The big attraction of the Libertadores
The group phase is not yet complete in South America's premier club competition, but even before the action got under way there was a guarantee that there would be no repeat of last year's final.
Fluminense of Brazil, who lost the title on a penalty shoot-out, did not even qualify.
In fact, after that painful defeat, they fell into a depression and at the end of last year, only narrowly escaping relegation to Brazil's second division.
Indeed, the club which, last July, was ranked number one in the continent and, in December, number two in the world is now really struggling to make it into South America's last 16 and thus next month's knockout phase of the Libertadores.
After four of their six group games, they have just four points. On Tuesday, they face a crunch visit to Brazil's Palmeiras. Defeat could render their final match academic.
And the striking aspect of this rise and fall is that it is not particularly surprising.
In Europe, success is a virtuous circle. Good results lead to increased resources, allowing the squad to be strengthened which, theoretically at least, means that results remain good.
Of course, there is the danger of the club chasing the dream and over-reaching. But, as the results keep proving, sustaining success is much easier in Europe than it is in South America.
There are cases of clubs winning the Libertadores three times in a row. But that was decades ago.
In those days, fewer clubs took part, with the holders only entering in the closing stages.
And it was not only the structure of the competition that made consecutive wins much easier way back when. This was also before the opening of the global market and the mass exodus to Europe.
That European virtuous circle is much harder to apply on the other side of the Atlantic, where winning often means that the squad is weakened. Landing trophies puts players in the shop window. The players want to go. Selling them helps the club pay its bills.
South America's strongest clubs are those which, rather than kicking against this sad reality, have accepted it and work within it.
Both invest heavily in youth development with the aim of selling potential stars to Europe, thus enabling them to maintain competitive squads.
Boca's former president, Mauricio Macri, the man who put the model into operation, used to say that the best products of the club's youth work had a three-year time limit in the first team - one to adapt to senior football, two to enjoy them. Then it's time to sell.
The model, then, comes with built-in instability, since the club is constantly saying farewell, or preparing to say farewell, to important players.
Rogerio Ceni, Sao Paulo's talismanic captain and goalkeeper, is an exception. The 36-year-old, who has just suffered a long-tem injury, could have moved abroad but instead has spent half his life at the club.
At Boca, playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme is another exception, opting to come back from Europe when still at his peak.
Incidentally, I doubt that the Macri administration would have brought him back on a permanent basis - Macri always argued that paying one player much more than the rest was an invitation for dressing room unrest, a view borne out by the complaints Riquelme's team-mates occasionally make about him.
Despite the exceptions - and for all the attempts to impose order on the process - even South America's biggest and best clubs now exist in a permanent state of transition, which prevents them from consolidating European-style success.
Last year, Fluminense took advantage of this, assembling an excellent short-term squad and eliminating both Sao Paulo and Boca before falling to LDU.
The reign of LDU looks set to end, too. They are a shadow of the side that won last year's Libertadores in such enterprising fashion.
In their case, it is not just the loss of key players that has affected the side. It is also the loss of the coach.
Argentine-born Edgardo Bauza stood down after hitting on a superb formula last year.
He converted striker Joffre Guerron to a right winger, where, in the extra space, he could use his acceleration and lung power. And midfielder Luis Bolanos was converted to a left winger, cutting inside and making the most of his strong running with the ball and cool finishing.
It meant that, in Quito, LDU could stretch the opposition and make the most of the altitude. Away from home, they always carried a threat on the counter.
Now, with both players gone, LDU look an ordinary side.
Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati is competent - he won the domestic championship in a previous spell with the club - but his team, with a big target man up front, look very blunt in comparison with last year's rapier thrusts.
But if they do go out early, the Libertadores goes on. Will the 50th version go to one of the favourites. Or will a surprise runner come through once again? Both are possible - and that is one of the big attractions of the competition.
Comments on today's piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) As a Manchester United fan I have enjoyed seeing the Brazilians we have bought over the past few seasons.
But as they come over at an ever younger age (Fabio, Rafael, Possebon, Pato and maybe Douglas Costa) do you believe there is a chance that their fun, adventurous, 'jogo bonito' style may be cut away for an approach more akin to the physical, tactical and frenetic Europe leagues? Thus making the national side just like European teams!
A) It's a fascinating question. There clearly are dangers of a loss of identity in this process - you can see this with Possebon declaring his interest in playing for Italy.
The great contribution that Jose Pekerman made to Argentine football was in seeing early (mid-90s) the dangers of the process and using Argentina's youth sides to give the youngsters a course in the identity of Argentine football.
Even if almost the entire senior squad play in Europe, when the national team get together they revert to style.
Especially in Brazil, there's a danger of over-mythologising. I did a round table debate on Brazilian TV recently with veteran coach Valdir Espinoza.
He put forward the view that Brazilian coaches, in fear of their jobs, are nowadays ultra-defensive. He nodded vigorously when I argued that none of the leading teams in Euro 2008 would have space for a Gilberto Silva in their line-up. So this lack of 'jogo bonito' can't just be blamed on Europe. This is an internal Brazilian dynamic.
The case of Anderson at your club is very interesting. United have changed his position - there is a danger that operating as a central midfielder sacrifices some of his natural ability. But having such a talented player there does give you fluidity through the midfield.
Brazilian coaches were astonished with the change. They have become much more inclined to pack central midfield with cloggers and marking specialists, though there are some hopeful signs of a change of approach.