Torneo de Transicion: End of season awards
ARTICLE FIRST FEATURED ON BACK PAGE FOOTBALL
With the Torneo de Transicion done and dusted, now comes the time for reflection on the last six months in the ever turbulent world of Argentinian football. As there were no relegation worries thanks to the forthcoming expansion of the Primera to 30 teams, it was a refreshingly open tournament with a number of strong contenders pushing each right to the wire.
In the end, it was a tale of two clubs; River, the early pacemakers who burst out the blocks and led for the majority of the season, and Racing, the eternal underachievers who overturned a slow start and won over disgruntled fans with an impressive finish. Fatigue, injuries and the distraction of a Sudamericana campaign saw River fade, allowing Racing to take advantage and win the crucial head-to-head between the two challengers in the antepenultimate round of fixtures to effectively decide the title.
Racing held on to win their last two games and walked away with a first title in 13 years after a sensational run of eight wins and one draw from the final nine games of the season in which they conceded only one goal. River’s disappointment in the league was tempered by the fact they went on to win the Copa Sudamericana, beating rivals Boca along the way, to mark a successful year for the club and a promising start to life under Marcelo Gallardo.
Indeed, apart from San Lorenzo who clearly had one eye on the World Club Cup, there was a return to form for the traditional Grandes with top five finishes from Boca and Independiente as well. What’s more, there was a noticeable shift towards the appointment of younger managers with Gallardo (38), Arruabarrena (39), Cocca (42) and Almiron (43) enjoying successful first seasons with the established Buenos Aires based giants, as well as 41-year-old Barros Schelotto claiming a third place finish for the ever-consistent Lanus.
Elsewhere, another of the big winners were Huracan who won the Copa Argentina – their first piece of silverware in 41 years – and were promoted back to the Primera, while minnows Temperley capped a meteoric rise by also achieving promotion when just six months previously they were competing in the third tier of Argentinian football.
So, now for the highly anticipated (..ahem) awards…
Player of the Season
There were a number of players who had stellar campaigns. Federico Mancuello had his best ever season for Independiente, at times almost single-handedly dragging el Rojo to a fourth place finish, scoring ten goals from midfield in the process. Silvio Romero was the standout performer for Lanus, finishing as the league’s joint top scorer with 11 goals and looks to be on his way to Mexico. Also ending the season on 11 goals apiece, Newell’s Maxi Rodriguez and Velez’s Lucas Pratto were both excellent despite their clubs enduring below par campaigns and the latter has since been snapped up by Atletico Mineiro for $5million.
However, the award has to go to a Racing player. While the likes of Ezequiel Videla, Sebastian Saja and the returning Diego Milito played huge roles in the title win, it was the 10 goals of Gustavo Bou that ultimately made the difference. The surprise package of the season, Bou arrived on a free from River and was much criticised in the opening weeks but then hit a rich vein of form that proved to be the catalyst for Racing’s fantastic end of season run. Forming a great partnership with Milito, la Pantera also chipped in with three assists and his strikes against Banfield and particularly Quilmes were defining moments.
Best transfer of the Season
Signed from relegated Argentinos Juniors in the summer, Leonardo Pisculichi joined River on a free to fill the vacant playmaker role left by outgoing Manuel Lanzini and turned out to be a revelation for los Millonarios. Five goals and six assists in the league was a strong contribution but it was in the Sudamericana where his individual skills made a telling contribution. Two goals, one the winner against Boca in the semi-final, the other a crucial equaliser away in the first leg of the final and six assists, including the two for Mercado and Pezzella in the final second leg, were worth their weight in gold.
Elsewhere, Brahian Aleman’s loan move from second division side Union to Arsenal has been a particularly shrewd piece of business with the Uruguayan midfielder netting nine goals, while Ecuadorian striker has impressed for Godoy Cruz since his move from Tijuana, also bagging himself nine from only 13 appearances
Golazo of the Season
There are always a healthy amount of golazos but the pick of the bunch was Juan Cazares’ long range rocket for Banfield against San Lorenzo. The promising Ecuadorian midfielder collected the ball in the middle of the pitch a good 35 yards from goal and unleashed an unstoppable strike which crashed in off crossbar which, as we all know, adds to the aesthetic beauty of finish considerably. Honourable mentions go to Independiente’s Juan Martin Lucero who capped off a gorgeous team goal against Lanus and Leandro Fernandez’s opportunistic 40 yard lob for Godoy Cruz against Newell’s.
