The second half of the 2016-17 season was supposed to get underway in Argentina last Friday. Instead, after a week of arguments and confusion, the weekend’s top-flight fixtures were called off late on Friday even after the first two games should have been played.
After days of protracted and difficult negotiations, the players’ union and Argentine FA eventually signed a deal to end the strike around lunchtime on Wednesday. And Thursday night saw the official resumption: Mariano Pavone’s 89th minute goal gave Velez Sarsfield a 3-2 home win over Estudiantes.
How did this happen? And how did they get things resolved?
Why did the players go on strike?
Late last Thursday night, the players’ union Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados voted to strike for the weekend games over unpaid wages. Not all players are owed money — River Plate’s treasurer confirmed to ESPN FC that their squad’s wage bill is up to date, for example — but those who had been paid chose to stand with those who hadn’t.
Ramiro Montenegro, a defender for Primera B (third division) side Excursionistas de Belgrano, was owed such a significant amount in wages that he had to choose between paying his rent or spending money on food for his three children.
His is one of many examples. Agremiados wrote an open letter to the Argentine Football Association (AFA) when they first threatened strike action last Friday saying that “numerous clubs… owe salaries, in some cases dating back four months.”
So why don’t the clubs just pay the players?
It’s hard to give one single reason without oversimplifying but in short, in most cases the money didn’t seem to be there. In mid-January, the AFA published a list of 14 clubs who would be forbidden from registering new signings until their debts with the association were paid off — and those are just the top-flight clubs.
Clubs owing money to the AFA often do so because the organisation has given them an advance on TV payments in order to make payments to their squads in the past. As the AFA is forced to reform and become more transparent, the situation is changing and has led to the current impasse.
How is the AFA reforming?
Slowly, and with more than a few false starts. Julio Grondona’s death shortly after the 2014 World Cup following 35 years as AFA president left a power vacuum that still exists.
In December 2015, elections were held to choose a new head and in a vote between media mogul (and San Lorenzo vice president) Marcelo Tinelli and incumbent Luis Segura, who as AFA VP had seen out what remained of Grondona’s mandate, 75 directors somehow managed to produce a 38-38 tie.