Why did Argentina's players go on strike? And how did it get resolved?
The second half of the 2016-17 season was supposed to get underway in Argentina on March 3. Instead, after a week of arguments and confusion, the weekend's top-flight fixtures were called off late that day, even after the first two games should have been played.
After days of protracted and difficult negotiations, the players' union and Argentine FA eventually signed a deal to end the strike around lunchtime on Wednesday. And Thursday night saw the official resumption: Mariano Pavone's 89th minute goal gave Velez Sarsfield a 3-2 home win over Estudiantes.
How did this happen? And how did they get things resolved?
Why did the players go on strike?
Late last Thursday night, the players' union Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados voted to strike for the weekend games over unpaid wages. Not all players are owed money -- River Plate's treasurer confirmed to ESPN FC that their squad's wage bill is up to date, for example -- but those who had been paid chose to stand with those who hadn't.
Ramiro Montenegro, a defender for Primera B (third division) side Excursionistas de Belgrano, was owed such a significant amount in wages that he had to choose between paying his rent or spending money on food for his three children.
His is one of many examples. Agremiados wrote an open letter to the Argentine Football Association (AFA) when they first threatened strike action last Friday saying that "numerous clubs... owe salaries, in some cases dating back four months."
So why don't the clubs just pay the players?
It's hard to give one single reason without oversimplifying, but in short, in most cases the money didn't seem to be there. In mid-January, the AFA published a list of 14 clubs who would be forbidden from registering new signings until their debts with the association were paid off -- and those are just the top-flight clubs.
Clubs owing money to the AFA often do so because the organisation has given them an advance on TV payments in order to make payments to their squads in the past. As the AFA is forced to reform and become more transparent, the situation is changing and has led to the current impasse.
How is the AFA reforming?
Slowly, and with more than a few false starts. Julio Grondona's death shortly after the 2014 World Cup following 35 years as AFA president left a power vacuum that still exists.
In December 2015, elections were held to choose a new head and in a vote between media mogul (and San Lorenzo vice president) Marcelo Tinelli and incumbent Luis Segura, who as AFA VP had seen out what remained of Grondona's mandate, 75 directors somehow managed to produce a 38-38 tie.
In 2016, FIFA imposed a Normalisation Committee to run the AFA's affairs, headed by Belgrano de Cordoba president Armando Perez. That committee is in charge until new elections can be held under a new (again largely FIFA-imposed) AFA statute which was recently approved.
Those elections were scheduled for later this month, although even here there has been an argument after the AFA tried to modify a clause in the new statute that would allow CONMEBOL to carry out background checks on any prospective AFA presidents. The AFA wants to have those checks run by the Buenos Aires College of Lawyers, whose vice-president is Boca Juniors president Daniel Angelici, but since the AFA president gains an automatic place on CONMEBOL's board, FIFA and the continental confederation wrote to AFA last week to inform them that this particular article of the statute wasn't up for negotiation.
Refusal to cede to their demands could even see Argentina suspended from international competition for a month, which would presumably mean their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Bolivia being recorded as walkovers.
On Wednesday, Perez confirmed to La Nacion that the elections had been postponed temporarily while the dispute over the article was sorted out.
Isn't there a new TV deal that could help clubs pay wages?
Somehow, in the face of all this disorganisation, the AFA does seem to have one product on its hands that people want to buy. The government's withdrawal from the TV-rights-as-state-subsidy Futbol Para Todos (Football For All) programme, which had run since 2009, has opened Argentine football up to accept bids from private companies again and three broadcasting giants (ESPN, Fox Sports and Spanish group Mediapro) are currently having their bids analysed.
A AR$1.2 billion "key" payment is built into all three bids, meaning whoever wins the rights will have to transfer that amount to the AFA immediately as an advance before broadcasting starts in the second half of this year.
The idea was that this payment would help clubs get up to date with their payments to staff and players, but the decision to take more time than originally intended to consider the bids means the new rights holders haven't yet been decided. Therefore, that payment hasn't yet gone through, leading to the current predicament.
So were there any matches in Argentina last weekend?
Only the Primera D (the fifth divisions) went ahead on schedule. It's an amateur division anyway, meaning those clubs fielded their normal teams, but the weekend in the other two lower divisions, the Primera B and Primera C, was called off along with the Primera. The B Nacional (the second division) wasn't scheduled to restart until this upcoming weekend in any case, remaining insulated from the chaos for now.
In the Primera, things only became clear on Friday night. The two matches scheduled for Friday, Rosario Central vs. Godoy Cruz and San Lorenzo vs. Belgrano, were postponed just hours before kick-off even though the away teams, Belgrano and Godoy Cruz, had already travelled hundreds of miles, as a meeting was called for 7 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET, 10 p.m. GMT) in which directors again tried to convince union head Sergio Marchi to lift the strike. Those attempts were fruitless, however, and at 10.30 p.m. local time the AFA confirmed that the entire top flight round of matches was postponed.
How did things get resolved?
An agreement was eventually signed on Wednesday afternoon, at the Ministory of Labour. The players' union had protested that the money paid didn't cover the full amount owed to its members, but on Wednesday title sponsors of the top flight championship, Axion Energy, agreed to pay AR$40m which, added to the AR$40m already put up by international rights holders Trisa, and AR$7m from production company Torneos, was enough for confirmation to finally come (after a first agreement was scuppered by some small print).
After an 80-day break, there was domestic football once more in Argentina.
Sam Kelly is based in Buenos Aires and has been one of ESPNFC's South America correspondents since 2008. Twitter: @HEGS_com