Remote Argentine club sows seeds of success

JUNIN, Argentina, May 6 (Reuters) - Basing success as a football club on a good youth scheme is not exclusively the domain of a team such as Barcelona or Boca Juniors.

Sarmiento, top of Argentina's third-tier Primera B, serve as an example of how a team should be run if their ambition is to recover the place in the top flight they once enjoyed.

At a time when the biggest clubs in the country, Boca and arch-rivals River Plate, have lost their way because they turned their backs on their once golden youth schemes, Sarmiento are a beacon of common sense.

Sarmiento, from the farming city of Junin deep in the pampas 260 km west of Buenos Aires, are one of hundreds of clubs that sprang up during the expansion of the railways early last century. They celebrate their centenary next year.

Coach Mario Finarolli, who spoke to Reuters at his home in central Junin, said a simple truth of the pampas illustrated Sarmiento's position as they pursue their dream of promotion to the second-tier Nacional B.

"In Junin, when there's a storm, the first trees to fall are the eucalyptus because they have few roots," he said.

"In football it's the same, if there are no roots, a base to carry through a project, things get very hard," said Finarolli, who knows a bit about building, having started architectural studies at university in Buenos Aires in the 1970s before opting full-time for football.

UNBEATEN RUN

Sarmiento have led the promotion race all season, their best since they played in the top flight in the early 1980s, going on a 28-match unbeaten run that ended recently although they have clung to first place.

The 57-year-old Finarolli is well aware Sarmiento's promotion dream could be dashed at the end of a long, gruelling season with only the Primera B champions going up automatically and chances of a second team earning promotion stacked heavily against them.

"In the Nacional B if you have a good campaign, you have four chances of being promoted (to the first division).

"Here (in the Primera B) no, here you have one promotion and after that there's a four-team playoff and if you win that you can play another (playoff) against a team from the Nacional B ...who usually win it."

There is no away goals rule and no penalties so if the play-off is drawn the Nacional B team retain their status.

Finarolli, speaking in the dining room of the Spanish style house which he designed himself in a quiet cul-de-sac, said succeeding in the Primera B was a tough struggle.

"It's very complicated, half the pitches are not good, there's the refereeing issue...lots of things come together so even if you have a good team there's nothing to guarantee you'll go up."

The second tier brings huge advantages, however.

"In the Nacional B you have more expenses because you travel a lot more but also much more revenue because of television, sponsors.

"You're much closer to the A (division), it's much easier to go up from the Nacional B to the A."

PROGRESSIVE BOARD

Finarolli is a former striker who emerged at River Plate and played for Sarmiento after three years in Spain with Elche and a season at Argentinos Juniors with the teenage Diego Maradona. He has made Junin his home and has had several spells as their coach.

He said a new, young and committed board of directors had transformed the club, in contrast to administrations that so often bled Argentine clubs of their funds through mismanagement or worse.

"They need to consolidate it all with promotion to a higher division where income would be much greater," he said.

"Every year Sarmiento used to have the problem of going to Buenos Aires to find 10 to 12 players, which means 10 to 12 salaries, 10 to 12 houses and come the end of the year, of those 10 or 12, maybe one or two would stay.

"This season we went to get six...the previous year it was four. Before, every year we had a different team. Now the majority (of the players) are from Junin."

It might be fitting that in a year when Maradona's Argentina go in search of the country's third World Cup, the club that unearthed Daniel Passarella, who captained them to their first title, should begin the road back towards the top.


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