April 17, 2012

It ended with a midafternoon taxi ride.

Teofilo Gutierrez was escorted out of the home of rivals Independiente and into a taxi by one of the directors of his club, Racing Club de Avellaneda, and informed that he should go home.

It had been another torrid afternoon for "Téo," a 26-year-old Colombian international, and a player described by Juan Román Riquelme as "the best center forward in the whole country."

With Téo, it's never about a lack of ability though.

Since his arrival in Argentina, his goal-scoring exploits have gradually been more and more overshadowed by his controversial acts. In a country that has no real issue with simulation or gamesmanship, the fact that Téo's conduct has so enraged people gives you an insight into this complex character.

Just a few months ago as Gutierrez's Racing played Boca Juniors in a vital Apertura clash, he was dismissed, virtually ending any chance his side had of claiming its first title since 2001. But it is never just a red card with Téo.

In this heated clash with Boca, he had already returned late from international duty with Colombia and when he was denied a penalty, he reacted angrily, squaring up to and nigh-on assaulting referee Nestor Pitana. This led to his sending off, and not content with potentially costing his team a tilt at the championship, he taunted the Boca Juniors fans before being taken from the field by police in riot gear.

Other incidents have made him unpopular with his own fans; when asked by journalists what he does during the week he replied "relax with my family and count how much money there is," as well as refusing to travel to San Juan for an away game with San Martín, all while amassing seven bookings and two red cards in just 15 games in the 2011 Apertura.

Even in joining Racing he took unauthorized leave from his previous club Trabzonspor on fictional "medical grounds" and negotiated a move from his home in Colombia, something that his representative tried to repeat in January of this year when interest piqued from FC Porto and a handful of La Liga clubs.

But at Racing he remained, and he returned to the field for them where he would add to his list of polemics, and it took only until the third round of fixtures for him to regain his place in the spotlight. Racing hosted Banfield, a team that had lost 11 of its last 12 on the road and was rock-bottom in the previous season: Gutierrez scored in only the second minute, but proceeded to get himself sent off in an infantile display, he was labeled descerebrado (brainless) by his manager Alfio Basile -- and his team went on to lose 2-1.

We move on to last weekend, and Racing was to travel the 200 yards to archrivals Independiente.

It was ever thus.

A cross-city clash. Reds against Blues. Families split by a rivalry which seems as natural as the midday sun which bathed the stadium.

With River Plate's relegation last year there is no more Superclasico, making the clásico de Avellaneda Argentina's biggest derby game.

It is a feature of these clashes the world over that the trash-talk in the press builds to a crescendo in the preceding days, quite often with the one derby game becoming the magnifying glass through which an individual will always be viewed by some fans. Sometimes it leads to adulation, a player earning legendary status among the swell of fans that delight in the restoration of their local bragging rights. Contrarily, it can often lead to the end of many associations with the club, principally managers.

But this game was a little different, the trash-talk had begun months before, and it all seemed to center around the controversial little forward from Colombia.

"If I saw him in the street, I'd fight him, hand to hand" said Independiente defender Julián Velazquez of Téo.

He wasn't the only one.

"As soon as Téo scores a goal against us, I'll snap his leg," claimed Facundo Parra, also of Independiente.

It is rare that a player is able to provoke so much ire among his fellow professionals, but it seems that Teofilo Gutierrez has succeeded, and not just with players of his archrivals, after all he was labeled a "moron" by Lanús and Argentina 'keeper Agustin Marchesín after he had provoked him in their Apertura encounter.

Rather fortunately for Téo, and for soccer, when he put Racing into the lead at 12:26 local time, Parra did not take it upon himself to act out his planned violence. Unfortunately for Racing, he found another way of making his mark.

Just 10 minutes later Parra had leveled for the Red Devils, and despite being slightly edged in the first half, they were level at the interval. In the second half, Independiente were gifted a controversial penalty by referee Sergio Pezzotta and the offender Bruno Zuculini was sent off. Parra converted the resultant spot kick to send the Independiente fans into raptures, a hellish cauldron of noise that proceeded to bate every Racing player for their mistakes, while urging those in red shirts to continue to fight for their cause.

That they did, and in typically full-blooded fashion, defender Julian Velazquez sped into Racing's Gabriel Hauche after 67 minutes but missed the ball, clashing knees with the forward and sending both players to the ground. It was a foul, no more, but typically Gutierrez had to have his say. He strolled over to the stricken center back and muttered his thoughts to the man who had previously been so keen to "fight him, hand to hand".

What he said is still under debate, but Téo claims he said carón a word that means "shameless" in steamy Barranquilla, from where he originates. The referee, Pezzotta, claims to have heard cagón, a far ruder insult in Argentina and certainly a dismissible offense. The red card was immediate, and for the fourth time in just 41 games, Téo had received his marching orders, letting his side down when even with 10 men, they had looked the more likely to score.

Independiente would go on to punish 9-man Racing late into stoppage time with two goals, but the effect of Gutierrez's red card on the match was not one lost on his teammates who strode from the pitch heatedly to confront him after the final whistle had blown. In the dressing room, Sebastian Saja and Lucas Aveldaño began to reprimand him for his actions, resulting in fists flying between goalkeeper Saja and the Colombian striker.

Hoping to avoid an all-out flare-up, Giovanni Moreno -- teammate of Gutierrez at both club and international level -- attempted to break up the fracas, only to be on the receiving end of a blow from Saja himself, cutting his eye. It was at this stage that things got out of hand, with Téo turning to his belongings and drawing a gun on his teammates.

Police intervened to end the shocking scenes unfolding, and discovered that the weapon was only a compressed air gun, but still capable of causing serious harm at close range. Having threatened his colleagues with a pistol, Teofilo Gutierrez was unsurprisingly told that he wasn't welcome on the team bus to travel back from the stadium and was instead accompanied home by a Racing director in a taxi.

The fallout is still far from clear, although the condemnation of Téo is widespread. Patience with the striker seems to have worn through within the squad, and certainly among the Argentine media. With his decision having cost manager Alfio Basile his job -- and quite probably signaling the end of his career in soccer -- he has been slated by the national press, who labeled his attitude "indefensible", and called Saturday's events his "final act of egotism."

Whether it was his final act in a Racing shirt is still up in the air (though the team has since said Gutierrez won't play for the club again), but as he left the estadio de Libertadores in a taxi, it seemed that there was no way he would ever be getting back on that bus.

Ed Malyon is a freelance sports and betting writer who specializes in South American soccer on his Valderramarma blog.

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