Why CONMEBOL Must Act Against River Plate & Manager Marcelo Gallardo

Why CONMEBOL Must Act Against River Plate & Manager Marcelo Gallardo

The Copa Libertadores is madness. There is simultaneously no other way, and no better way to describe South America’s Champions League equivalent.

This is the competition that gave us pepper spray in the tunnel in 2015, a mad dash by a team bus through the streets of Quito in 2017, and a player celebrating in a car in 2018. And that’s only over the last 4 years.

But on Tuesday night, the Copa Libertadores might have outdone it all with a storyline so full of subplots it would surely take an entire soap opera season to cover them all.

Defending champions Grêmio had used a strong defensive performance and a timely set piece goal to take a 1×0 aggregate advantage over River Plate into their return leg in Porto Alegre. Though River Plate huffed and puffed in the opening half, it was Grêmio who took the lead, with fullback Leonardo half-volleying into the net to give the hosts a 2×0 lead on aggregate.

At halftime, with his team trailing 1×0 and in need of two goals, River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo knew he would have to give quite the team talk to inspire his men. There was only one problem: Gallardo had been given a touchline ban by CONMEBOL for his side’s tardiness returning to the pitch after halftime in the team’s home leg against Grêmio, effectively banning him from having any contact with his side during the match.

Gallardo wouldn’t let that stop him. Donning a cap and a jacket with the collar pulled high, Gallardo left his suite at the top level of the stadium and descended to the dressing room:

While no one knows exactly what happened in the dressing room, it is abundantly clear that Gallardo was present. The River Plate manager says so himself: “I thought that my team needed it… I broke a rule” Gallardo told journalists following the match’s dramatic conclusion.

Not only did Gallardo talk to his team at halftime, he spent the entirety of the match in communication with his assistant Matias Biscay through a radio that River didn’t even attempt to properly disguise:

Had Grêmio held on to their 1×0 advantage in the second half, this would be nothing more than a silly subplot to another chapter in the history of the Libertadores. But as you surely already know, they didn’t. First, a potentially controversial goal from Rafael Santos Borre got the visitors back into the tie:

Then substitute defender Bressan was ruled to have handled the ball in the box after the official, Uruguayan Andrés Cunha, consulted VAR and River Plate’s Pity Martínez calmly struck the penalty home.

Grêmio were gutted. Their Libertadores dream, 15 minutes away from reaching a final chapter, was shattered. Said goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe: “We had the game in our hands.”

With Boca Juniors then prevailing the following night in São Paulo against Palmeiras, River’s win set up a mouth-watering first ever superclásico final in the Libertadores.

But seeing as this is the Libertadores, the story doesn’t, and shouldn’t, end there. In the immediate aftermath, Grêmio filed a protest to CONMEBOL alleging that Gallardo’s behavior should result in a 3×0 walkover being awarded to the Brazilian side. 

Some important things to consider:

  • Grêmio HAVE submitted their protest in the necessary 24-hour time window. As we saw earlier this year with the Bruno Zuculini case, when River’s midfielder failed to properly serve a Libertadores suspension dating from 2013, submission of the protest within the 24-hour time period is critical. The failure of River’s group stage opponents to do so allowed the Argentine giants to stay in the competition.
  • Grêmio are NOT protesting either of the rulings made by VAR. While they believe VAR should have been consulted in the aftermath of River Plate’s first goal, they accept the decisions of the referee.
  • CONMEBOL rules aren’t particularly clear about punishment for managers who violate a touchline ban. Though the rules prohibit ineligible players from being involved, there’s nothing on the books for how to handle a case where an ineligible manager is involved.
  • Though there’s no CONMEBOL rules in place, there is precedent. As first pointed out by the Argentine daily Clarín, in 2017 Uruguayan club Sud América were handed a 3×0 walkover loss against Danubio after their manager failed to heed a touchline ban of his own. While this ruling was made by the Uruguayan FA and not CONMEBOL, it’s worth remembering as this case plays out.

So then, what are CONMEBOL to do? In this year in particular, when two clubs (Santos & Deportes Temuco) were handed 3×0 walkover losses in continental competition for inadvertently allowing an ineligible player to play, CONMEBOL should deliver the maximum possible punishment to Gallardo and River Plate for their flagrant disregard of the confederation’s rules.

Yes, you read that right.

Consider this: Gallardo not only broke CONMEBOL rules, he did so in a manner that was both premeditated and supported by his club. That is to say, Gallardo didn’t just go to the dressing room at halftime in a spur of the moment decision. He, with the assistance of his club, set up an illegal line of communication between himself and his assistant. Then had the audacity to admit to it afterwards.

Gallardo’s behavior was brazen. It reeked of a man and a club who view themselves as above the law. In other words, Gallardo, and crucially, River Plate, are practically challenging CONMEBOL to act. If they don’t, the confederation will give license to other clubs to act this way in the future, to say nothing of giving voice to the baseless conspiracy theories that allege the confederation favors Argentine clubs.

