Bloomberg Línea — Andrés Ibarra, who is standing as a candidate to occupy Boca Juniors soccer club’s presidency, tells Bloomberg Línea that “there is nothing to do with national politics” in the club’s current electoral process, and that the return of Mauricio Macri would be framed within the vision of “relaunching a golden era” for the club.
“The former president of Argentina [Macri] is also a former president of Boca, who led Boca to become among the five most important clubs in the world, winning four Libertadores trophies, two intercontinental tournaments and 16 titles in total. So politics has nothing to do here,” Ibarra said.
“What it has to do is to give Boca the management that Boca needs,” he said in a conversation at the Hotel Emperador in Buenos Aires.
Macri, president of Boca between 1995 and 2007 and president of Argentina between 2015 and 2019, now seeks to return to the club as vice president on Ibarra’s ticket.
Among the duo’s main proposals is the construction of a new stadium, the “Bombonera Siglo XXI”, and which is expected to cost in the region of $390 million.
Macri shared photos of the projected stadium on his X account on November 25, describing it as “a spectacular work that the club that was the best in the world deserves”.
In an interview conducted an hour before judge Alejandra Abrevaya, of the National Court of First Instance in Civil Matters No. 11, issued a precautionary measure to “suspend the act of elections” at Boca Juniors until “the situation of irregularities detected in the electoral roll” is resolved, Ibarra listed several criticisms toward the current management of Jorge Ameal and Juan Román Riquelme.
While waiting for the date to be set for the approximately 100,000 active Boca members to go to the polls -originally the elections were to be held this Sunday, December 3 - Ibarra asked the courts to clarify the alleged irregularities in the club’s electoral process.
Watch a video of what the new Boca Juniors stadium would look like:
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
Bloomberg Línea: Boca Jujniors went from being in the final of the Libertadores to losing it and then not qualifying for the 2024 edition. Do you think it was a matter of fortune? What criticism would you make of the current management of the club?
Andrés Ibarra: I think Boca’s professional soccer has been badly managed, within the framework of a serious management problem of the current leadership. We have been pointing out for some time now a number of problems that have to do with the number of players that were released, which we estimate caused losses of $35 million for the club. That is a lot of money that could have been used both to strengthen the team and for infrastructure works, if they had complied, so to speak, with the expansion project of the Bombonera stadium.
Which are the most valuable players in the team?
Nahuel Molina, who is in the Argentine national team. Cristian Pavón, Carlos Izquierdoz, who was an emblematic case, because he was in his best moment while captain of the team.
And I do not include Mateo Retegui, who, incredibly, Boca did not exercise his right to participate in play-offs at the end of last year, which was very surprising. Furthermore, a bad soccer organization, from my point of view, has generated a lot of problems in the locker room, due to the functioning of the soccer board of directors, with so many people influencing the relationship with the locker room. And from my point of view, the organization working without putting pressure on the players was very bad. This clearly affected the performance and in the long run these things are also seen in a squad with very bad reinforcements, with players who unfortunately never performed at Boca, such as Nicolás Orsini, Juan Edgardo Ramírez, or Norberto Briasco, who is now playing a little more, but... In short, I believe that reinforcements were not brought in at the level of what Boca needed.
There was also dubious planning for the youth squad, where a good number of young players made their debut, who were generated in Boca’s youth academy under the previous management, but who did not have continuity, as in the case of Barco, who had made his debut years ago. This year we did not win anything, we barely reached the final of the Libertadores, the semifinal of the Argentine Cup, and we did not qualify for next year’s Libertadores. The truth is that the results were very bad.
Juan Román Riquelme said that Mauricio Macri had called him when he lost the 2019 primary elections to ask him to go to Boca with Christian Gribaudo. What was your reaction to that statement?
I am not aware of it. You would have to ask Mauricio.
If we look at the management of River Plate during the last decade, with the expansion of its stadium, players coming out of the lower leagues and sports results, what was done well there that could be emulated by the management at Boca?
