Ramón Diaz returns to River Plate, but can he handle the expectations?
If there was an association that represented ex-midfield idols who went on to manage their former clubs, then the last few weeks would surely have been the darkest days in their history.
First Roberto Di Matteo became the latest man to fail to satisfy the whims of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, and now, in another capital city, on the other side of the Atlantic, River Plate’s Matias Almeyda finds himself out of a job.
While it does not compare to the sacking of the man who enjoyed huge popularity with both the fans and the players, achieved Chelsea’s first Champions League success, and crucially was doing a fairly good job, the dismissal of Almeyda is also quite a harsh one.
He took charge following the historic and traumatic relegation of the Buenos Aires giants to the Nacional B in 2011 and although he faced a lower calibre of teams there, credit must be given for getting the club promoted at the earliest available opportunity. Given the enormous pressure stemming from the sheer weight of expectation and the fact that he faced a more than normally competitive campaign this was no mere formality.
Coupled with an excellent cup run last year, admittedly in the slightly unloved Copa Argentina, and a solid if unspectacular return to life in the Primera, Almeyda has not done a bad job – particular as the club’s financial problems have almost certainly deprived him of some much-needed new recruits.
However the club’s president, Daniel Passarella, has given in to the mounting pressure on Almeyda and replaced him, perhaps with one eye on next year’s elections, with a man he doesn’t want but who the fans have called for for the best part of a decade.
That man is Ramón Diaz, himself a former player at the club, but more importantly the most successful manager in River Plate’s history. His two spells in charge between 1995 and 2002 yielded five league titles as well as continental success in the Copa Libertadores and the Supercopa Sudamericana.
This unparalleled success at the club and huge popularity with the fans makes him to River Plate, very simplistically, what Jose Mourinho is to Chelsea. However while the new manager at Stamford Bridge is about as far away from being the fans’ choice as possible, the vocal masses at El Monumental do now actually have their messiah back.
Diaz’s first press conference as new manager was fairly Mourinho-esque, with the 53-year-old declaring: “I’m the greatest manager in the history of River Plate. Nobody can change that,” adding for good measure “There is no doubt River Plate would have never been relegated if I was in charge.”
However he will need more than excessive amounts of self-confidence if he hopes to re-live his glory days at the club. His record since he was last at the club, which slightly bizarrely includes a year in charge of Oxford United, is not particularly impressive although his special bond with River Plate cannot be discounted.
His strong relationship with former club greats has seen the more hysterical, River-centric parts of the Argentine media link the club with moves for Javier Saviola and Martín Demichelis although considering they are both part of successful European sides in Benfica and Malaga respectively, this seems a little unlikely. However a move for Internacional’s Andres D’Alessandro, who played under Diaz at River as well as more recently at San Lorenzo, seems more of a possibility.
Nevertheless the task facing Diaz is a stern one, in particular having to match up to the wholly unrealistic expectations that will be placed on his side as a result of their former glory, in which he has played such a part, as well as their enormous fanbase and historic status as one of the continent’s biggest clubs.
When you combine that with the massive debt the club is in and the fact that their squad ultimately is slightly lacking in quality, it is perhaps fortunate that the new manager has such a strong standing with the fans.
Although a return to the enormous triumphs Diaz achieved during his previous spells in charge seems unlikely in the extreme, after the recent bleak years the club has gone through, River’s fans will just be hoping their chosen one can bring them any sort of success.
You can follow the writer on Twitter: @thesportsfoxTagged in: football, South America
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