Kempes becomes the Monumental against the Netherlands in the final of ’78. River appealed to that image to seek funds among the partners that would allow its return to Argentina in 1981.
“Mr. River Associate buy Kempes and see him play with the River shirt from his stalls: Collaborate with the efforts of the Board of Directors and sign their Kempes pro-acquisition collaboration bonus to finalize the incorporation of ‘El Matador’ to the River squad “. In the first days of March 1981, this text headed an advertisement that began to populate the Argentine newspapers and magazines. It took up an entire page, crowned with a photo / emblem: Mario shouting one of his goals against the Netherlands in the ’78 World Cup final, of course with the Monumental in the background.
After having tried at the beginning of the year to incorporate Diego Maradona, the leadership of the Núñez institution accused the impact, not only of having failed in that idea, but that the crack had signed for Boca. He had to move fast, because his fans began to show some discontent and the dispute of the long-awaited and elusive Copa Libertadores was looming, an old wakefulness of the Millionaires.
Mario Kempes was the undisputed idol of Valencia from the moment he set foot in Spain in mid-1976. That 1980/81 season was not turning out to be the best, but the painting had no intention of letting go of it. The negotiations had their kickoff in the last days of February and even River made the registration of the footballer on Friday 20, the day the pass book closed.
Consulted by various means, President Rafael Aragón Cabrera, confirmed that he had tried to communicate with Kempes, but that it had been impossible, while denying that it was in his plans to travel to Spain to accelerate the negotiations. A few days later, the notice that invited members to collaborate with the pass appeared, where under the triumphant photo of the Matador, an endless list of numbers and payment plans was detailed.
At the start of the tournament, River had tied in Córdoba with Instituto 1-1 and then defeated Velez at the hour 2-1 at the Hurricane court, since the Liniers club had to move its location for the historic Queen recital, that same night on Sunday, March 1.
The cover of the magazine with the two great passes that moved Argentine football in 1981, Diego to Boca and Matador to River.
On the Kempes side, little was known. The journalist Carlos Ares I was a correspondent at the time of the Goles magazine in Spain and did the coverage: “I lived in Madrid, I didn’t have resources and I didn’t want to spend more than I had. I asked a friend for the car to go and return in the day to Valencia, together with the photographer Dani Yako. I drove there in the middle of a pretty complicated route. When we managed to locate Kempes’s house, he was not there, so we sat on the threshold to wait for him, not drinking or eating anything to save money. We later learned that he had gone out to dinner with Mavi, his wife at the time. We were there for five hours, until he appeared around two in the morning and when she saw us, the woman got in a very bad mood, to the point that she told Mario not to let us pass. We had to make the note on the stairs. In Madrid he had bought a Rayo Vallecano shirt, which is the same as River’s, but with the band backwards, so that he could take a picture of it. We did everything quickly, but he didn’t offer us a glass of water… When we left, Dani told me that he couldn’t give any more and went to sleep at a boarding house, so I drove back alone and exhausted. I had to stop a few times on the way because I was sleeping. At one point, I took off my glasses to wash my face and they broke … At night I didn’t see anything, but I got there. The next morning, I found out that Kempes was in Madrid to take some photos of something I don’t remember. Conclusion: I had come and gone from Valencia, passing all that and I had the scorer five minutes from my home.
In the interview, the forward made a largely positive balance of his five seasons in Valencia, but he already dreamed of putting on the River shirt and being able to face Maradona in the Superclásico, although he made it clear that the operation had not yet been closed for a while. percentages theme. A few hours later, on Sunday March 8, in its first official match of the year at the Monumental, River lost to Argentinos Juniors 3-2 in a match that remained in history, not because of the game itself, but because the referee Claudio Busca expelled six of the protagonists. Five from the premises (Claudio Giúdice, Alberto Tarantini, Daniel Passarella, Pedro González and Eduardo Saporiti) and one from his adversary (Carlos Alberto Vidal). In spite of what was happening on the playing field, the harsh chants against Diego Armando Maradona could be heard repeatedly from the stands.
At the same time across the ocean, Mario Kempes played his last official match with the Valencia shirt, in an opaque zero draw against Athletic Bilbao. In the locker room, a photo was taken with Aragón Cabrera, who had traveled to close the novel of the pass, which was announced in all the media.
On Thursday, March 12, River supporters felt that the dream of seeing the Matador in his jersey had come true. Around 11 in the morning, the members of the Public Relations committee of the Núñez institution informed the journalists present at the Ezeiza airport that the facilities of the VIP lounge had been requested so that the conference could be held there. press with Aragon and Kempes. Exactly at noon the ship touched down and 45 minutes later, both entered to applause.
