Julio Grondona, longtime head of Argentine Football Association, dies at 82


Julio Grondona was the longtime head of the Argentine Football Association. (Juan Mabromata/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
July 30

Julio Grondona, the longtime head of the Argentine Football Association who drew criticism for his blunt, at times offensive statements, died July 30 in Buenos Aires. He was 82.

The announcement was made Wednesday by the South American Football Confederation. News media in the Argentine capital reported that he died of heart problems.

Mr. Grondona, who was known as “The Godfather,” had been the AFA’s president since 1979. He was also a senior vice president of FIFA, football’s world governing body, and head of FIFA’s finance committee. He had announced that he would step down from his posts in 2015.

Mr. Grondona attended the World Cup final three weeks ago when Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. He mingled in the stands with other top football officials before the match.

Julio Humberto Grondona was born Sept. 18, 1931, and rose from modest roots. He helped found the Argentine club Arsenal de Sarandi and was a director from 1957 until he left in 1976 to take over the presidency of Independiente football club. He stayed there until taking over at AFA three years later.

With Mr. Grondona in charge, Argentina won the World Cup in 1986 and lost the finals in 1990 and 2014.

Mr. Grondona became one of world football’s most powerful figures, and he did it though he spoke almost no English.

“I speak only Spanish,” he said in an interview. “But I have an advantage over the rest of the polyglots. I speak the language of football very well.”

He was never far from controversy.

Critics blamed him for the endemic fan violence in Argentine football, where every club match faces the threat of violence by hooligan groups. Mr. Grondona said the problem simply reflected the growing violence on the streets of the country.

He was also heavily criticized by former national coach and retired star Diego Maradona, who blamed Mr. Grondona for many of the festering problems in the national game.

Mr. Grondona hired Maradona as the national team coach and then dismissed him after Argentina lost in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. During the 2014 tournament, Maradona responded to being called a “bad luck charm” by Mr. Grondona by showing him the middle finger on live TV.

In 2003, Mr. Grondona was forced to apologize after telling a live TV audience, “I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee. It’s hard work and, you know, Jews don’t like hard work.” He was subsequently promoted to FIFA senior vice president, with the support of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who called him “a monumental man.”

A son, Humberto, was questioned by FIFA during the World Cup in Brazil, amid news reports that he had sold some tournament tickets for profit. FIFA said later that Mr. Grondona’s son “most probably” gave tickets to a friend and did not sell them.

He had various health problems in recent years and was badly affected by the death in 2012 of his wife, Nélida.

— Associated Press

Adam Bernstein contributed to this report.

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