River, El Más Grande Siempre (2019) - River, the Greatest Ever

Is ‘River Plate the Greatest Ever’ (2019) ?

River, El Más Grande Siempre (translation: River, the Greatest Ever) is a 2019 documentary about Club Atlético River Plate in Argentina. It covers the players, the club’s idols, some of its 35 championships, the history, the style of soccer, and the fans.

Almost half of the film focuses on its more recent winning ways under coach Marcel Gallardo, particularly in international competitions. In fact, the film was delayed from 2017 until it had a couple of good wins over its cross-town rival, Boca Junior. 

I’m not going to repeat River Plate’s record here because you can read that in Wikipedia or River’s website. However, the film is very good at capturing the excitement and fervor generated by its hinchas (fans). In all the soccer movies that I have watched, River Plate’s fans are the most impressive. The words “home field advantage” cannot describe the atmosphere in El Estadio Monumental. The game footage triggers a desire to travel to Buenos Aires to experience the stadium and cheer with the hinchas. 

A segment is included from the film Esos colores que llevas, which shows how fans assembled the world’s largest banner: 4000 meters (2.5 miles) of red and white. 

Rabid fans make a bad-tempered derby

The film spends a bit of time on the serious gas attacks perpetuated by fans because of derbies between arch rivals Boca and River Plate. I had read about these attacks, but this film gives a better understanding of what happened, and through interviews you understand how players were physically and mentally affected. 

The first attack was committed during the 2015 Copa Libertadores Round of 16 game by a Boca fan, who put pepper spray into the player tunnel as River players were re-entering the field after halftime. It took awhile to suspend the game, then it was rescheduled for the next day, which River protested, and finally, Boca was forced to forfeit. 

The second attack was the day of the 2018 final of the Copa Libertadores, on the way to El Monumental. River fans threw rocks and projectiles, breaking the windows of Boca’s team bus, and players were affected by tear gas. Boca submitted that it was River’s turn to be disqualified. But instead, the game was postponed for 2 weeks, and the location was moved to Spain. River Plate won its fourth Copa Libertadores title by playing on a different continent, in the Santiago Bernabéu home of Real Madrid. 

The 2018 title may still be in contention

The film infers River’s win was fair, because it persevered despite losing its home field advantage. With 62,000 tickets sold, it was estimated that 25,000 fans of each team were in the Bernabéu. In the film, Gallardo expresses his gratitude that River was not disqualified and was allowed to play. 

In researching the game, I was surprised to learn that the determination of the 2018 Copa Libertadores is not final. As of Jul-2019, Boca had filed a lawsuit with TAS, the Tribunal Arbitral du Sport in Switzerland. Boca is asking that they be awarded the Cup and that River pay them the economic loss Boca suffered in not winning the Cup through forfeiture. A TAS ruling is supposed to be issued by the end of 2019.

At times, it seems like River’s best definition of winning is to defeat Boca Juniors. It is a bit funny how much Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s image is used in the film. Winning is only meaningful if Schelotto looks unhappy. I lost count at 9 closeups of Schelotto.

Angry faces of Boca Juniors manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Angry faces of Boca Juniors manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto

I watched this film because of Matías Almeyda

I normally don’t watch club histories and player bios, because they tend to be long infomercials. But this film interested me because I am a fan of the San Jose Earthquakes, who acquired a new coach, Matías Almeyda, for the 2019 season. Almeyda is listed as one of River Plate’s more famous players, and he also coached River for 18 months, getting them promoted back into Argentina’s top league.

So far in his first season, Almeyda has instrumented a fantastic turnaround of the Quakes, a team that finished dead last in MLS in 2018, where it won just 4 of 34 games. It takes mystical power to accomplish such a turnaround with pretty much the same roster.  I wondered if the movie would offer insight into Almeyda’s magic. The answer was yes.

Much of the film centers on interviews with River Plate’s current and winningest coach, Marcelo Gallardo. He talks about the club’s philosophy and emphasizes putting the club and teammates before the individual. Be humble and work hard. This club is your home, your family. Gallardo also stresses that players need to feel futbol is a game to be enjoyed. 

These are the same principles that Almeyda has cited in Earthquakes interviews. And what’s been really interesting to watch this season is to see his players respond so well. They are clearly not just living the dream, they are also enjoying themselves and playing for each other. So while many MLSers think Almeyda is proving his unique coaching skills, I think he is also expressing the DNA of River Plate.

Excellent soccer footage

Most of the player and coach interviews and game footage would probably only be recognized by followers of River Plate or Argentine football: Amadeo Carrizo, Daniel Onega, Ariel Ortega, Aimar, Ramón Diaz, Enzo Francescoli, and Beto Alonso. Some of the old-timers played in Spain or Italy, but few left Argentina for very long. 

My attention instead steered toward film snippets that included current and former MLS players and coaches: Juan Pablo Angel, Pity Martinez, Schelotto, Gallardo, and Almeyda. In this film, you can see why MLS signed Pity Martinez, although in his first season with MLS club Atlanta United, he is struggling to prove his value under Coach Frank de Boer. 

Overall, I think River, El Más Grande Siempre is meant to be a love letter to its fans and a promise of continued greatness. If you are not a fan, it might not be as entertaining, as you will not know the significance of the people interviewed. But this film educates viewers about River Plate and its futbol cultural heritage. River’s story is useful for all students of the game. Is the club the greatest ever? I guess you’d have to ask Schelotto.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7

(but I’m sure River fans would rate this film a 10 🙂🙂)