The idea of a “big” team being relegated is one that is hard to digest, let alone even contemplate.
The same applies to those considered to be the “big” teams in Argentina. Two years ago, River Plate were relegated to Nacional B (Second Division) of Argentine soccer. On Saturday, after a 1-0 home loss to San Lorenzo, Independiente became the latest big team to be relegated.
Unlike many leagues around the world, Argentina’s relegation is not a simple or straightforward ‘bottom two or three in the league standings are the teams relegated to second division’ system. Instead, relegation is based on a system known as the Tabla de Promedios (Percentage Table), whereby results over a three-year span, or one-year span if you are newly promoted, determines the two or three relegated sides.
What the tabla de promedios is meant to do is protect the “big” clubs from being relegated if they have a bad year of results. Despite such having this protection, what Independiente have shown with their relegation is that bad management on and off the field of play will eventually catch up to a club and they will pay for it.
How does a club who has won 16 first-division titles and a record seven Copa Libertadores titles have such a decline that they find themselves relegated to second division?
First and foremost, you have instability at the coaching position. Since July 2010, six men have coached Independiente.
This includes such men as Antonio Mohamed, Ramon Diaz, Américo Gallego and Miguel Angel Brindisi, each of whom have won either league titles and or continental titles (Copa Libertadores and or Copa Sudamericana) in their careers. The high amount of turnover and instability makes it near impossible to expect their to be stability on the field and for managers to have any resolve if they happen to lose a few games.
Off the field of play, Independiente also dealt with and was a victim of instability. Just like many of the clubs in Argentina, Independiente have been troubled by issues of money laundering on player transfers, and having to deal with the politically-connected and menacing club barra barvas.
This was most evident during in the presidency of Julio Comparada, who was accused of having delivered kickbacks to agents and barra bravas from player transfers, as well as giving the barra bravas free reign on many of the club’s operations. The most damning charge came right after Antonio Mohamed resigned as coach back in September 2011 and stated that the barra bravas were the reason he was forced to resign.
While current president Javier Cantero has tried to and done a fairly good job of running the club in an ethical manner while also standing up to the violent barra bravas, the work he has done to undo the damage done by his predecessor Julio Comparada was not enough as the club dug itself a hole too deep to get out of in just one year.
Just like River Plate, Independiente will spend the next year having to fight and claw its way through the second division for at least a year before it can return to playing in the first division like its history suggests it should. In the moment of hitting rock bottom, fans of Argentine soccer are reminded that aside from a bad run of results, bad management have doomed another big club.
For Independiente fans, once the tears dry up and the reality of the situation settles in, they can look at how River Plate navigated its way back and how they are in a position now, two years after being relegated, to potentially winning the league title.
Until that day, the pain of being relegated will hurt for Independiente and be a scar on its great history.