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A River Runs Through It – How Relegation Reignited River Plate’s Fire

The date of June 27th 2011 is firmly etched into the memories of all River Plate fans but for the wrong reason. On that day, River Plate who are widely considered as one of South America’s greatest clubs faced its darkest hour – riddled with debt, facing and uncertain future and now relegated from the Argentine Primera Division for the first time in their history. The disappointment of that day was apparent as fans burst onto the pitch and rioted. The players distraught at their epic failure scrambled into the safety of the dressing room as the chaos outside escalated. The manager responsible for the drop immediately resigned whilst his team which included a young Erik Lamela faced an uncertain future in the lower tiers of Argentinean football.

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Lamela sinks to the ground after River are relegated (Image from AFP)

That summer River regrouped under new manager and former player Matias Almeyda who immediately set about putting the heart back into River Plate. He knew that to restore River to its rightful place in the Prmieria Division, he needed to bring in players who would do anything for the club. In came the experienced trio of Fernando Cavenaghi, Alejandro Dominguez and David Trezeguet. All three players are die hard River Plate fans so agreed to come and play for the club in their darkest hour for whatever wages the club could afford. The end result was that River bounced back immediately after only one season in the Argentine second tier – B Nacional. But there was a noticeable difference in the team – gone was the swagger that Rover had adopted in the years before relegation when they believed that they were too good to go down. That season in the lower leagues had restarted the River fire and made them a stronger team who battled for every point. Over the next two seasons, River would continue to grow and improve until they were eventually rewarded with a stunning cup treble including the league title and Sudamerica Cup in 2014 and the Copa Liberatordes in 2015.

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River Plate lift the Copa Libertadores in 2015 (Image from EPA)

By this time Almeyda was long gone, having only managed River for that fateful season in the lower leagues. His replacement was Ramon Diaz who continued what Almeyda had started over the next two seasons before eventually being replaced by Marcelo Gallardo. It was under the River Plate and Argentine legend Gallardo that success began to come back to the club. With the help of Reserve team boss and fellow legend Ariel Ortega and new Sporting Director Enzo Francescoli, Gallardo built a side capable of challenging on all fronts, beautifully mixing a growing crop of talented youngsters with a handful of experienced heads. The current batch boasts some of the worlds most highly promising youngsters including the ever impressive centre backs Eder Alvarez Balanta and Emanuel Mammana (touted as the next Javier Mascherano), towering stopper Augusto Batalla, midfielder Augusto Solari (the cousin of Santi Solari who once played along side Gallardo for Argentina) and striker Sebastian Driussi. This youthful exuberance was pitted alongside Leonardo Ponzio, Jonathan Maidana and Teo Gutierrez  as River regained their title and cleaned up on route to winning the Copa last year and now this season next to Javier Saviola, Nicolas Bertolo and Lucho Gonzalez.

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One to Watch – Eder Alvarez Balanta (Image from Getty)

That victory has earned them a place in last years Club World Championship in Japan. Whilst not considered an important tournament in Europe, the prestige of playing in the tournament for South America teams cannot be understated with River viewing it as a must win event. Whilst the did reach the final, Barcelona proved too strong and brushed them aside to lift the cup. To win the tournament would have been a great way indication of exactly how far River have come in less than four years. There is still along way to go, with River still in debt believed to be in the region of $27.5m. They are paying that debt off by selling some of their highly rated players including recent sales of Gutierrez to Sporting Lisbon, Funes Mores to Everton and Matias Kranevitter to Atletico Madrid but there is still along way to go. River are on the right path though and have made incredible strides in recent years considering how far they fell. They may have missed out on winning the league this past year to Boca Juniors but the positive signs are there that River will be a force once again in Argentine football for the years ahead.

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