At least five players from the Vélez Sarsfield football club were allegedly physically assaulted and threatened with firearms on Sunday night as they left a training session. There have been calls for protests against the football club’s board of directors as the team struggles to avoid relegation. Back in June, fans overran the club’s headquarters with similar demands.
Players Gianluca Prestianni (17) and Leonardo Jara (32) were attacked in their cars as they were heading home from the field in Ituzaingó, Buenos Aires Province. According to journalists who follow the club closely, three other players suffered similar physical assaults but have not made public declarations confirming the incidents.
“They caught me outside the training ground. A car blocked my path, they grabbed me by the jacket and wanted to get me out of my car. They told me they were going to shoot me in the legs,” said Jara about the aggression. The attack was reportedly done by members of “La Pandilla de Liniers,” one of many groups of organized football firms known in Argentine football as barrabravas.
The mood has been tense all season at Vélez Sarsfield —despite two changes at the coaching level, the team remains among the bottom clubs in Argentina’s Liga Profesional.
Now, journalists close to the squad are reporting that the team is refusing to continue training and playing until the club’s board guarantees more security. This is not the first time the barrabrava enter the training complex, as the players were verbally assaulted in May, following a 13-game winless streak.
Prestianni, one of Argentine football’s most highly valued prospects — reportedly receiving offers from several European football clubs — tweeted in the aftermath of the incident, although he later deleted it.
“That’s how things are, these are the barras. They attack the kids,” he said. According to journalists close to Vélez, the 17-year-old is now determined to leave the club.
“He has just started his career, he has to focus on Vélez. Later he will see where his career continues, but he must focus on turning the situation at the club around,” said his father in an interview with DSports Radio. “He has to focus on playing football and then whatever has to happen will happen. He’s very calm, we’ve received several offers before.”
Following the situation on Sunday night, Prestianni has allegedly contacted the board of the Liniers club, informing them that he was scared to attend training and asking to be transferred.
“Members of the barrabrava blocked the road with their cars and hit us. There were probably 5 or 6 cars. They were manic,” Prestianni said in an interview with ESPN. “They grabbed me twice by the neck and hit me. Lately, they’ve been around the training ground a lot. We didn’t like what happened at all.”
The club released an official statement on Monday condemning the attack.
“Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield strongly regrets and condemns the intimidating situation that some footballers from our first team experienced last night,” read the statement. “Every act of violence must be condemned.”
Fans called for protests at the club’s headquarters as well as the real estate agency belonging to its president Sergio Rapisarda. There are demands across social media for him and the entire Vélez board to resign.
The threat of relegation
The situation has long been critical for the Liniers club. They are currently 25th in Argentina’s Liga Profesional, just five points clear of last place, despite changing head coach twice.
Uruguayan Alexander Medina, who had led the club to the Copa Libertadores semi-finals in 2022, left in February 2023. He was replaced by club legend Ricardo Gareca, a former player and successful coach who oversaw the club winning five championships from 2009 to 2013. However, Gareca resigned in early June after winning just one of the 11 games played under his management.
The arrival of Sebastián Méndez in late June looked like a step in the right direction, winning the first two games. However, Vélez has now seen three draws and one loss, including the elimination from the Copa Argentina and losing to Huracán, a team that is also struggling against relegation.
This season, Argentine clubs can get relegated either by the Averages Table (which averages points achieved in the last three seasons) or via the Annual Table (which aggregates every point achieved in the season). With just 14 games to be played, Vélez sits just two points away from Annual Table relegation and could find themselves in a lot of trouble next season with the Averages Table.
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