With the middle of the Argentine Inicial upon us, Newell’s Old Boys are showing that a system is more important than the sum of all parts. More importantly, when those parts are functioning well within a system, things can change and they will remain the same.
In soccer, we always talk about how one person is not greater than an institution. Yet that argument can be challenged when a person arrives and changes the culture. It’s this change that has seen Newell’s Old Boys become one of the most solid teams in not just Argentine football, but in South America. Newell’s had a process instilled and that garnered them the nickname in circles throughout Argentine media as that country’s version of FC Barcelona. Although that comparison might be a bit exaggerated, there are some slight parallels between the two clubs and how they are currently playing right now in their respective parts of the world.
The greatest testament to Newell’s style right now came from a former coach. Ricardo Caruso Lombardi came out on Sunday after his old team defeated his current squad, Argentinos Juniors, 2-0. The usually witty and venomous Caruso Lombardi had only praise for the reigning champs when he said it was “impossible to defeat a team that always had possession of the ball.”
This was probably the biggest compliment one could receive from a coach. Throughout the match, Newell’s Old Boys pressed and forced mistakes in the heart of the park. Once they gained possession, they would weave the ball around and force the opposition to lose the ball.
Their solid midfield play with Diego Mateu anchoring the middle as well as pulling the strings as the first line of offense coming out of the back worked like a charm. Plus the defense is now amongst one of the best in Argentine football up until now.
Although this version of the Rosario side lacked the firepower that a goalscorer like Scocco had to offer, the entire squad knew that there would be no need for changes. What is meant by changes is that every player would have to make greater collective contributions. Everyone from recently hired veterans like David Trézéguet as well as individuals such as Gabriel Heinze, Diego Mateu and Maxi Rodríguez — who were instrumental in the title run last season with their great form and leadership on the pitch — was needed in order to replace 13 players that had departed during the off-season.
Their performance so far answered the biggest question mark looming over their heads coming into this Torneo Inicial — after losing some major pieces to their puzzle from their title-winning side. Ignacio Scocco left for Internacional while Gerardo Martino went to Europe to refresh a Barcelona side that started to show signs of decline despite having won their fourth league title in the last five years. A weird series of events led to Martino’s arrival to Can Barça after he replaced Tito Vilanova.
His handling of the Maxi Urruti move to Toronto FC was just probably more vilified in Rosario than Kevin Payne was in Toronto with the way he handled Urruti’s immediate transfer to Portland. For fans in that part of the world, the shocking move by Urruti was virtually the end of his career as he fell into the black hole that was one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer, a league that few know much about in that part of the world.