I would not take River as a reference, although objectively they have had good results. As I said, I want to take Boca to among the top five clubs in the world. As it was during my time as general manager with Mauricio Macri, during that golden era. That was when we were number one in the FIFA ranking. Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, all those clubs have projects for the future, and they essentially work with well-organized professional soccer, with a sporting director, a suitable coach and reinforced teams. With a good combination of youth and adequate reinforcements. So, strong professional soccer, a professionally managed youth academy, and Argentina is also a natural talent generator, and Boca has to be number one in that. Thirdly, obviously, [we need] a stadium to match. In order to be a first-world club. And in Boca’s case, to give the possibility for its fans and members to go to the stadium. So, those are the projects we propose. We are looking back to our golden age. We want to recreate it, but updated to the 21st century. And on the other hand, what other clubs in the world are doing.
How do you view the addition of so many members, who have very few rights, but who have clearly become an important source of income for the club?
The incorporation of new members in this last stage was very irresponsible. Because the idea behind the creation of the adherent members at the beginning of the previous administration, and in which I participated in the idea, was that many people wanted to participate in Boca and have a degree of belonging. But with the illusion of those members to become active in a period of time of no more than five or six years, when this management decides, for exclusively economic reasons, to allow for 107,000 more adherent members, it is crazy. Today we are at around 170,000-180,000 adherent members, and 107,000 came onboard in this administration. And this without having given a solution to the active members to access the stadium. You have to generate measures that at least do not harm the active members, who are the first to have the right to access the stadium. And secondly, for those people who voluntarily became members, but with the expectation of being active in X or Y period of time, however, with that volume, you cannot give them any security. That is why our proposal of the Bombonera Siglo XXI stadium is the definitive solution in La Boca.
There are members who are completing 10 years of not having been active members, despite that initial promise during Daniel Angelici’s administration. Why did that situation end up happening during Daniel Angelici’s administration, too?
No, well, there were priorities that were fulfilled. And at the end of Angelici’s administration the total number of supporters was fewer than 60,000, approximately. And well, with 60,000 at an average of 3,000-5,000 per year, you could add assets in the following five years. And that was the initial plan, to have 50,000 members. Approximately, you could get there in five to seven years. That was manageable, but if you add 107,000 more, it is an unmanageable stock.
And is there any plan to contain this number of adherent members until the new stadium is built?
We have ideas, because today they have practically no benefits. The idea is that in the current Bombonera, when the new stadium is built, the adherent members can watch the matches for free on screens that we are going to put in the box area, at the same time that the matches are being played in the Bombonera Siglo XXI, so that they can experience the atmosphere around the matches. That is what we are going to do. And there will be a good capacity for them to watch freely. In the meantime, we have some ideas to alleviate that situation, such as that those with more seniority stop paying their fee. Then we will see how this plan evolves, to see what else we can add. We are going to give some direct benefits to the members.
It is approximately 50 years since the former president of Boca, Alberto J. Armando, promised and began to manage a new stadium. Five decades of unfulfilled promises. Why should Boca’s members believe in this new promise? And how would the new stadium be financed in such a difficult context for international credit in Argentina?
Because this is the first time that the project is not just a model. It is a work plan, an executed project, presented to the legislature of the city of Buenos Aires, so that it approves the re-zoning of the lands that are ours. We do not have to buy land, it already belongs to Boca. We do it there, in La Boca, in the club. We do not have to buy properties, nor does anyone have to expropriate them. It only depends on the approvals of the legislature and the city government for us to start executing the works plan. On the other hand, the business plan has been finalized. The financing is fully defined. With the five-to-six year pre-sale of the boxes and stalls, as a result of the increase in capacity, plus the main sponsors, such as the naming of the stadium, plus other sponsors, commercial premises, restaurants, all of them will bring revenues that will contribute to the financing of the stadium. And in the event that there is a financial gap, because there are more construction expenses than income from the fees, we also have proposals for concrete financing from investment funds. As a way of backing up that financing. But we will try to finance everything with direct revenues without paying a financial cost.
You have denounced cases of people who have become members “on the left” during this administration. Do you have proof that this has happened?
