Something old, something new
For the Herald
Racing Club and Independiente have both appointed new coaches for the second half of the season— and they are interesting choices
The start of 2017 means a fresh beginning for both of Avellaneda’s two soccer powerhouses. Some faces, however, will be more familiar than others around the city. Each side has changed its coach for the second half of the current campaign, but only one of the pair will require introduction to his new charges.
While Independiente has taken a jump into the comparative unknown by appointing Ariel Holan as the successor to Gabriel Milito, Racing Club has turned to what — in theory — should be a safe pair of hands.
Diego Cocca wrote his name into Academia history back in 2014 when he led the club to the Transitional Championship just ahead of River Plate. Now, almost two years to the day since he left Avellaneda for the last time, the coach is charged with the task of repeating that triumph after Facundo Sava and Ricardo Zielinski both failed to meet expectations in a past 12 months that saw both unceremoniously booted out of the Cilindro.
“When I left, I knew I would come back, I just did not know at what point I was going to,” the prodigal son told reporters in his inaugural press conference back at the club. “But I have wanted to come back ever since I left.”
Cocca also moved to allay fears this would be a step back in time for Racing: “I hope you see some changes, because I am not the same man as back then: I hope you find a more mature coaching team.”
Those words may help to reassure Academia fans, who have not always had the most positive experiences with presumed returning heroes at the club. Alfio Basile and Reinaldo Merlo, who each lifted titles during their first spells, found that coming back was no easy task, and the pair failed to replicate their successes in second and even third terms. Previous success is no marker for future glory, and Cocca will have to start from scratch at his former stamping ground.
A relative novice
Independiente has also seen previous winners fall flat on their comebacks, which may go some way toward explaining the man who will be working under Hugo Moyano at the Libertadores de América when pre-season training kicks off today.
While Holan, like his predecessor Gabriel Milito — a legend from his playing days with the Rojo, but who failed to replicate that quality during a frustrating six-month spell on the bench — does have previous links to the Avellaneda side, he is a relative novice at the top level with little soccer background.
The coach began life in field hockey, working for over a decade in some of Argentina’s biggest clubs before taking neighbouring Uruguay to a bronze in the 2003 Panamerican Games at the head of their women’s team. After a short spell leading soccer coaching schools in the United States he was snapped up by then Arsenal de Sarandí coach (and Independiente legend) Jorge Burruchaga to work on his coaching staff. He later moved on to front the Rojo’s soccer school, but his pedigree was confirmed thanks to his work as Matías Almeyda’s right-hand man in River Plate’s successful bid to regain their place in the Primera División back in 2011-12.
Holan’s first taste of the pressure that comes with fronting a professional soccer side came with Defensa y Justicia, where he won rave reviews thanks to his innovative coaching methods and adventurous tactics. Those successes were ultimately not reflected by results, leading him to resign his position in Florencio Varela midway through the first half of the current season, but he is widely regarded as one of the brightest soccer minds in the country.
Speaking in his introduction to the press, however, the trainer was aware that taking the reins of one of the Big Five is a challenge unlike anything he has faced before.
“I am not a magician, and I am not the Messiah either,” the fervent Rojo fan admitted. “We have the chance to bring in two new players and we will look to improve the quality of the team. “We have to have an aggressive defensive play and I need our forwards to be very dynamic.” Holan’s arrival has not been welcomed by all in Avellaneda. Former star Daniel Bertoni was just one of those who spoke out against the new coach, stating that “you need very little these days to take control of a big club”; there is no doubt that the jury will be out.
Indeed, Holan and Cocca face a daunting task on their hands at two clubs that endured a past 12 months best described as mediocre, and which will be desperate to keep track with the front-runners from the first half of the season.
The prodigal son, and the unknown quantity: there is something old and something new in Avellaneda for 2017, but they share one thing in common: an immense pressure to succeed from two clubs always desperate for titles and glory.