Detailed explorations of the links between Scotland and its impact on Argentine football have been spoken about in depth many times over. The names Mac Allister, Hutton, Lipton, Brown to Scots at least are perhaps not all that familiar. This is especially true in a nation more commonly associated with the likes of Dalglish and Denis Law.
In Argentina names such as Hutton, Waters, Brown, Stevenson, Lipton and Carlos Mac Allister are fundamentally tied in with the foundations and development of the Argentine game. In some instances, at least in the case of school teacher Hutton, the Scotsman is remembered as a founding father of Argentine football.
One interesting fact is that on 2 June 1979, Diego Maradona scored his first senior international goal in a 3–1 win against Scotland at Hampden Park.
If it was the Scots who were amongst the first to venture to Argentina with kits, leather boots, a ball, tactics and a rule book then it was the Argentines who were amongst the first foreign exports to adventure to Scotland’s southern cousins in England as overseas players.
Osvaldo Ardiles, Ricardo Villa, Alex Sabella and Alberto Tarantino were amongst a select group of high-profile Argentine players who played in England at a time when most clubs were more commonly filled with a generation of Scots. Moreover, in the modern Premiership era the role of Argentines has taken on an altogether more different face; one where money is the main motivation behind the likes of Crespo, Aguero and Tevez heading to the southern tip of a small football mad archipelago in the North Atlantic.
But while Ardiles and Ricky Villa came to England in 1978 to a huge welcome of ticker tape it was some years before the impact of Argentinian players would be felt within the confines of the Scottish domestic game.
By the 1990’s Scottish domestic football was dominated by the SPL (Scottish Premier League) a top level competition that had been founded in 1998. In that same year, the Scottish national team had been at the forefront of global football opening the FIFA World Cup in France with a narrow 2-1 defeat to holders Brazil at the Stade de France.
For most of its history, the Scottish Football League had been a two divisional structure dominated by Celtic and Rangers. By the time the 1980’s arrived the role of the two giants had diminished as newer sides from the North challenged the status quo with success both at home and in Europe.
But by the early 1990’s the Scottish game was falling behind in terms of revenue generation. The ever growing stature of live TV football in England meant that the concept of the foreign football star was a requirement for the Scottish game if it was to compete with the product down south.
In the early 1990’s a decision was made to follow the English model of the English Premier League; a model based on live TV and all-seater stadiums which had come into force in 1992 in England.
Prior to the 1990’s very few overseas players had adventured into the old school terraced landscaped stadia of Scottish football. Those that did adventure in were mostly successful imports from Denmark or South African players who had arrived during the 1930’s.
But while the English Premier League product soon went from strength to strength and top foreign stars lined up for luxury contracts the SPL’s own brand concept proved to be less than successful despite the best efforts of its member clubs.
Those efforts encompassed a wave of South American players arriving in Scotland most of them for the very first time from Argentina.
Amongst the first to arrive in the SPL was Gabriel Amato a striker with a track record of goals at River, Boca and Independiente. At Rangers, his £4.2m transfer fee delivered a respectable 13 goals in 45 appearances before he was shipped off to Gremio in Brazil.
Following Amato came the highest profile signing of them all in Claudio Caniggia.
A star from the 1990 World Cup and a player with a pedigree in Argentina and Serie A his arrival at Dundee was followed by claims that his friend Diego Maradona was following his career on Tayside and even that a guest appearance at Dens Park may occur. That prospect, unfortunately for Dark blue supporting Dees, never came to fruition and neither did his wife find a Scottish castle to live in. After only one successful season he moved to Glasgow Rangers where a similarly successful period was enjoyed.
But it was at Dundee that the bulk of a legion of Argentinian players embedded themselves.
Amidst the attention bestowed on Caniggia the likes of Fabian Caballero, Beto Carranza, Luca Gatti, Juan Sara and Julian Speroni all enjoyed spells at Dens between 2000 and 2004. Meanwhile, just across the road at Dundee United were, even more, Argentinians this time lining up in Tangerine. Marcelino Galoppo, Gustavo Fuentes and Beto Navedo did though prove to be less successful than their countrymen playing across the road in dark blue at Dundee.
Further south at Livingston in West Lothian, a player with a pedigree at the top level with Velez and previously at Real Madrid B arrived in Rolando Zarate. He enjoying one fruitful season of goals at Livingston in the 2002-2003 season becoming a fans favourite. Joining Zarate were Fernando Pasquinelli and Julian Maidana both of whom had track records of goals at the top level of Argentine football.
But while the names from Argentina flew into Scottish football; bringing much-needed TV audiences, so huge sums of money were flying out of the game.
During the early SPL era, six of the member clubs entered administration and severe financial difficulties were commonplace. Dundee, where a number of Argentines had picked up large salaries, entered administration in 2003 and were forced to sack 25 players and staff following debts announced that amounted to over £20m.
The harsh reality of financial disarray developing around the whole SPL package was revealed in September 2003 when combined losses for SPL clubs during the seasons 2001–02 were estimated to have been £60m in total.
In the same year 2003, football financial experts at both Deloitte and PwC described five SPL clubs as being technically insolvent and having wage levels that were unsustainable. Livingston FC, who had embarked upon an ambitious period of spending on Argentinian players, entered financial administration for a period of 15 months from February 2004.
If it was the early Scottish pioneers such as Alexander Watson Hutton who laid the path towards the success that is today’s Argentine football then it could be argued that it was the incoming of a wave of Argentinians into the Scottish SPL that helped set the tone for the financial disarray and free falling Scottish game we know today.
Huge sums were lavished on a number of players at the expense of homegrown player development. It’s no coincidence that the 1998 World Cup (the year of the foundation of the SPL) was the last time the Scottish National team qualified for a major football tournament.
By 2009 debts of almost £30m were reported at Rangers, the last club of Caniggia. Moreover, further huge financial constraints were an ever waiting iceberg on the horizon again for Livingston. PwC went on to describe Rangers as a financial “basket case” and Rangers entered administration on 14 February 2012 with liquidation following soon after.
The great Alexander Watson Hutton died on 9th March 1936 in Buenos Aires and Argentinian football’s earliest ever alumni were buried in the British cemetery at Chacarita located in the Argentine Capital.
There are those that argue that Scottish football has entered into its darkest ever phase since 1998; future hopes buried in a financial graveyard of blind ambition and reckless spending.
Scots can quite rightly be credited with building the foundations of the Argentinian game but it’s fair to say similar prestige (bar the rare exception) can never be bestowed on those who ventured across the sea from Argentina to Scotland.