We have had complaints from affected adherent members. These members have filed complaints before the courts. In that sense, what we are asking, in solidarity with possible irregular situations, is that the judiciary analyzes the situation of the electoral roll, which we had already stated had irregularities or inconsistencies. As far as I understand it from the experts’ reports, it was clear that there were cases of people who at three o’clock in the afternoon became members, and at five o’clock in the afternoon they became active. When at the same time they had members who had been waiting for 10-11 years. This is an issue that was raised in the courts, because it directly affects the voters’ list. If on top of that they are friends of the current leadership... There is a lot of discontent among active members who are also unable to go to the field today.
What is the plan for those active members who cannot go to the stadium? Or is it a question of being patient until the new stadium is built?
It has to do with the proposals we are making in technology. We are going to handle the issue of active members who have the right to go to the stadium in a much more flexible way. The filters that have been used up to now are rigid, and suddenly very senior members cannot go to the stadium anymore because they do not reach that level. So what we are going to do is a rotating scheme, so that all members have the opportunity to register and enter the stadium. This is for the transition, because obviously the definitive solution is the new Bombonera XXI century stadium.
What is the estimated cost of the Bombonera Siglo XXI?
Approximately $390 million.
And as for the crowd accesses to La Boca, which are already collapsed on match days, what is your plan for the area so that this will stop happening?
The stadium will be accompanied by other solutions that must be provided, on the one hand, for the parking lots, with new buildings in the same area and substantially expanding the parking lot that Boca has today. We are also evaluating the periphery, traffic functionality alternatives and works to decongest Patricios and Montes de Oca, because the stadium will be facing Almirante Brown. We have foreseen the traffic flow and we are going to work hard with the city government so that it operates in a way that allows decongesting with the metrobus scheme. As if it were, for example, the Atlético de Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium, which has a subway station there. And the truth is that the operation of the subway trains is spectacular, because the city foresees a peak in the number of trains, in the number of cars, so that there is a permanent affluence and periodicity. So you are decongesting the stadium and you don’t even realize it. People practically do not stop. We have to do something similar here in Buenos Aires. Another idea is to see if we can make use of the train that passes behind Boca’s stadium, which goes all the way to Puerto Madero. We want to see if we can integrate passengers there.
Do you have in mind names of players you would look for if you win in 2024?
No, we have names but I will be very respectful. I will wait for the definition of Boca’s sporting director, and of course the coach, who will be Martin Palermo, so that we can talk about the reinforcements for the squad.
Why the decision to look for Palermo, with the risk of “burning” an idol who comes with the experience of managing only smaller clubs, and without titles?
Well, this is not exactly Martin’s case. He has been a first division coach for 12 years. In those teams the objective or success is given by other situations. For example, he qualified Arsenal for the first time in its history to the Copa Libertadores in 2014-2016. He qualified Aldosivi for the first time to the quarterfinals of the Copa de la Liga. He was runner-up in Chile. The work he did in Platense was very impressive and recognized by all the people. He took them out of the relegation zone. He qualified to play in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. And has been a permanent generator of youth resources. To the extent that in Platense, for the first time in its history, Platense sells a player to the first team of Milan for three and a half million euros: Marco Pellegrino. He is an excellent person, with a spectacular resilience, with efficiency and forcefulness, soccer-wise, that I want to have at Boca.
What do you say to the Boca fans, to the members, who are worried about the use of Boca for political purposes? Taking into account that now a former president of the nation is coming back to Boca?
First of all, what is the platform that we have put forward? And what we are talking about is management. Precisely what we want is to recover the management we see in such a bad way today. Our movement is called passion and management, and that management is based on the knowledge of all our team, on having passed and lived the golden era of Boca. The best time in Boca’s history, the most successful. And that former president of Argentina [Mauricio Macri] was first a former president of Boca, who led Boca to be among the five most important clubs in the world, and number one, winning four Libertadores, two intercontinental tournaments, 16 titles in total. So politics has nothing to do here. What it has to do is to give Boca the management that Boca needs.
And what is your view of the election of Javier Milei as the next president of Argentina, and the impact that this new government could have on the world of sports and soccer?
The same I hope for Argentina. I hope that this change will give Argentina the predictability and the new rules of the game, so that a path of investment and work begins. And above all, of development, which all Argentines need. Within this framework, we will all do well. And, of course, also for Argentine soccer, because the number of potential investors coming to Argentina will increase, and they can also be sponsors for soccer and soccer projects.
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