During the short tournament format that was in place from 1991 up until this year, which saw two championships played per year, being named the player of that particular league was a far simpler affair. Hitting form for a couple of months and a handful of memorable individual performances could be enough to get the nod and the Torneo 2015 proved as much. The first half of the year River Plate were the team to beat and en route to lifting the Copa Libertadores, Matías Kranevitter was imperious; in the second half, Boca were in the ascendency and Carlos Tevez, who had just arrived back in Argentina proved his class. However, one man maintained an incredible level throughout the season and spearheaded an unlikely title challenge with Rosario Central. El Canalla may have ended the season empty headed but that was through no fault of their number nine, whose glut of goals almost brought a first league title since 1987 back to the Gigante de Arroyito.
Under Miguel Ángel Russo in the tournament that proceeded this, Central finished 15th out of the twenty teams that made up the Primera at the time, with Walter Acuña finishing as top scorer with a paltry four goals. The appointment of former player Eduardo Coudet to his first management role didn’t immediately suggest title challenge and although the capture of Ruben, on loan from Dynamo Kyiv, represented something of a coup it still looked highly doubtful that Central could upset the odds.
On the opening weekend of the season, Central were victorious away to champions Racing and although it was young Franco Cervi with the decisive goal of the match, it proved to be a launchpad for Coudet’s new-look side.
It was followed by an Ruben-inspired injury time win over Tigre and after notching five straight wins, including a hat-trick for the on loan striker against Olimpo, Central were sitting pretty at the top of the Primera.
Ultimately too many draws in the middle of the season cost Central but at no point did Ruben’s goals dry up; three games, his longest barren spell. It is when his goals are viewed in relation to the side that his importance is truly grasped. Ruben’s 21 goals from his 30 league appearances accounted for 44.7% of Central’s total and if his decisive goals (those that changed the results of matches) were discounted, El Canalla would have been 14 points worse off. To make that clearer, rather than finishing five points off champions Boca in third, they would have been down in tenth.
And this is just his contribution to the league, winning goals in the Copa Argentina quarter finals and semi finals, earned Central their place in the final and therefore a place in the 2016 Copa Libertadores – something not managed in close to a decade.
His domestic form earned him praise from Argentina coach Gerardo Martino and for the recent friendlies when Carlos Tevez was ruled out through injury, the former Barcelona manager said: “The level of Marco Ruben is considered for the national side, without doubt.”
Ruben’s closest competitors for the Primera top scorer were Claudio Beiler (14) and Leandro Fernández (13) and both illustrate the earlier point that maintaining that consistency of goal scoring is so difficult at any level.
Needless to say, Central are desperate to keep Ruben at the Gigante now that his loan has expired. Dynamo Kyiv are willing to listen to offers and obviously have little intention of keeping the 29-year-old but the $6 million price tag is one which few clubs in Argentina can afford. Central are negotiating this and the manner of the payments but it is a certainty to say that Coudet’s side minus Ruben will be a very different proposition. With the new challenge of the Libertadores ahead, if Central are to enjoy anything close to the success they had in 2015, securing Ruben is vital.