River Plate or Spain?

Throughout the week there has been confusion. The local Press said Javier Saviola was in Malaga in Monday, confident that the club would push through the paperwork in time to sign him and register the Argentine striker for the Champions League. His agent, though, denied he was in the country. Sectors of the Spanish sporting media, meanwhile, claimed there were no negotiations at all between Saviola’s club, Benfica and Malaga.

The transfer, in reality, is still unresolved, except in at least one sense. There was always one destination that Saviola would never be ending up at for the 2012-13 season – back where he started.

For the past three years, Saviola has been one of the players with a brilliant past at River Plate regularly linked with a move back. His attachment to the institution, like so many of its graduates, is strong. ‘Que grande River’, he still says, when asked about the club.

Saviola is a classic attacking product of the River Plate youth system and made his name in the first team as a teenager alongside Pablo Aimar, who he has been reunited with at Benfica for the past three seasons. But when River ran into trouble two years ago as they first faced the possibility of relegation, and then a year ago as they faced the reality of a year in the Second Division, the pair were seen as the type of players who should return to ‘help out’. Having reached a certain age and made their money, there were those in Europe who should give something back to the club that gave set them on their way, argued President Daniel Passarella.

“Aimar and Saviola are sons of River Plate and have to return,” Coach Matias Almeyda told journalists last year. Almeyda, who turned down a late offer from Real Madrid in 1997 having given his word to Sevilla when he left River for Europe, did exactly that. He came out of retirement to try to help the club avoid the drop, and then took over as Coach a year ago when the club was at the lowest point in its history.

Yet, as those sons who did go back soon learned, River is an unforgiving parent.

No sooner were River relegated, Fernando Cavenaghi and Chori Dominguez offered to play for River last season in the Second Division for ‘whatever the club could pay.’ Together they shouldered much of the pressure the players were under. Cavenaghi had ‘en las malas mucho mas’ tattooed soon after he arrived. It is the final line of a chant that can be heard every weekend at the Monumental – All the more in the Bad Times. When River won promotion, Chori added the club badge to his extensive collection of body art.

Yet despite the gesture of returning to the club when it most needed them, Cavenaghi and Chori were released by River ahead of this season. Hundreds of fans protested outside the Monumental at the club’s decision, while Almeyda said he wanted a ‘faster team’. Chori and Cavenaghi were furious and gave revealing interviews together before flying to Spain this summer.

Chori swapped one red stripe for another – River for Rayo Vallecano. An outspoken character, Chori rarely found consistent form last season with River – not least as he was forced to regularly swap positions. Cavenaghi, meanwhile, was the Argentine side’s top scorer with 19 goals. At the weekend he hit a brace on his debut for Villarreal against Real Madrid Castilla. It was classic Cavenaghi – a poached goal, and then a brilliant top corner strike from range – albeit in the Segunda Division.

The goals did not go unnoticed amongst the River Plate fans, who dream about seeing ‘their’ players come home. It will be some time before the likes of Radamel Falcao and Diego Buonanotte return, as both have stated they will. Martin Demichelis recently reiterated that he hopes to move back in a year’s time to end his career at River. However, that Cavenaghi and Chori did exactly that and still find themselves already back in Europe perhaps explains why Saviola, so far, is avoiding that same return home.