As they say, people always find their way back to their first love. In Ignacio Scocco’s professional career, that would be Newell’s Old Boys, and boy, is that saying true. The striker, with a brief pass through the Premier League wearing Sunderland’s colours, holds a special place in his heart for the club, to the point he carries its crest on his skin.
But this story goes a long way back to the year 2004. Back then, Nacho was a long-haired rookie just promoted to the first team. After five years in the academy, he made his debut at nineteen years old under the wing of Américo “Tolo” Gallego, Argentinian world cup winner and legend, who was coaching the team at the time. Jumping on the pitch from the bench, Scocco scored two goals in six games in a season that would remain forever in his memory not only because of his professional debut, but also for obtaining the Apertura ‘04 title, the fifth in the club’s history.
As the years passed and Nacho grew, he started earning his place in the starting eleven goal after goal, both in the domestic and the international stage. In 2006, by the age of twenty one, Scocco scored nine in nineteen matches, ending up fifth in the goalscorers table and catching the eye of Mexico’s Pumas UNAM manager, who secured him for almost $3 million.
As Scocco made his way through Mexico, and later knowing European football in AEK Athens, things started to go south in Rosario. Newell’s dictator-like chairman Eduardo López made the club his cash register, and through fraudulent operations, diverted transfer funds to his own pocket.
By 2012, with López long gone and the team on the edge of relegation, hope was all but lost. It seemed Newell’s was beyond help, and it would’ve been if not for its legends. Newell’s broke the market when world class figures started announcing their return: first it was coach Gerardo Martino, who renounced a millionaire contract with Colombia’s national team to take over his birth club. Then Maxi Rodríguez, who was a regular at Liverpool, decided he should lend a hand; and finally Gabriel Heinze, probably Newell’s man with the most dazzling career, knowing how to play in Europe’s top clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Olympique Marseille. Among these unbelievable names, Scocco’s return from the low profile Arabian Al-Ain almost went unnoticed, as Newell’s fans were much more excited, and with reason, about the other signings.
Nacho watched the first two games from the start, as he was working on his physical form, given that Tata considered “he wasn’t ready” and that “they didn’t want to risk a muscular injury”.
However, the third game of the season Scocco made it to the bench. The team was struggling to keep a 1-0 advantage against San Martín de San Juan at home and it really looked like they were about to concede. After a failed attempt by their rivals, Tata sent the striker in. What happened was a tease of what that season would be. The goal kick was brought under control by Nacho, who eluded the defender and found the top corner with a spectacular 30-yard strike. A dream return.
Number thirty two crawled to the top of the goalscorers table, with thirteen goals in nineteen matches, but Newell’s sadly fell short in the title race, ending up being runners up to Vélez. Mixed feelings reigned among fans as the relegation ghost was driven away but the chance to secure another title after nine years slipped away.
Nevertheless, Martino’s side wanted revenge. On a personal level, the following tournament would go just as the previous one, with Scocco once again leading the striker rankings, this time with eleven goals to his name. The team however would go one better and this time Nacho and his teammates could celebrate. Scocco, in doing so, becoming the last player to be a two-time champion to this day.
Yet, the club’s debts were pressing, and it soon became unable to pay for Scocco’s transfer quotas that were due. Nacho’s last game brought tears to fans as they knew their forward was leaving to Internacional.
Things didn’t go as planned. Scocco struggled to make the starting eleven and rapidly departed for Premier League side Sunderland, with a similar outcome. All across the other side of the world, he followed Newell’s performance waiting for the day to come back to the love of his life. And the day finally came. The club, after two long years without him, paid an exorbitant amount of $3.6 million, making it the most expensive transfer in La Lepra’s history.
But the mythic striker was far away from his level. This time without Martino’s genius to lead the team, he had a hard time to adapt to the extremely physical Argentinian football. In addition, the team’s form was suboptimal, which earned them the fans’ criticism.
It took Nacho two years to become the one everyone knew back in 2013. Goals started coming again, and fans once again fell in love with the number thirty two. But Newell’s couldn’t get back on its feet. After the elections, the new board took questionable actions, ceased to pay salaries claiming financial crisis, and confronted the squad referents. The situation blew up when the chairman openly denounced the coach, Diego Osella, asserting that he was “a nobody”.
The players could take no more. Maxi Rodríguez departed for Peñarol with tears in his eyes, Mauro Formica returned to Mexico, where he made most of his career, and Nacho signed with River Plate, who had sought him out during the previous two transfer windows.
It was a rough couple of years for Newell’s, where the fight to avoid relegation came back to the agenda, but after a lot of hard work, the club stood up on his feet. Many board members were kicked out, and the remaining ones convinced Rodríguez and Formica to return, later followed by Pablo Pérez, and with Kudelka taking up the bench, relegation was avoided once again.
Now, with the club organized and financially sound, and with Maxi, Formica and Pablo Pérez waiting for him, Nacho will begin his fourth cycle at the love of his life, this time for good, with two aims in sight: the first is scoring twenty six goals, which will grant him the honor of becoming Newell’s most prolific striker in history. The other one, following the team’s classification to the Sudamericana cup, will be winning the club’s first international title, and joining the select group of players to win three different titles at the club.
Only time will tell whether he achieves it or not, but one thing is certain: Nacho Scocco’s love story with Newell’s is one of anthology. One that, although many times it was closer to being a tragedy, will have a happy ending, because as they say, people always find their way back to their first love.
Santiago is a Communications graduate and a passionate supporter of Newell’s Old Boys. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.