Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Thirty One
This was supposed to be about the Copa Libertadores final and how the rivalry between River Plate and Boca Juniors exposed the hollowness of the plans for a European Super League that various leading clubs have been revealed to be putting together. On the one hand, the artificial, antiseptic, quasi-franchise structure of the moneyed elite and on the other, the seething passions of two clubs still firmly rooted in their communities, who generate far more emotion than they do capital.
The first version, written from the Pret a Manger in Heathrow Terminal 5, spoke blithely about it being more important that football meant something than that it was good, was scathing about the greed of executives who, I suggested, would happily merge Boca and River into a Buenos Aires franchise (Boca Plate, River Juniors) to play in the Second Division (West) of the global super league.
I’m writing this renewed version about 60 hours later, on a Sunday morning in an apartment in the Buenos Aires district of Palermo, a little over four miles from el Monumental. The second leg of the Copa Libertadores final didn’t happen on Saturday after the Boca team bus was attacked. Saturday was a strange day, one in which the expectation and excitement of early afternoon rapidly turned to frustration.
The 70,000 River fans in el Monumental, in the end, went home relatively calmly, although some were attacked by other River fans outside the ground, trying to steal their tickets. The oddity, really, was the sense of calm as the story broke all around us, relayed via TV screens, video clips on phones and statements from Conmebol officials. A couple of hundred yards away, police were firing tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the crowds, yet in the stadium there was merely a sense of lethargy.
But the point really is that it’s easy, from the perspective of Europe, to romanticise Latin America and the uncorporate nature of its football without thinking of the consequences, of the chaos and violence that so often come along with the colour, it is possible to care too much. Of course football offers the outlet for other frustrations, but essentially it’s not a healthy sign when a population is so invested in a game that it’s almost too big to stage.
Little wonder that Alejandro Domínguez, the president of Conmebol, keen to explain his vision to three European journalists the day before the game, had spoken of the Champions League as a model to follow. That doesn’t mean an anodyne greed-driven future is desirable, but when the passions are so anarchic, nor is the status quo. If there is a happy middle ground, it seems remarkably hard to locate.