Young player of the season
This award would have almost certainly gone to Matias Kranevitter had the impressive River defensive midfielder not suffered an injury after six games ruling him out for the rest of the season, while Banfield’s Juan Cazares also had a spell on the sidelines after a promising start which also takes him out of the running. Therefore, the youngster who made the biggest impact was Newell’s winger Mauricio Tevez. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene with a debut to remember, scoring the winner against Boca Juniors in the Bombonera, instantly bringing back memories of his famous namesake Carlos (no relation!). The tricky wide man, always looking to stretch play and take on his opposition full back, was a bundle of energy all season, making 15 appearances – 12 of which as a starter – providing three assists and scoring another winner against Estudiantes. With wonderkid Ezequiel Ponce out injured, Tevez stepped up to the challenge and showed that Newell’s have another jewel in their ranks.
Strangest Pre-Match Ritual
Many clubs have their pre-match traditions and there are countless stories of rituals undertaken by superstitious players the world over. But Gimnasia took it to the next level when they got a midget priest to bless the pitch the night before their Sudamericana clash against local rivals Estudiantes. Supposedly the idea was to exorcise the demons of the 7-0 loss Gimnasia suffered back in 2006 in order to give El Lobo their first away clasico win since 2003. The stunt didn’t work and Gimnasia lost 1-0. Back to the drawing board then lads.
Save of the Season
In the third division match between UAI Urquiza and Deportivo Moron, UAI goalkeeper Matias Cano produced a brilliant acrobatic bicycle kick save to keep out Gerardo Martinez’s well executed lob from the half way line, which in itself would have been a goal of the season contender in itself.
Paul Jewell award for off the field exploits
The nauseating telenovela of the Icardi-Wanda-Maxi love triangle continues to drag on but two different players caught short this season share this prize. Clearly sticking to a vigorous session of pre-season training plan, intimate pictures emerged of World Cup heartthrob Ezequiel Lavezzi, in nothing but a policeman’s hat, and botinera girlfriend Yanina Screpante, legs akimbo. However, Pocho was soon in the doghouse after sending some saucy images of his own to model Magali Mora.
Lavezzi wasn’t the only one whose extra-curricular activities came under scrutiny though. Boca Juniors striker Andres Chavez became an unwanted hit on social media when, having scored his first goal for his new club since his summer transfer from Banfield that day, photos emerged of him spending the night with transvestite Mariana Gonzalez. Oops.
Best Lookalike of the season
In a Brazil vs Argentina masters game in Natal, organisers were left red faced by revelations that many of the promised veteran stars on show would not be appearing in the pitch. So what did they do? Try and blag it of course. In a desperate attempt they pretended Claudio Caniggia was in the line-up when really it was former Newcastle United striker Daniel Cordone in a blond wig! Top marks for effort.
A noteworthy mention goes to the El Salvadorian doppelganger of Angel di Maria too.
Brawl of the Season
During the local derby between Deportivo Roca and Cipolletti in the Torneo Federal A, a fairly innocuous challenge sparked a massive fracas between the two sides and eventually saw the game abandoned.
It wouldn’t be Argentinian football if there weren’t a few occasions when games had to be put on hold due to the appearance of some rogue animal. During the Belgrano versus Quilmes a friendly Labrador made a brief cameo, while the highlight of an otherwise dull 0-0 draw between Arsenal vs San Lorenzo was the family of Teros (Southern Lapwings for all you ornithologists) that stopped play for several minutes. Nothing as spectacular as the herd of cows that invaded a Peruvian cup game admittedly, but a nice respite from footballing matters nonetheless.
Hand of God award
Fittingly this final award goes to Diego Maradona. Whether appearing in the papers for the right or wrong reasons, it’s never a dull moment in the life of el Diego. His infamous hand was up to its old tricks not once but twice this season. The first incident occurred on Children’s Day in Argentina when, being the great role model he is, he slapped a journalist when leaving a theatre recital with his son. Maradona made headlines again when he was photographed with his new girlfriend in the swimming pool, which captured his wandering hand in a compromising position. Oh Diego..
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