilo Gutierrez and Carlos Carbonero, signed from Arsenal Sarandi, have bolstered the front line and midfield respectively. Furthermore, Jonathan Fabbro, an Argentine-born nationalised Paraguayan whom Diaz has long admired, was recruited to play behind the striker.
“The club made a huge effort to put together a highly competitive side, just like the one we had for the two tournaments [the domestic championship and the Copa Sudamericana],” said Diaz, who is still keen on signing an established striker before the transfer window closes, to complement the youthful attacking talent already in the ranks.
I still like playing football and I’m trying to fulfil certain aims... I can still help out.
Trezeguet, for his part, has since joined reigning Torneo Final 2013 champions Newell’s Old Boys. The Franco-Argentinian forward is more eager than most to shine after making just 16 appearances (scoring three times) since August 2012 and undergoing surgery on his left knee in April.
“I’m really looking forward to making my mark at this club, which put its faith in me during a difficult period,” said the soon-to-be 36-year-old. “I want to reach the 300-goal milestone and I’m not far off it.” Trezeguet’s tally over the course of his career, including for the French national team, currently stands at 296.
He will be tasked with replacing fan favourite Ignacio Scocco, who has moved to Brazil, as well as helping fellow veteran Gabriel Heinze lift the team following the departure of coach Gerardo Tata Martino to Barcelona. The new man in the dugout is former Old Boys player Alfredo Berti, who will taste life in the top flight for the first time as coach, after cutting his teeth with the club’s youth teams.
Return of The Witch
Juan Sebastian Veron is another heavyweight out to enjoy an Indian summer. The Estudiantes icon hung up his boots three months ago, but, aged 38, decided to reverse his decision.
“I still like playing football and I’m trying to fulfil certain aims,” said La Bruja (The Witch), aware that further fresh faces are needed to avoid a brush with relegation. “I also know the team’s situation and know how difficult the transfer market can be. I can still help out.”
San Lorenzo will look to the talents of attacking midfielder Leandro Romagnoli for inspiration, with the 32-year-old a much-loved figure at the club. Racing are also banking on experience, giving Uruguayan Mario Regueiro, who will turn 34 shortly, the chance to showcase his ability at one of the country’s big five sides following his successful spell at Lanus.
The Avellaneda-based team are hoping to find their rhythm in what is sure to be a special campaign for them, with arch-rivals Independiente not appearing on their fixture list for the first time in history following their relegation last term.
Los Rojos’ absence is compensated for by the top-flight returns of two teams with Primera pedigree in Rosario Central and Gimnasia Esgrima de La Plata. The former kept up the current trend of recruiting old hands with the capture of Uruguayan forward Sebastian Abreu, providing further evidence that ability, rather than age, is what counts in Argentinian football.