Though it may sound strange to some, especially those who do not keep abreast of the ups and downs of Argentinian football, few clubs have made as much of a contribution to shaping the identity and the success of the country’s number-one sport as Asociacion Atletica Argentinos Juniors.
Los Bichos Colorados, to give them their most commonly used nickname, are not regarded as one of the nation’s so-called Big Five, yet their lasting achievement has been to remain loyal to their footballing philosophy, which has led to them producing some of the most gifted and successful players to have graced the Argentinian game.
Diego Maradona, Juan Roman Riquelme, Claudio Borghi, Fernando Redondo and Esteban Cambiasso are just some of the talents to have emerged from the Argentinos academy. During the course of their history, the club from the modest Buenos Aires suburb of La Paternal have conquered Latin America and given as good as they got against Michel Platini’s Juventus.
In tribute to the club, FIFA.com tells the story of their 107-year existence.
Birth of an institution
The origins of Argentinos Juniors can be traced to 1886, when the Chicago Martyrs, a group of trade unionists who died in their fight for better working conditions in the USA, inspired the world with their socialist ideas. In their honour a football club called Los Mártires de Chicago was created thousands of miles away in Argentina. Some 18 years later, that club merged with another by the name of Sol de Victoria to form the Asociacion Atletica y Futbolistica Argentinos Unidos de Villa Crespo.
The new outfit’s lengthy name caused a problem when it came to creating the club’s badge and it was subsequently shortened to Asociacion Atletica Argentinos Juniors. Its founders also quickly came to agreement on the team’s colours, deciding to replace the existing green and white kit with a red and black strip in tribute to the Socialist Party, which had just had its first member of parliament, Alfredo Palacios, elected to Argentina’s National Congress.
The making of a legend
Just like every other club in Argentina, Argentinos Juniors had to fight hard to consolidate their place in the national first division. They achieved promotion for the first time in 1921 and stayed in the top flight for the next 16 years, at the end of which the club was immersed in crisis, having been evicted from their stadium and seen membership fall to barely 100.
Their battle to return to the top tier would continue over their next few years until their commitment to cultured football and a stylish passing game bore fruit in 1955. That team, coached by Francisco Fandino, played football that was a joy to behold and became known as El Tifón de Boyacá (“The Typhoon of Boyaca”, the street on which the club’s stadium is located).
The reputation Argentinos acquired made it easier for them to attract talented youngsters to their youth teams, among them one Diego Armando Maradona.
“They gave me a trial but they thought I was lying about my age and made me bring my papers the next day,” said El Diez who, with his sublime left foot, was the figurehead of Los Cebollitas, an Argentinos youth team that went down in history. Famed for crushing opposing sides, they captured the imagination of the fans and the football media, and it came as no surprise when the 15-year-old Maradona made his first division debut in 1976.
Inspired by Pelusa, Argentinos made a name for themselves on the international front and acquired an army of followers. Maradona was the league’s top scorer for four straight seasons and the team, staying loyal to its time-honoured philosophy, finished championship runners-up in 1980.
Argentinos Juniors is my home. Every time I hear the name of the stadium I get shivers down my spine.
Curiously, Maradona’s departure to Boca Juniors marked the beginning of the club’s golden age. In 1984 and with Roberto Saporiti at the helm, El Bicho won its first trophy of the professional era, the Metropolitano, as the national league was then known. The inspiration for that triumph was provided by the likes of Claudio Borghi, Sergio Batista and Pedro Pasculli, all of whom would appear alongside Maradona in Argentina’s FIFA World Cup™-winning squad in Mexico two years later.
That landmark win was just the start. The following year, under the tutelage of Jose Yudica, Argentinos enjoyed an unforgettable run of success, winning the league title (by this time known as the Torneo Nacional) and overcoming America de Cali in the Copa Libertadores final, the prelude to their defeat of Trinidad and Tobago’s Defence Force in the Copa Interamericana a season later. They ended 1985 by playing out one of the most memorable Intercontinental Cup finals of all time with Platini’s Juventus, going down only on penalties.
“If I’d played ten more games like the one against Juventus, I’d have been bigger than Maradona,” Borghi, one of the stars of the side, later said.
Financial problems would surface again in the 1990s, however, forcing the club to relocate to the province of Mendoza and sell some of their most promising rising stars. Having learned the ropes with the club from La Paternal, the likes of Cambiasso and Riquelme moved on to make their maiden first division appearances elsewhere.
The relegations of 1996 and 2002 threatened the very existence of the club, though not for the first time it was rescued by its commitment to nurturing gifted prodigies and the pride of its season-ticket holders. After making their way back into the first division and returning home to re-open their stadium, Argentinos won the 2010 Clausura, with former playing idol Borghi this time in the dugout.
Though some way short of the heights of the 1980s, Argentinos Juniors are enjoying a relatively comfortable existence in the first division these days. Semi-finalists in the 2008 Copa Sudamericana, El Bicho also appeared in the Copa Libertadores last year. The club now owns its own home, a mini stadium and two complexes where a wide range of other sports are played: Las Malvinas Sports Centre and the Diego Armando Maradona Football Complex.
Argentinos have changed their home many times over the years, playing their home games at the grounds of Huracan, Atlanta and Deportivo Espanol, the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas of Mendoza and even in Miami for a Super Cup match. It was with great glee, then, that the club’s supporters celebrated the reopening of their home ground on 26 December 2003.
Originally founded in 1940 and boasting a capacity of over 20,000, the stadium was renamed the Estadio Diego Armando Maradona. “Argentinos Juniors is my home. Every time I hear the name of the stadium I get shivers down my spine,” said Maradona in the film Bichos Criollos, which documents the history of the club and has just opened in a number of cinemas.