Debating which is the greatest football team in Argentina is a direct path to nowhere. Fans of every team have strong opinions about what counts in these rankings, which can lead to never-ending arguments about longevity, style of play and number of domestic and international tournaments won. Suffice to say that Club Atlético River Plate, commonly known as los millonarios (the millionaires, in Spanish), is always among the teams discussed when this topic comes up. River is turning 122 today, an accomplishment that at the very least checks the durability box.
Founded May 25, 1901, River Plate, named after the Buenos Aires City river, Río de la Plata, houses numerous activities as a sports club, but its main activity is football. It has won Argentina’s First Division tournament a record-setting 37 times, most recently in 2021. Internationally, it has won 18 tournaments.
Here are a few essentials you should know if you ever want to debate Argentine football.
1-Even though River Plate is currently located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Nuñez, it wasn’t born there. The club was originally founded in La Boca, in the south of the city, and only moved to Nuñez in 1938. Its traditional rival is Boca Juniors, which was founded close by in 1905.
2-River’s stadium, the Estadio Monumental, is the largest in Argentina and South America, with a seating capacity of over 83,000. It officially opened May 25, 1938, and has undergone numerous renovations, the most recent completed in 2022. In addition to River games, it also hosts matches of the Men’s national team, as well as numerous musical shows. Over the years, bands and singers like Madonna, U2, Roger Waters and Coldplay have performed there.
3-Even though there is some debate among River fans about which team was their absolute best, there is some consensus on the candidates jockeying for the title. Among them, the football team the club fielded from 1941 to 1947, nicknamed La Máquina (The Machine, in Spanish), which is considered among the best to ever play. Led by Ángel Labruna, one of its top idols, it won 10 titles, and is considered a pioneer in the implementation of modern tactics. Other teams are the 1986 River team, led by coach Héctor Veira, the first to win South America’s continent-wide Copa Libertadores tournament, and the recent teams of Marcelo Gallardo, who has won more titles as a coach than anyone else in River’s history.
4-Despite its successful history, River has had some lows. Between 1958 and 1975, it failed to win a single domestic tournament, despite coming close several times. It also lost its place in Argentina’s top football category in 2011, which forced them to play for one season in the second division, First National B (Primera B Nacional, in Spanish).
5-Who its biggest idols are can spark a debate in River circles. For instance, Daniel Passarella, who shined both as a player and a coach, fell from grace after a disastrous stint as club president between 2010 and 2013, and most fans have disavowed him. The majority of fans, however, can agree on a list of seven names:
- Amadeo Carrizo, goalkeeper, who played on River between 1954 and 1968. An honorary president of River Plate with 10 championships won, one of the stands of the Monumental stadium is named after him and his birthday is celebrated as Goalkeeper Day in Argentina.
- Ángel Labruna, a forward and the team’s top scorer, who was not only part of La Máquina in the 1940s, but also shined as a coach, as he led River to win its first title after an 18-year drought in 1975. (16 titles and 317 goals in 533 matches)
- Norberto Alonso, a midfielder, won 9 titles with the club in his three stages as a player: 1970-1976, 1977-1981, and 1983-1987.
- Enzo Francescoli, the Uruguayan forward, won seven tournaments in his two stints with the club, in 1983-1987 and 1994-1997. Younger generations of River Plate stars, like Enzo Pérez and Enzo Fernández, were actually named after him.
- Ramón Díaz, also a forward, won four championships as a player, and seven as a coach.
- Ariel Ortega, a forward who had three different stints at River, 1991-1996, 2000-2002, and 2006-2012. (Seven championships, including a Libertadores Cup)
- Marcelo Gallardo, an attacking midfielder, played at the club three times (1993-1999, 2003-2006, and 2009-2010). However, he is best remembered as the coach with most tournaments won in the club ‘s history. (Fourteen titles, including a legendary Libertadores Cup final against traditional rival Boca Juniors in 2018)