Carlos Tevez the leader behind Boca Juniors' double
Two domestic league and cup doubles in one calendar year with different clubs is not an achievement of which many players can boast -- perhaps no player at all; that is until Wednesday night. Carlos Tevez might have just become the first to manage it, as he's capped off a memorable 2015 in the last few days by helping Boca Juniors over the line to be crowned the new champions of Argentina and of the Copa Argentina; this following his double in Italy with Juventus earlier this year.
In truth, Tevez's accomplishment has been overshadowed by a huge storm over the refereeing in Cordoba for Wednesday night's cup final against Rosario Central, which saw two tight offside decisions go Boca's way -- one debatable one to disallow a Central goal in the first half, one to allow Andres Chavez to put Boca 2-0 up late on with a goal that shouldn't have stood -- and one huge mistake to award Boca a penalty for a foul committed well outside the box, which Nicolas Lodeiro converted to open the scoring.
Central's outrage is understandable, but it's remarkable that such an officiating scandal has overshadowed Tevez so completely, particularly given the adulation the Argentine media have for him, which has become more obvious since his return from Juventus. Tevez isn't without his critics at national team level, but at club level his input has proven as decisive for Boca as most people thought it would, if not more.
On Wednesday, Tevez was largely anonymous as he toiled up front alongside Jonathan Calleri, the two strikers receiving little support from those behind them. Tevez looked exhausted at the end; the match capped a nonstop run of playing which began with the start of the 2014-15 season in Italy. That shouldn't be allowed to overshadow his contribution to Boca's season though. It's possible Boca would have won the cup without him, but it's very hard to see how they would have claimed the league title with a week to spare had the prodigal son not returned.
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There's been no shortage of club favourites returning from the European big time to lead their sides to titles in recent years in Argentina. From Juan Sebastian Veron, who returned first as a player and now as club president at Estudiantes de La Plata, to Diego Milito, superb for Racing Club last year as they swept in some style to their first league title in 13 years, on to Lucho Gonzalez, who returned in time to add depth to River Plate's midfield for their successful Copa Libertadores campaign this year. It's become a well-established pattern.
Tevez always wanted to return to Boca while he still had something to offer the side, and before he was completely over the hill, and as soon as he signed it was apparent that it was going to be very hard for the other title-chasers to unseat Boca from the top of the league. Without playing particularly well, Boca had nine wins, four draws and two defeats at the time of Tevez's arrival, and were very much part of the title race.
Hope for the other title hopefuls came in the form of a pre-Copa America wobble from Boca which had seen one of those draws, and both the defeats, come in the last four matches before the league took a break for the international competition in Chile. Having not looked impressive even in victory until then, there were doubts about whether the side would cope with the run-in.
Tevez changed all that, and in the second half of the season, with one matchday left, Boca have lost more matches than in the first, but compensated by entirely doing away with draws -- they've recorded 11 wins and three defeats since Tevez joined, with Carlitos playing in 12 of those matches. He's contributed five league goals, but his real value has been in transmitting his experience and attitude to the younger players in the squad.
Defeats at home to Union de Santa Fe, a thrilling 4-3 final, and San Lorenzo, a 1-0 loss due to a late mistake from youngster Rodrigo Bentancur, and most recently away to Racing (3-1) all had the potential to add pressure, but after each defeat Boca got straight back to winning ways; the win that followed their Racing setback was the 1-0 victory over Tigre on Sunday that sealed the club's 31st league title.
Boca are not the most impressive recent champions of the Argentine league -- they've had neither the style of Gerardo Martino's 2013 Newell's Old Boys or last year's Racing, nor the solidity and consistency of 2013 San Lorenzo or 2014 River Plate -- but they've been very good at taking advantage of the easy points on offer from Argentina's mammoth 30-team top flight, and have made a real virtue of the old cliche that the form of champions is winning when not playing well.
With the league seeing clasico rivals play each other in the season's only home-and-away ties (otherwise everyone has only played everyone else once), they've also done the double over River Plate, exacting some small measure of revenge for the continental eliminations they've suffered at River's hands twice in the last year (one of which, Boca fans continue to insist, was unfair as they were thrown out of the Libertadores due to May's pepper spray attack).
The next superclasico, then, will be between Argentina's league and cup holders, and the champions of South America. Meanwhile, Boca's own focus will switch to following up the success of their two rivals, San Lorenzo and River, who've won the last two editions of the Copa Libertadores the year after they won the league title. On current evidence, Boca are going to have to make improvements to the squad to have a shot at that, but Tevez has the experience to lead from the front.
First, though, they've got one more game to finish the league season with, and they'd better be ready for a poisonous atmosphere: in a replay of Wednesday's cup final, they're away to a very angry Rosario Central on Sunday.
Sam Kelly is based in Buenos Aires and has been one of ESPNFC's South America correspondents since 2008. Twitter: @HEGS_com