The Boca Juniors side that won the recent Apertura title in Argentina were, without question, rock-solid at the back, balanced in midfield and clinical up front – just as Banfield were when they won the Apertura two years before. A coincidence you might say? Well think again. The common denominator is none other than the coach who steered the pair to their respective league titles: Julio Cesar Falcioni.
The 55-year-old has a reputation for building teams from the back, as a quick look at the stats amply demonstrates. Over 19 games, his 2009 and 2011 championship-winning sides both won 12 times and scored 25 goals. However, while Banfield drew five and lost two, this Xeneize side tied seven and lost none.
Moreover, whereas El Taladro had their defence breached just 11 times en route to victory, Boca set a new defensive record for a short-format championship by shipping just six goals. So is this now the Falcioni trademark?
“From the general workings of the team through to its aim to play good football, one looks for a balance and solidity that will allow it to compete, outplay adversaries and get good enough results to be in contention at the end,” Falcioni told FIFA.com. “It’s true that in both this Boca side and my Banfield one, we were able to do that, but to then say this is a trademark of my teams… I don’t know,” he added modestly.
Known to keep a low profile, this stern but extremely cordial Argentinian made a successful transition to coaching in 1997 after a 16-year playing career. Such is his humility that he is reluctant to take the credit for Boca’s first league title in three years.
“It’s the squad that deserve it – they put in exactly the right amount of work and dedication. It’s a group which I am certain will bring more joy to this club,” said the man they call El Emperador, the first former goalkeeper to coach a league-winning side in Argentina.
A difficult beginning
It should be noted that Falcioni’s first months at La Bombonera in early 2011 were far from easy. As well as struggling for results, his team seemed to lack spark and were without talisman Juan Roman Riquelme, then struggling for fitness. Through all that, Falcioni never lost his composure.
“The start of my tenure here wasn’t ideal, but we kept things together and sorted out our problems. That’s what I was referring to when I said the time was right for me to manage here. I knew I was ready to make tough decisions and take responsibility for them,” said the Buenos Aires native, who has also coached Velez Sarsfield, Olimpo (de Bahia Blanca), Independiente, Colon de Santa Fe and Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata.
Boca’s last defeat dates back to 10 April this year, when they went down 2-0 to Lanus on matchday nine of the Clausura. At the time the club were 16th in the table, although they would end the championship in seventh, nine points behind title winners Velez.
The final piece of the jigsaw was the acquisition of three new players in July: goalkeeper Agustin Orion, centre-back Rolando Schiavi and striker Dario Cvitanich. Unsurprisingly, Falcioni has talked down the significance of the transfers and the fact that he had asked for them as early as January.
As the Apertura got underway, Boca wasted little time in forging ahead, and by the time the championship had reached the halfway stage they were already well on their way to the title. Their results, however, did not prevent them from being criticised for not playing suitably attractive football.
“I really like my team. They’re experienced, they have the ability to destabilise opponents and they put me at ease. Everyone sees and understands football in their own way, which is why I’d rather not comment on the opinions of others. What no one can deny is that Boca won title because they were the best side. Not for nothing did we accumulate 43 points and finished 12 points clear.
The ramifications of the title win have even reached Colombia, where Falcioni enjoyed huge success playing for America de Cali in the 1980s. The local media there are talking of him as a possible successor to the recently-dismissed Leonel Alvarez as coach of Los Cafeteros.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone, either before or after the championship finished,” he said definitively. “I’m happy here and committed for next year,” he added. In fact, the coach has reportedly renewed his contract with Boca in recent days.
Of course, there is also the prospect of one day coaching La Albiceleste. “What coach wouldn’t want that job, but in my life I’ve always let things happen by themselves,” Falcioni replied. “You have to earn the right to be considered by working hard, accumulating experience and getting results. Then you can see. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. Right now Argentina have excellent coach staff and a head coach who understands the game very well. Given time, they’ll do very well.”
Returning to the subject of club football, Falcioni admitted the club had a particular goal for 2012: the Copa Libertadores, a tournament Los Xeneizes have won on six occasions and which means a great deal to the club. For the coach it is no less important, having finished runners-up in it three years in a row with America.
“I was also a beaten semi-finalist on two more occasions and coached Banfield in two editions,” he added. “Therefore I know what it’s all about, the prestige it brings and how to prepare for it. It’s clear that will be our primary goal.”
For now, though, he is simply enjoying the title victory, though he admitted it was something that he would appreciate more with time: “When you start working at a new club, be it big or small, you try to put together a team that can compete for the title. That’s the goal of every club.
"However, only one team can win it, which is what gives it its value. Right now, our title win is still very recent so some things are a little hard to gauge. I believe I’ll enjoy it more as time goes by,” he concluded.