Making his gibfootballshow debut is Ed Malyon – he brings us the story of the Argentine club bucking the trend in Argentina.

In Argentine football, where seemingly the only consistency is inconsistency, el Fortín, from the Buenos Aires suburb of Liniers, buck this trend and find themselves within reach of double glory.

“There’s not much health and safety in there but they’re certainly enjoying themselves” observed the commentator as he watched the mass of Velez hinchas jumping up and down as one and letting off fireworks into the Buenos Aires sky. And whilst the flagrant disregard for their own wellbeing and (quite literally) explosive support – as they completed their 2-0 victory over Banfield – was typical of the Argentine football fan, there is very little that is typically Argentine about this club.

Since the introduction of the ‘short tournament system’ in the early 90’s, the culture of short-termism has arguably been quite damaging for the stability of the domestic game in Argentina. Exciting perhaps, but the fact that since the beginning of the European season in August, 20 managers have left their posts in the top flight already! And the campaign is far from over. Velez of course, are an exception from this, Ricardo Gareca has been in his post since late 2008, a comparative eternity and exemplary of the stability that has lead to Velez’s success.

With Argentina this year becoming the world’s biggest exporter of footballers, the incessant influx of new players and disassembly of successful squads is part of the endemic instability of the Argentine game, the league structure means that smaller sides can, and have, become champions on the back of a couple of decent months and at this point money talks and these clubs are preyed upon by the richer local clubs and the Europeans, leaving a carcass which must be padded out with youngsters, have-beens and (arguably) have-nots.

Winners of two titles since 2005, Velez have been (to use the old football adage) there and thereabouts in most recent seasons. This is in no part due to their astute dealings in the transfer market and a stability that is in contrast with the aforementioned model. Whilst of course Velez have sold their better players across the Atlantic in recent years – Jonas Gutierrez, Mauro Zaraté, Nicolas Otamendi – it’s their replacement of these players that has defined their current situation.

To achieve success in la Primera Division, the categories of player to look for are: promising teenagers (to sell on for big profits following a few years service), players who didn’t quite make it in Europe and have returned home, those not quite good enough to catch the European eye, and returning veterans from the big overseas leagues. Velez have become masters of identifying these players and as such, have blended together competitive rosters year-on-year.

So now we look at the present. Having come second in the 2010 Apertura (the first half of the current season), it was still a remarkable campaign. Runners-up to an Estudiantes outfit inspired by Juan Sebastian Verón (he’s in your returning veteran bracket) by two points, they actually beat their points total of 40 points that was sufficient to make them champions in the 2009 Clausura.

In January then, anticipating a Copa Libertadores campaign that would test the depth of their squad, they sold promising young striker Jonathan Cristaldo to Metalist Kharkiv and Leandro Somoza (who fulfils the ‘failed in Europe’ slot) to domestic giants Boca Juniors. Cristaldo’s sale was an astute one. Whilst full of potential, his development had arguably stalled, and he wasn’t a regular starter for them in the Apertura campaign. When a Ukrainian outfit funded by wealthy backers came in with a substantial offer, he was always going to be on his way.

Instead of replacing him with a forward though, Gareca and Bassedas (director of football) picked out David Ramirez, a midfield playmaker, as his replacement. Ramirez was fresh from an outstanding few months with provincial Mendoza outfit Godoy Cruz where he’d scored goals for fun and propelled their exceptional campaign. This purchase was a stroke of genius from Gareca, who had identified their occasional over-reliance on their diminutive playmaker Maxi Moralez to provide the chances for their excellent strikers, Juan Manuel Martinez and Santiago Silva. What the signing of Ramirez has done is allowed Moralez to be rested and if needed, make an impact from the bench. This is precisely what he did against Banfield and with this win, Velez went 4 points clear at the top of the table.

Moralez was rested from the start after a tough week of travelling to Ecuador for the Copa Libertadores where he’d helped Velez into the quarter-finals of South America’s premier continental championship. In reality, the men from Liniers have sinced advanced to the semis and possess a fabulous chance of winning it too, with so many big names crashing out, they find themselves eyeing up an extraordinary double.

Contrast this with Estudiantes’ month in January, where Sabella, their championship-winning coach walked out after rumours of a bust-up with captain Verón. Since then, with largely the same squad (bar Marcos Rojo, a young left-back who was sold to Spartak Moscow) they have been knocked out of the Libertadores by unfancied Libertad of Paraguay, humiliated 5-0 by Cruzeiro and have inexplicably lost a handful of games at home to weak opposition.

Velez’ stability and good management is setting them apart from the competition at the moment; the fact that the ‘anomaly’ is the club leading the race for the title and the only Argentine side left in continental competition, would give you reason to predict that others would follow suit. But when has Argentine football ever been predictable?

If you enjoyed this piece you can catch Ed on twitter or check out his website The Boludo.


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