In the same way as what happened just 20 days before with the signing of Diego Maradona’s contract with Boca Juniors, Canal 13 he had paid for having the exclusive rights and for the occasion he made an important device. At the conclusion of contact with the press at the air station, Kempes and Aragón boarded a helicopter destined for the Monumental stadium. In that place was the outdoor mobile of the station with the presence of Juan Alberto “El Muñeco” Mateyko, which is how you remember
“He was the host of a program entitled”Today summer“, But under that circumstance I left from the mobile on the River court. I remember that the helicopter descended on the auxiliary field and I was waiting in a special sector with José María Muñoz, who was going live on Rivadavia radio. We broadcast everything from the moment the ship landed and when Mario descended with Aragón Cabrera I observed that someone approached them and was walking with them towards us. It was Marcelo Tinelli, at that time a chronicler of the Oral Sports. I immediately realized that he looked good for our job: tall, of good bearing, with personality and sympathy. We did the full broadcast with great success. I did not know Kempes personally, but from there we started a very good relationship, beyond my happiness as a fan of River, to see him as a club player ”.
Mario Kempes himself recalled those moments in his biography published in 2017 and his repeated terror when he found out that for the first time he was going to travel by helicopter: “To counteract the media explosion that Maradona’s arrival in Boca meant, the president of River, Rafael Aragón Cabrera, contacted me in February and proposed that I join the team led by Ángel Labruna. The manager did not care that he arrived with the season a little started, because his main objective was the Copa Libertadores, a tournament that River had never won until that moment. Aragón Cabrera stressed that, in addition to the international challenge, returning to the country would allow me to be closer to Menotti and the squad that would prepare to defend the title at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The idea seemed great and I accepted.
With my endorsement, Aragón Cabrera negotiated the transfer with the president of Valencia, José Ramos Costa. The pass was resolved and on March 11, three days after my insipid farewell to Athletic Bilbao and the screaming of the Mestalla crowd, I flew to Buenos Aires. I did it alone: my wife at the time, pregnant with my second daughter, needed to rest. As soon as I got off the plane, I hugged my parents, who had traveled from Bell Ville, to wait for me at the airport. The president of River explained that the cost of my transfer had been set at three and a half million dollars, of which I had personally paid half a million in cash to Valencia CF. The rest was agreed in installments of 250 thousand dollars per month, which represented a great economic effort for the Argentine team.. When I finished, there was a novelty that terrified me. Aragón Cabrera had organized an exclusive report with a television host, Juan Alberto Mateyko. To offer a spectacular setting to the note, and also to arrive on time without suffering the dense traffic of Buenos Aires, we got on a private helicopter hired by the channel, which was destined for the “Monumental”. I started to get scared because the device was moving a lot. I had never traveled by helicopter! We flew over the Ricchieri highway and then over General Paz Avenue. I think I was breathing again when the device landed”.
Mario Alberto Kempes during the presentation of his book “Matador. My autobiography”, in 2019 in Madrid. There it counts the interlining of the pass to River. (Photo: EFE)
On Saturday 14 there was morning practice at the Monumental stadium, where Ángel Labruna confirmed to Kempes that he would be part of the starting team that the next day would face Colón in Núñez, a match that River resolved without problems, scoring 4-0 with two conquests by Matador, one by René Houseman (a short-lived passing through the club) and the remaining one by the youthful Pedro Vega.
A few days later, the Copa Libertadores began and it was with the right foot for the Millionaires who beat Central in Rosario 1-0 with a goal from Norberto Alonso. It was just a mirage, because the performance in the continental tournament was disappointing, as a date was eliminated before the end of the group stage in the area where Colombians Deportivo Cali and Junior also participated. Kempes only played three of the six matches. Rumors immediately began about an injury that he brought from Spain, where he had torn himself in September of ’80 and, according to his own words, he had not been able to fully recover.
He alternated in the starting team until in early May he stopped for two months to try to reestablish his best physical form. He returned with everything, scoring a goal against Boca in the tie in one at the Monumental (Maradona was the author of the other goal). It was the prelude to what was to come: a Matador who slowly approached his splendid versions of Rosario Central, Valencia or the national team. River enjoyed it in the final part of the year, when he was a key piece in the conquest of Nacional, both for his performances and for the decisive goal he scored against Ferro in the final..
At the beginning of 1982, he concentrated with his teammates from the Argentine team with the aim of going to the World Cup in Spain to green the laurels of four years earlier. The company left a negative balance for the team and for him, who after concluding the competition, returned to Valencia.
But the memory remains intact 40 years after passing through River. After a turbulent start, when from the stands he had been doubted and his best clothes seemed forgotten, the finery of not so long ago, the bullfighter brought out his tricks and completed a brilliant task. Like a good Matador, Kempes recovered from those questions and ended up victorious, bathed in applause, having won the battle and saluting with his red… and white cape.