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'Babyface' Gallardo crowns River return with cup double

06 August 2015, 21:26

Buenos Aires - There is nothing innocent in footballing terms behind River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo's baby face.

Nicknamed 'Muneco' (doll or babyface) when he was a junior at the club, Gallardo has masterminded the team's recovery of their true attacking identity after they had sunk to an all-time low with relegation in 2011.

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Former midfield creator Gallardo capped his Libertadores Cup triumph with River as a player in 1996 by leading them to their third victory in South America's top club competition as coach on Wednesday.

The Argentine side beat UANL Tigres of Mexico 3-0 in the second leg of the final at El Monumental for an aggregate victory by the same score to add to their Copa Sudamericana success in the region's Europa League equivalent last December.

With the backing of Uruguayan great Enzo Francescoli, who captained the 1996 winners, as the club's sporting director, Gallardo has shown a keen eye for signings and tactical nous beyond his 39 years.

A league championship winner as a player with River and Monaco and a World Cup midfielder for Argentina in 1998, Gallardo cut his teeth as a coach with Uruguay's Nacional in 2012/13 and steered them to the domestic title.

When Ramon Diaz, River's coach in 1996, ended his third tenure at the club after lifting the Argentine Clausura trophy in mid-2014, Francescoli recommended Gallardo for the vacancy.

"To have achieved this in a year and a half was unthinkable then," Francescoli said as he looked back over the 18 months since Rodolfo D'Onofrio was elected club president in succession to the discredited Daniel Passarella.

"What Gallardo has done is much more than just winning titles. He's growing as a coach, let's hope he stays a long time. We put our faith in him and we have been amply rewarded."

River fly off to Japan on Thursday evening to play for the Suruga Bank Cup against Gamba Osaka.

This minor competition, which rewards the winners of the clash between the holders of the J-League Cup and the Copa Sudamericana with $200,000, is a Club World Cup warm-up for River.

River fly to Japan again in December when they will be hoping to get through to a world title showdown with Lionel Messi's European champions Barcelona.

In the meantime, they will defend their Copa Sudamericana title in the tournament that kicks off next week.

- Reuters

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