BUENOS AIRES, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The 2015 Argentine league championship is less about players and coaches and more about its organisers and one in particular who is no longer around.
The 30-team championship, to be played in the calendar year replacing two tournaments in one season which has been the norm since 1991, was the brainchild of late Argentine FA president Julio Grondona.
Grondona was noted for his favour-mongering and this plan, under the guise of creating a more federal championship, was another idea aimed at keeping directors in his debt and himself in power.
Despite the former FIFA vice-president’s passing in September, the AFA board have stuck to his plan regardless of the awkwardness of the championship’s unwieldy format while devising a gradual return to 20 or at most 22 teams.
The new format continues to be criticised days before the championship begins.
“It’s not an attractive championship, it’s going to mean a lot of travelling, a lot of wear and tear,” said Matias Lammens, president of Libertadores Cup holders San Lorenzo and one of a breed of young directors looking for a change of air at the AFA.
“Julio Grondona told us it would make for more attractive television and convinced us (but) we must aim at normalising it as soon as possible, like in the rest of the world, with 20 or 22 teams,” he told TyC Sports.
The 30 teams will play each other once, with home status decided by a draw, and there will be a 30th “day of clasicos”: River Plate v Boca Juniors, Independiente against Racing Club, Newell’s Old Boys versus Rosario Central and the La Plata rivalry between Estudiantes and Gimnasia.
Teams whose derby rivals are not in the first division or do not have one, have had one invented like Sarmiento from the provincial city of Junin, back in the top flight for the first time since 1982, pitted against Olimpo who are also from Buenos Aires province.
Sarmiento, who open the championship at home to record 35 times champions River at their modest Eva Peron stadium in Junin, are one of 10 teams promoted in December.
Next, there will be a quick return in 2016 to a season aligned with Europe from August to June with a two-month summer break in December/January.
For this, the AFA must devise a transition championship in the first half of 2016 -- like the one they held from August to December 2014 won by Racing Club.
Reducing the number of teams in the top flight will take several years in a plan devised by the AFA up to 2019.
Whereas two teams will be relegated and two promoted at the end of this year, there will be three relegated in the short 2016 tournament and only one promoted.
This will be followed by a 28-team 2016/17 championship at the end of which four teams will be relegated and two promoted and the same will occur with a 26-team championship in 2017/18 and a 24-team championship the next season.
There is no indication when teams will start playing each other twice in the season as the numbers decrease but given the AFA’s love of tinkering, it is anyone’s guess whether this plan will go through exactly as devised or soon suffer new changes. (Editing by Justin Palmer)