Not since the prodigal son came back home to the aroma of fatted calf wafting on the breeze has a return been so highly anticipated. Americo ‘El Tolo’ Gallego has been confirmed as the new Independiente coach and will begin a third spell on the Rojo bench with a must-win clash away to Godoy Cruz in Mendoza. Expectations of Gallego could not be higher, but he will have to perform an escape act equal to anything attempted by Houdini if he is to steer the Avellaneda club away from trouble.
Since ‘El Tolo’ left the Libertadores de América due to a contract dispute following a second-place finish in the 2010 Clausura, fans have called for their own prodigal son to return every time a new coach has come and gone. And in the last two years, there have been a fair few. Dani Garnero, António Mohamed, Ramón Diaz and Cristian Diáz have all sat on the bench since his departure, with only a Copa Sudamericana triumph to lift supporters’ spirits in a spell marred by mediocre league campaigns and a gradual slide into relegation danger.
The need for a saviour is greater than ever. Cristian Diáz was dumped following a timid 2-0 capitulation against neighbours Arsenal de Sarandi, one which leaves the Rojo second-bottom of the relegation standings with an average points total of 1.15. Things have gone awry at an institutional level as well, with massive debts continuing to cast a shadow over the club, while their new stadium remains unfinished, despite having opened almost two years ago.
Despite an encouraging 3-3 draw away to Boca in the Copa Sudamericana, the Xeneize are favourites with Youwin to pass to the next round; Gallego’s reign starts after Wednesday night’s exertions and with three teams going straight down to the Nacional B this season, he must know that there will be no honeymoon period as he returns to the club with whom he lifted the 2002 Apertura – the last domestic title obtained by the sleeping giants.
Midfielder Hernán Fredes, who served under ‘El Tolo’ in his last stint, certainly has faith in his old boss to change the club’s fortunes. “Gallego is a great coach. He is hard working and very strict, and he knows exactly what this institution is. The change of air is very welcome”, the 25-year-old told La Red shortly after the comeback was confirmed.
But it remains to be seen whether the impact of the veteran coach can work miracles at a club that has failed to score in their first four fixtures of the season, and who suffered morale-damaging defeats against local rivals Racing Club and Arsenal in successive matches. With 34 games to claw their way out of the drop-zone, everything is not lost in Avellaneda, but Gallego will know that he will have precious little time to rejuvenate his demoralised charges and keep them clear of a first relegation in club history come June 2013.
Buenos Aires-based Dan Edwards is a freelance journalist specialising in Argentinian football, you can follow him on Twitter here