Football in Argentina since its inception has somewhat been dominated by five major forces of the country, popularly known as the “Big Five” – Boca Juniors, Racing, River Plate, Independente and San Lorenzo. Naturally, it comes as no surprise that none of the teams outside these big five won the Apertura till only 1967(more than 30 years after the establishment of the league) when the jinx was finally broken by Estudiantes. Since then, 10 more have lifted the trophy at-least once, thereby breaking up the traditional pattern of dominance but the gigantic past of these five clubs lives on to tell its own tale.
Club Atletico River Plate is the most successful club in the country with thirty four titles. Nicknamed El Campeón del Siglo XX(The champions of the 20th century) the team from Buenos Aires have experienced a fair share of ups and downs throughout their history, including the nightmare of relegation recently. But, in the richness of their tradition stands out a span of time which rightfully is the golden age of the club. The 1940’s saw River dominate Argentinian football and South American Football at large. The famed team, popularly known as the ‘La Maquina’ stands tall as one of the greatest teams to have graced South American football.
Having spent a grand total of 45,000$ on players in the thirties, River earned the nickname of Los Millionaires(The Millionaires) The club won two Aperturas in the decade, thereby establishing themselves as a major force in the country. But gradually, the star quotient of River faded away, leaving the club in ordinary company. For four consecutive seasons between 1937 and 1940 the Millionaires failed to compete for the Apertura, with the likes of Boca Juniors and Independente coming to the forefront domestically. The first team demanded a revamp and that’s what led to the establishment of La Maquina(the Machine.)
The eight round of the 1941-42 Apertura saw River host Chacarita Juniors at the El Monumental. With the team now brimming with promising talents, it was the right time to initiate a golden age of unprecedented success. The visitors were blown away by nonchalant waves of River attacks, with the game ending 6-2 to the home side. Post match, media released a graphic of the game entitled ‘La Maquina’ as a tribute to the relentless attacking show of Renato Cesarini’s men.
Built on the pillars of attacking rendezevous, River Plate under Cesarini were an aesthetic’s dream. As seen in the graphic above, the team lined up in the widely used W-M of those days. The temperamental Ricardo Vaghi led the defence with able support from Norberto Yacono and Luis Ferriera – full-backs of the team. Bruno Rodolfi and Jose Ramos held the fort in central midfield, with Rodolfi playing the foil to Ramos’ creativity from deeper areas of the pitch. Charro Moreno, the right sided midfielder drifted into the center ahead of the central midfielders, orchestrating River’s attacks with his exquisite range of passing. When not in possession, he was equally efficient in covering the right flank to help his full-back. But the quality of left sided Adolfo Pedernera is what took River to the next level. As Uruguyan hero Obdulio Varela one said –
“I played against Pedernera and like him, there is nobody”
The striker played the role, of what many would say the modern False 9. Pedernera was a master of creating pockets of space and getting his team-mates into the game. He dropped deep into midfield from the left, thereby drawing his marker out of position and creating a vacuum through the middle for his team-mates. The likes of Angel Labruna and Felix Loustau would greatly benefit from this and the latter would eventually go on to be one of the highest scorers in Argentinian football history. This unique positional switching of Pedernera would later go on to inspire the Magyars of the fifties and the Dutch of the seventies as shades of La Maquina could be seen in the likes of Puskas and Cruyff. The dynamism of La Maquina was something novel in those times. Positional inter-changes, quick passing, one-two’s, fearless dribbles past opposition markers and the physicality to go with it made the five in attack unplayable at times. River’s 5-1 thrashing of Boca in the superclassico still remains one of the purest attacking masterpieces ever seen.
Ernesto Lazatti, the Boca Juniors star of the fourties heaped his plaudits on La Maquina, testifying the greatness of Cesarini’ side –
“I play against La Maquina with the full intention of beating them, but as a fan of football, I would prefer to sit on the stands and watch them play”
Off the field, the team exuded vibrancy and pomp in their celebrations. Charro ‘Moreno’ once said
“I was once given milk at night after the game. I asked him – Why you give me milk? I played badly after drinking milk!”
In a dialogue about the best teams in the history of the game, the ones that dominate discussion are Herrera’s Inter, Cryuff’s Ajax, Pep’s Barca and Sacchi’s Milan. One does not really consider South American Football as the most competitive for teams from the continent to make it to the list. However, La Maquina does not only stand out for its sheer quality of football, but also for pioneering much of the game’s elements that we associate with its modern form. Roberto Cesarini’s team won four aperturas, besides finishing runners up twice. Though there is no official record for the end of La Maquina, many believe that the retirement of Adolfo Pedernera truly disintegrated River’s greatest team.
Considered the predecssor to the Clockwork Oranje of 1974, La Maquina truly remain one of the under-appreciated team, one that has unfortunately lost out on the prominence of European football.