Marcelo Gallardo – The king of El Monumental is back on his throne

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Much has happened at the Estadio Monumental over the past 17 years, since River Plate last captured an international trophy. From the highs of the late 90s, culminating in the Supercopa Libertadores, to the lowest point in the club’s history with relegation out of the top flight, Andrés Godø, owner of the River Plate Noruega Twitter account takes a look at the man at the centre of two of these great achievements in River Plate’s history…..

1997: In what proved to be the final season of the Supercopa Libertadores-tournament in South America, a competition set up to contest former champions of the Libertadores-trophy; River Plate won the cup after beating Brazilian team São Paulo 2-1 in the finals. Goal scorers for River Plate in that game? Marcelo “El Chileno” Salas and playmaker Marcelo Gallardo.

 The 1996/97-edition of River Plate is to this day considered to be one of the best River-teams of all times: Roberto Bonano and Germán Burgos in net; Celso Ayala, Hernán Diaz, Eduardo Berizzo and Juan Pablo Sorin in defense; Leonardo Astrada, Sergio Berti, Marcelo Escudero, Matiás Almeyda, Marcelo Gallardo and a young Pablo Aimar and Santiago Solari in midfield whilst veteran legend Enzo Francescoli, Julio Ricardo Cruz, Ariel Ortega and Marcelo Salas up front with legendary manager Ramón Diaz on the bench.

 That team won the 1996 Apertura and the 1997 Apertura and Clausura in addition to the 1996 Copa Libertadores after beating America Cali in the finals 2-1 on aggregate (the same team they had beaten 10 years earlier when winning their first CL-trophy), in addition to the 1997 Supercopa Libertadores.

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2014: River-legend Ramón Diaz resigns after guiding River Plate to the Argentine Primera Divison. For those of us who follows South American football and River Plate especially, the news is ambivalent; Diaz and the president of River Plate, Rodolfo D’Onofrio, had some differences when it came to economy and given that it was Diaz’ third spell at the helms at River Plate, it was not surprising. But who would take over?

 Rumors were floating around that Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, who had been fired at FC Barcelona was a possible candidate, but then came the opportunity of him becoming the new head-coach of the national team and he was off the list. Then a new set of rumors started circulating; Marcelo Gallardo, the legendary playmaker of one of the best River Plate teams in history seemed to be the likeliest of candidates to take over the helm.

 After leaving River back in 2007, Gallardo had a short year back in French football with PSG before leaving for MLS and DC United. In 2009, Gallardo returned to El Monumental for the final time as a player, but the spell only lasted for one short year before he opted to sign in Uruguay for Nacional de Montevideo. In his final game as a player, Gallardo helped Nacional win the national championship, making Gallardo one of very few players to win a championship or the league in every country he played in, respectively.

 Just a few days after winning the Uruguayan Primera with Nacional as a player, he was hired as the team’s new manager. After guiding Nacional to their 44th league title in the 2011-12 season, Gallardo decided to leave Nacional. In that season, Nacional won both derbies vs. archrivals Peñarol. Still, Gallardo was – in Argentina, a bit under the radar as a manager. Nacional is, by no means, a small club in South American stature, but River Plate is as big as it gets. Still, with Gallardo’s playing history, he was a popular choice between the fans, including myself.

Still, I – like most the fans, we’re prepared to give Gallardo some time. With Manuel Lanzini opting to leave for the Middle East to continue his promising career and Edér Alvarez Balanta being surrounded by transfer rumors since his stunning season under Ramón Diaz last year, influential veteran midfielder Christian Ledesma retiring after the championship season and Fernando ‘Cavegol’ Cavenaghi out with a serious injury, people were skeptical about retaining the Primera title.

But the building blocks were already in place at El Monumental; Gallardo, at his first press conference after his appointment declared that he’d give youth a chance. Sebastian Driussi, Tomas Martinéz, Augusto Solari, Lucas Boyé, Guido Rodriguez, Emmanuel Mammana and Giovanni Simeone (‘El Cholito’, son of former manager Diego Simeone), have all been given a chance in this year’s squad, some more than others and some with more luck than others, but they’ve all been given a fair shot in the starting XI.

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To replace Manuel Lanzini, River bought Leonardo Pisculichi from Argentinos Juniors after he was allowed to leave following Argentinos Juniors brought back Juan Román Riquelme from Boca Juniors. To replace the hole on midfield after Ledesma’s retirement, Gallardo brought back a familiar face; Carlos Sánchez, who Gallardo had on loan from River when managing Nacional. The Uruguayan international has been nothing short of magnificent on River’s midfield this season and has proved to be one of the first names on Gallardo’s team-sheets.

Under Ramón Diaz, River switched between using only one striker (Cavenaghi) with an trequartista just behind him (Manu Lanzini), or a 4-4-2 formation with Cavenaghi and Teófilo Gutiérrez up front. Because of Cavenaghi’s injury and surgery, Teó Gutiérrez has had a real break-through year in Argentine football and has so far netted 10 goals for River Plate. His partner-in-crime has been Uruguayan striker Rodrigo Mora who returned from a loan-spell at La U; Universidad de Chile.

Gallardo’s touch on this River squad has been nothing short of magical. Not even the most hardcore of River Plate fans could anticipate the season Gallardo and his River-squad has had so far. Counting from last years championship season, River went 31 games unbeaten; a club-record that was equaled after 92 (!!) years. River’s first loss of the season came in a postponed game at home to Estudiantes after beating the same Estudiantes-team out of Copa Sudamericana.

And as this article is written, River Plate and Gallardo can still win the Argentine Primera, but they have to depend on Godoy Cruz beating Racing Club de Avellaneda whilst themselves bagging 3 points in the final game of the season. Because of River’s run to the Copa Sudamericana title that they recently won against Colombian side Atletico Nacional, the league has been down-prioritized in the past few weeks, allowing Racing to gain closer and now taking over the lead in the Primera.

Nevertheless, with Gallardo guiding River Plate to their first international title in 17 years, when they won the Supercopa Libertadores thanks to a Gallardo-goal, River cannot complain should the season “only” end with one Copa Sudamericana-title. The major question will be:

If this continues, how long will River Plate be able to keep Marcelo Gallardo around as River Plate manager?

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