Daniel Passarella surely felt a huge relief after hearing the final whistle of the super-clásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate which decreed yesterday’s one all draw. It had been a traumatic week for the River coach in the build-up to this very significant confrontation, given the recent apathetic performances of his team during the last month. Not only were River eliminated from the Libertadores Cup in the preliminary group during this period, but also his team had dramatically slid from joint first to fourth in the league table.
However, what probably most affected the former captain of the Argentine team that won the 1978 World Cup during that tense week, were the reverberations of the chants sung by practically the entire Monumental stadium during River’s uninspiring 1-1 home draw against Belgrano de Córdoba, which went something like “Passarella you traitor you are a Boca fan”. This cruel chant directed towards a man who scored more than a hundred goals for the club as a defender has its history. At a certain point of Passarella’s hugely successful career at River Plate during the second half of the seventies, he mentioned that as a kid he had actually been a Boca fan, and that paradoxically he had been rejected by this club after failing a trial there as a youngster.
The tremendously unfair chant also blatantly ignored the fact that during his first spell as coach for River during 1990-94 Passarella had not only achieved three league titles for the club but had also been responsible for promoting a series of youth players to the first team who later proved their value at international level, such the cases of Ariel Ortega, Matías Almeyda, Marcelo Gallardo and Hernán Crespo. During this time however, River frequently lost derby matches against Boca and failed miserably in the Libertadores Cup. Nevertheless, Passarella’s first experience as coach culminated in success when the Argentine FA designated him as the new national team coach in mid 1994.
Having returned to coach River in early 2005, Passarella has yet to win a league title but, after three super-clásicos, he can now boast an undefeated record against Boca. He has also been responsible for the consolidation in River’s first team of a youth player who after just one year proved talented enough to be purchased by Real Madrid: “Pipita” Higuaín. Where he has clearly not succeeded up to the moment, is in re-establishing cordial relations with the River barras bravas, who call themselves “los borrachos del tablón” “the drunkards of the terraces”. They have not yet forgiven him for having frequently confronted them during his first sojourn as River Coach. It was these hard-core fans who were mainly responsible for instigating that mean anti-Passarella chant during the Belgrano game.
Yesterday’s 1-1 draw at la Bombonera stadium will not necessarily signify “redemption” for Passarella with most River fans. But given his team’s disastrous first half performance, which only ended 0-1 thanks to the tremendous saves of River’s young goalie Juan Pablo Carrizo, he can feel a certain degree of satisfaction with the team’s second half recovery that gave way to Mauro Rosales’s equalizer. Passarella also proved a point in terms of his loyalty for the River Plate colors when before the kick-off he defiantly opened a red and white umbrella, as he approached the visitor’s dugout, to protect himself from the spitting reception given to him by the Boca fans.