BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Not for nothing is there a statue of Reinaldo Merlo, nicknamed Mostaza (mustard) for the color of his hair, outside Racing Club’s headquarters.
Merlo was the last man to steer Racing to the Argentine league title in 2001, ending a 35-year wait, and he is back apparently disproving the generally accepted adage that a returning coach rarely brings new success.
Mostaza returned to Racing last month as their third coach of the season with the team firmly rooted to the bottom of the Inicial championship standings with two points from 11 matches, their worst start.
Racing lost Merlo’s first match in charge two weeks ago but have since strung together their first two victories, both away where there was less pressure on the players, including the weekend’s 3-1 defeat of Gimnasia.
“I’ve got the diagnosis for Racing but I‘m keeping it to myself,” Merlo told a news conference on his appointment on October 14.
“This team has order, attitude and tremendous will,” the 63-year-old said after Saturday’s second win.
“We’re in good spirits, we have to carry on like this, with humility and without losing our attitude. There are players with skill and to this we’ve added sacrifice.”
Merlo warned, however, that Racing “need more pause, more ball possession, there’s still a lot of work to be done. From the moment I got here I’ve had faith we’re going to pull through.”
One of the keys is the sudden return to form of teenage striker Luciano Vietto, one of the young players who helped Racing finish last season on a high with eight goals and the promise of better things to come, who netted his first two of this championship at Gimnasia.
Those hopes were dashed in a dismal start to the Inicial, first of two championships in the season, which resulted in coach Luis Zubeldia being sacked after one point in five matches. His successor Carlos Ischia lasted another five matches.
Racing have even managed to climb off the bottom of the standings, though not as a result of their new-found form but because Colon have been docked six points.
The Argentine Football Association said on its website (www.afa.org.ar) it was applying the sanction ordered by FIFA over a $600,000 debt Colon have with Mexico’s Atlante for the transfer in 2007 of Argentine midfielder Juan Carlos Falcon.
River Plate, like Racing one of Argentina’s so-called Big Five clubs, ended a run of five matches without scoring but still lost 2-1 at home to Juan Sebastian Veron’s Estudiantes on Sunday.
The goal River fans had anxiously been waiting for came in the eighth minute from forward Juan Carlos Menseguez, who was making his debut at the club where he played as a junior before moving to VfL Wolfsburg in Germany in 2003.
It was a special moment for Menseguez, who also had a loan spell at West Bromwich Albion in England in 2009, as it was his first match for two years having suffered a knee injury playing for San Lorenzo in 2011.
Estudiantes hit back with two goals later in the first half to climb to sixth in the standings with 22 points from 14 matches, six points behind leaders Newell’s Old Boys.
River, 14th with 16 points, fielded several reserves as they rested first choice players for Wednesday’s second leg of their all-Argentine Copa Sudamericana quarter-final at home to Lanus following a 0-0 draw in last week’s first leg.
It is a crucial match in South America’s equivalent of the Europa League in a so far disappointing season for coach Ramon Diaz as victory will qualify River for next year’s elite Libertadores Cup.
Reporting by Rex Gowar, editing by Justin Palmer