We Have to Talk About Pekergate

After a decision that had many folks wondering if the time of the Vinotinto had finale come, the FVF goes back to its old ways. Manager José Pekerman has left the building

For a sixth time in less than nine years, Venezuela announced a new National Football Manager after an embarrassingly hectic week. The Pekerman Era ended sooner than expected, to the shock of fans and journalists alike. The ghost of instability, that current FVF president Jorge Giménez wanted to avoid, made its comeback.

José Néstor Pekerman, former Argentina and Colombia national manager, was announced with much fanfare just over a year ago. Hailed as the savior of the Vinotinto’s World Cup ambitions, he seemed to serve as a good first taste of what the new administrators at the Venezuelan Football Federation (FVF) had to offer.

It seemed to do the trick at first. But as his hasty dismissal was proof, old vices of his trusted right hand at the helm of the Vinotinto, Pascual Lezcano, reappeared and proved too hard to ignore or work around.

During his tenure in Colombia, Lezcano’s dodgy accounting and mismanagement tested José Néstor’s loyalties, deciding to leave the Cafeteros after some money went missing—something similar may have happened in Venezuela, according to journalists familiar with the case.

With close ties to Delcy Rodríguez and son of a former public contractor, Jorge Giménez’s arrival to power at the FVF was all but quiet. Bringing Pekerman was meant to be his coup de grace to wash away doubts about his qualifications for the job, the only way maduristas know how to: a realazo. He was seen, after all, as the Vice-President’s lapdog, all bark and no bite included.

No official explanation was given, beyond the need for someone truly committed to the Vinotinto project—in chavista slang, loyalty in whichever shape or form.

However, the fact that several members of Pekerman’s staff have remained in charge does indicate this was a personal problem with both Lezcano and Pekerman.

Anybody remotely aware of how things operate behind closed doors in Venezuela’s opaque political world wouldn’t make much more of this, other than a deal gone wrong between Pekerman’s consigliere and Giménez. In the little world of Venezuelan football, though, there has been room for the benefit of the doubt. Nobody dares ask or tell what or why things ended so abruptly. But the timing does give some insight.

It’s hardly a coincidence that this happened just after the upcoming international friendly matches against World Cup 2022 side Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan were made public.

This was when players were called up, and Lezcano’s old “way of doing things” may have played a part. Though never officially confirmed by the Colombian Football Federation, neogranadine journalists made it clear he would demand some sort of involvement in players’ representation via proxy. Those who didn’t agree, got vetoed from the National Team.

The question remains however, why did Giménez accept to work with him in the first place? Was it naivité, taking their word it wouldn’t happen again? Was it wanting a piece of the action? Or was it the good-old “ahí vemos”?

Pekerman and company (it is said) were paid a year in advance, a price to pay for meddling with the murky maroon waters surrounding the FVF—a price a newcomer with no real background in sports would gladly pay to appoint what ended up being more of a PR stunt than an actual game-changing managerial decision.

Now, with Fernando “Bocha” Batista running the show and taking over his former boss, at least the National Manager role won’t remain vacant. Some semblance of normalcy and crisis aversion take over, while the uncomfortable questions are dusted under the rug for good.

It’s don’t ask questions and shut your mouth. The classic brand of Venezuelan football… And politics.