While CONMEBOL could simply levy a heavy fine against Gallardo himself, ban him from the touchline for the final (and perhaps beyond), that would be a punishment for only part of those involved. Because River Plate as a club didn’t just turn a blind eye to Gallardo’s flaunting of the rules, they assisted him in breaking them.

While such a decision would spoil the dream superclásico, that is not a matter that CONMEBOL should take into consideration. They should consider only the facts of the case, which are these: River Plate’s manager, with the assistance of his club, knowingly and willingly sought to have an effect on the match when he had been clearly banned by the confederation from doing so.

And that is worthy of a walkover.

Austin Miller is a South American football journalist based in the United States. He can be found on Twitter @Austin_James906


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    • comment-avatar
      Walter 6 years ago

      must act to make our South American Soccer as great as the world deserves. Please act in favor of Gremio, what River Plate’s coach Gallardo did is a shame for all of us.

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    Klaus 6 years ago

    You gloss over one thing which I think matters. Gallardo’s suspension in the first place came because in the first round River Plate came out at half time 80 seconds too late. Banning a coach because of this infraction is a bit unbalanced. I don’t think its reasonable to be penalized for the second match in that way. River Plate didn’t “cheat” Grêmio in the first game, come on. So now you turn a situation where no cheating was involved into situation where you can make it about cheating. I think a fine or other sanciones would suffice and STOP interfering with the game! You cannot have a structure where game results are decided administratively if you want futbol to keep its spirit! SAY NO TO UNSPORTMANLIKE DECISION MAKING.

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    Austin, stick to what US sportsfan know best: NFL n baseball. Leave futbol to those that love and live the best sport in the world to the people and professionals with the knowledge and experience in the field, Argentina and Brasil.
    BTW, Gallardo was firstly penalized (unfairly) for entering the field 2 minutes after.

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    I honestly can’t tell if you’re trolling or you just have no idea what you’re talking about. First, he wasn’t late, a player (Montiel) slipped while going out for the second half in their terrible dugout and had to be taken care of by the medical staff. Second, that’s motive for a fine, but not to penalize the manager by booting him from the most important match of the year. Third, CONMEBOL announced this on the DAY BEFORE the match without letting the team prepare nor appeal the decision, if they’re going to do that they should do so much, much sooner. Fourth, the walkie talkie was not ever banned. This more than anything else shows that you’re clueless. And fifth, Gallardo was never hiding. No matter how you spin this, wearing a jacket and hat is not hiding, and in fact he left the lockerroom with his sweatshirt in his had and no hat, and even had a discussion with people who were nearby. This last point is the one that shows how biased you are. You’re a joke.

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      Rogério Penna 5 years ago

      CONMEBOL penalized Santos with a 3-0 defeat in the DAY of the match. Even worse.

      As for Gallardo not hiding, EVEN WORSE. He openly shamed and defied CONMEBOL and the rules.

      No matter how you try to hide it, he DID try to be inconspicuous when going to the locker room and when a CONMEBOL assistant tried to enter the locker room to see what was happening, a River Plate security staff blocked him!

      Anyway, you got what you deserved. The biggest shame on the history of South American football.

      Go play the final of the Conquistadores de La America in Madrid now.

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    ur an idiot bro or your trolling.Gallardo wasn’t hiding and he even told the cameramen to come closer and take a picture. Also the walkietalkie was never banned and he was unfairly punished the first game for coming onto the field 80 seconds late, which is usually just a fine, not a suspension. And it wasn’t his fault, one of his players hurt himself. If anything the COMNEBOL is biased against argentinean teams, not for them. Both argentinean teams had their coaches banned for something which is usually just a small fine

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      The walkie-talkie was banned, coach was not allowed to use it. It was clarified in Argentine media that it was banned.

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    Rules are rules. You have to follow the rules.

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    Ricardo Cortes-Monroy 6 years ago

    Austin, mind American Football or Basketball. Clearly you understand close to nothing about real “fútbol”. Not a word of the permanent cheating by Gremio, during 180 minutes. Let the best win, which is what happened

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    Let soccer be decided on the field.
    Grêmio tried to cheat throughout the game. Their goalkeeper jacked injury 6 times.
    The ball boys wasted 30 seconds every time there was a throw in and used only one ball. When Grêmio were losing suddenly a dozen balls appeared.
    Many Grêmio players wasted time even in the first half.
    Finally Grêmio players attacked and pushed referee. Are they banned? That would never be tolerated in NFL, NBA or Baseball.
    Grêmio are a disgrace and the mist anti-soccer team there is.
    Gallardo should be fined and let’s move on.

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      Rogerio Penna 5 years ago

      The goalkeeper cheated? The goalkeeper BROKE A RIB after a shock with a River Plate player!

      Did you know the goalkeeper has not played again for Grêmio in the Brazilian League since the match against River Plate??

      Anyway, you got what you deserved. The biggest shame on the history of South American football.

      Go play the final of the Conquistadores de La America in Madrid now.