The end of a system that has come to be recognised as something as uniquely Argentine in nature as Lionel Messi, or the potrero, was heralded this week by the president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), Claudio Tapia.
“In three years time we will no longer play with promedios. For me these are the changes we have to make in football, alongside more professional championships in which we can revitalise the product we have,” the official stated.
The second half of Tapia’s statement is throwaway marketing speak, devoid both of content and a plan through which such a ‘product’ might be improved. But there is no mistaking the thrust of his first point: the average points, one of many legacies left by Julio Humberto Grondona – and which, it bears noting, was never publicly contested by Tapia nor any of the AFA management during his reign – will soon be no more.
First tested in 1957 and discontinued six years later, promedios made their definitive arrival in the Primera División in 1983. Their implementation was a naked attempt to protect Argentina’s biggest clubs from the humiliation of relegation, made necessary by San Lorenzo’s unprecedented drop in 1981 and the danger that River Plate might soon join them.
A new generation of fans were thus forced to adapt to the idea that their place in the top flight would depend not just on their performance over the course of the season, but rather the past three years. Points garnered over that period were totalled and divided by the amount of games, with those at the bottom of the table condemned to the drop. The move had immediate, if not entirely expected effects: River were indeed saved, despite finishing second-bottom of the Metropolitana; but at the expense of fellow Grande, Racing Club, who went down for the first time in history despite finishing above the Millo in 1983.
As the years went by the promedios would prove to be insufficient protection for two more giants. River tasted relegation in 2011 via a play-off against Belgrano, despite finishing seventh overall in the year; two years later it was Independiente – another Grande that, ironically, would have been saved under a conventional format – that were banished to the purgatory of the B Nacional. But those results were anomalies, as more often than not it was the recently promoted sides that suffered under the system, calling into question its fairness while Grondona and the rest of the AFA turned a blind eye.
Few, then, will mourn the passing of a system that was inherently biased from the moment of conception and whose failings only became more apparent as the years went on. In a country where 30 teams make up the top flights, away fans are banned from almost every single match and a cup tie between two Buenos Aires teams could be played thousands of kilometres away in San Juan, Formosa and Salta, it is easy to overlook just one more bizarre rule, but Tapia’s belated decision to see sense is nevertheless a step in the right direction. One step, mind, on a journey that still has a long way to run before any sense of normality can return to the Primera.