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 By Sam Kelly

Boca Juniors crying out for a vision after Rodolfo Arruabarrena's sacking

Rodolfo Arruabarrena's Boca Juniors face a 1-0 deficit in their Copa Libertadores tie with long-time rivals River Plate.
Boca Juniors sacked manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena on Monday after a series of poor results.

If a week can be a long time in football, four months can be an age, and it's certainly seemed like that for Boca Juniors fans.

In early November, they were celebrating a Copa Argentina final win to add to the league title they'd claimed days earlier. But on Monday, Rodolfo Arruabarrena, the manager who'd overseen those trophy wins, was fired after a 1-0 defeat away to Racing in the Primera Division.

Directionless and seeming chronically unable to get meaningful wins over their rivals, the champions are in full crisis mode just five games into the new league campaign.

Often too much is made in Argentina of how the big sides do in the summer friendly championships -- played for much of January -- which generally give few clues as to how the more meaningful performances to come will pan out.

Boca this year, though, looked bereft of ideas throughout January, and it's a problem which was obvious even prior to the summer.

In fact, many would say Boca's performances so far this year haven't been hugely different to how they played for most of last year.

That's been a problem because the mere fact that Boca won the domestic double last year might have told the most immediately important part of the story, but it told far from the whole story.

If Arruabarrena delivered the double, then it was a delivery which seemed to have had the packaging tampered with, and in any case wasn't what the recipients really wanted. The trophies were celebrated, of course, but neither was a truly convincing triumph (indeed, the refereeing in the cup final caused such a scandal that even Argentine FA president Luis Segura felt forced to weigh-in on).

Triumphs in the domestic league and cup least year did not help mask the issues inherent in the current Boca Juniors setup.

What they'd really wanted -- what Boca always really want -- was the Copa Libertadores.

Not winning the Libertadores might have been forgivable, but of all the clubs who might have won it, of course, the ones who did were River Plate -- and they knocked Boca out on the way.

The circumstances of that elimination, as Boca were thrown out of the tournament after the infamous pepper spray attack, masked the fact that, as Juan Roman Riquelme said afterwards, "Boca didn't manage a shot in the first half [of the second leg]."

Arruabarrena's biggest problem, throughout his spell in charge, was an inability to get the results that mattered in the biggest games. The Libertadores elimination to River was the second time in a few months Boca had gone out of continental competition to their bitter rivals, having lost in the semifinals of the 2014 Copa Sudamericana (which River also went on to win).

In total, in matches against the rest of Argentina's "Big Five" (River, Racing, Independiente and San Lorenzo), Arruabarrena recorded three wins, four draws and eight defeats. Two of those wins were against River in the league -- but those got well and truly overshadowed in the cups.

That, perhaps, is why Sunday evening's defeat to Racing hurt so much, because Boca have two more big games coming up in quick succession. On Thursday evening, behind closed doors (a punishment for the pepper spray attack), Boca meet Racing again in the Copa Libertadores group stage.

After a drab 0-0 draw away to Deportivo Cali in the first group game, and with a potentially punishing trip to the altitude of La Paz to take on Bolivar in the next, it already feels like a match that Boca have to win. But they have an even bigger game on Sunday, when they visit River in the Superclasico.

Arruabarrena, walking wounded since the start of the campaign, was giving few indications of being able to turn things around for such a run of fixtures.

His days appeared numbered ever since a 4-0 defeat to San Lorenzo in the Argentine Super Cup a few days after the start of the league season; a 1-0 defeat at home to Atletico Tucuman days later was expected to mark the end, but was followed by two straight wins in the league before Sunday's loss.

With rivals starting to click in either the league or the Libertadores and Boca continuing to look like a side without any clear ideas, club president Daniel Angelici finally decided it was time to move.

So who's next? Rolando Schiavi, the reserve team boss, a Libertadores, Intercontinental Cup and multiple league title winner during his playing days, was originally expected take charge for Thursday's game against Racing and Sunday's visit to River on a caretaker basis.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto has been linked with the vacant position at La Bombonera.

That went out of the window, though, when the board spoke to Guillermo Barros Schelotto on Tuesday afternoon. Barros Schelotto recently parted company with Palermo in Serie A due to not having sufficient managerial experience yet to obtain a UEFA licence. Often linked with a move to MLS, he had an impressive spell at Lanus between 2012 and 2015 during which he was frequently touted as a future manager of Boca, for whom he played for a wildly successful decade between 1997 and 2007.

Barros Schelotto made several demands of the club, the most pressing being that he wanted to take charge immediately rather than waiting until next week. He'll go into the game against Racing with only one training session under his belt -- on Wednesday afternoon -- but clearly wants to show the players and fans he can front up to the pressures of the job.

Another major condition is that Carlos Tevez's influence over team affairs will diminish, as Barros Schelotto and his twin brother (and assistant) Gustavo feel the player has been given too much of a free rein to dictate footballing policy.

The new man will have the blessing of the fans but what Boca need right now is someone, anyone, who can give them some sort of direction.

Sam Kelly covers Argentine football and the Argentine national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @HEGS_com.


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