President of the Argentine Football Association for 35 years, from 1979 until his death in 2014, his passing marked the end of a long era for both the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and for the footballing industry worldwide — Grondona was also the Senior Vice-President of FIFA when he died, principally in charge of financial matters.
Grondona was a character who grabbed lots of press attention for more than being a leading figurehead in the footballing industry. He was the centre of a number of controversial debates and many people disliked the way in which he managed things at AFA and FIFA — many believed he had too much money and too much power, making friends in high places and using them to his advantage.
Grondona began his footballing career way back in 1956 when, alongside his brother Héctor, he founded the Buenos Aires club, Arsenal Fútbol Club, which was inspired by the English footballing side of the same name. He was the president of Arsenal Fútbol Club for 20 years.
Grondona became the focus of a controversial story in 2003 when he responded to a journalist’s questions regarding the refereeing standards in Argentina. His thoughts were crystal clear. “I don’t believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level. It’s hard work and Jews don’t like hard work,” Grondona said.
Ramiro Sánchez Ordóñez was the journalist in question — asking the simple question as to why there were no Jewish referees in Argentina. Even though charges were brought against Grondona for the violation of discriminatory laws in the country, It was Ordóñez who eventually lost his job and who never worked in the media again. The charges against Grondona were simply filed away. Grondona had lots of influential friends in high places.
In May 2011, Grondona was interviewed in Germany about who he had voted for to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Grondona admitted to voting for Qatar, “because a vote for the US would be like a vote for England, and that is not possible.”
When in further conversations about the same topic that month, Grondona spoke to British representatives and explained to them what they would have to do in order to receive his vote. “Let us be brief. If you give back the Falkland Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote. They then became sad and left,” Grondona explained to the German press in May. Grondona was fierce, ruthless and had no qualms about mixing sport and business with politics in a sometimes very open manner.
Grondona’s Political Face
Throughout his lifetime, Grondona was caught on camera with a huge number of very influential and powerful figures, including Videla, Alfonsín, Menem, De la Rúa, Duhalde, Néstor Kirchner and, the present Argentine president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
A few years ago, Grondona began to show full appreciation for the importance of making political friends and keeping close with members of the state. For this reason, he made extra efforts to be very cosy with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — managing to secure “Football for Everyone,” a deal he struck with the Fernández de Kirchner government which meant that all football transmissions in Argentina became available to everyone on national television and that the Argentine government began to provide financial support to the AFA.
While sports fans were happy about being able to see all football matches on national television for free, many Argentines were unhappy about the financial commitment the state made to the AFA. Grondona was already a rich, powerful man in many people’s eyes, and state funds could have been used to finance many other areas of daily life in Argentina.
Grondona’s dark side
One of the main criticisms made of Grondona throughout his 35 years on the AFA throne was that he managed the association through a series of favours and backhanders. This meant that the profits and the reputation of the AFA gained more ground on the international scene, but the individual clubs — with the exception of a very small minority — found themselves in constant debt and in need of the special help of Don Julio to keep them afloat. This placed Grondona in a position of great power. He was, to many, the football association’s mafia head.
Grondona was particularly unpopular in the provinces of Argentina. Many provincial clubs accused Grondona of favouring the clubs of Buenos Aires above all the rest. Many believed provincial clubs were never able to really compete with those of Buenos Aires because Grondona’s actions stunted their chances of development.
In 2010, a number of clubs across the whole country made an official complaint. They were asking for an increase in their budgets in order to be able to compete in the Argentine Cup and meet the high costs required to be a part of this particular tournament. Grondona’s response to the budget increase was fierce. “I don’t care if you play or not. I’ve already done away with Maradona and I would have no problem in doing the same with you,” Grondona said.
Grondona’s most powerful quotes
Grondona was known for his sharp tongue and controversial opinions. One such quote which raised plenty of eyebrows was when he was heard to say, “I don’t have power. Others give it to me. People feel that I have power and that is what counts most.”
Money, power and corruption
Decisión, audacia, mano de hierro y una inusual habilidad para moverse como nadie en el opaco mundo de alianzas y traiciones de la FIFA convirtieron al argentino Julio Grondona en uno de los hombres más poderosos del fútbol.
Grondona was, without a doubt, an incredibly influential figure and a money-making machine for the AFA and the FIFA. However, his actions also contributed to the destruction of the sanctity of the footballing industry’s public image. Grondona managed to taint the footballing industry’s face in corruption and venality. He was an audacious man, who made decisions, but who governed with an iron fist and who was definitely fell prey to the sweet taste of power.
Alongside his loyal business partner, Joseph Blatter, President of the FIFA, Grondona took advantage of the commercial face of football which exploded towards the end of the 20th century. His efforts made the rich even richer. His replacement will have large shoes to fill, but perhaps, with Grondona out of the picture, the footballing industry can begin to repair its stained public image once and for all. Time will tell.
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