|Walter del Rio playing for Dundee in the Scottish Premier League.|
In August 1998 three Argentine players turned up at Crystal Palace in a deal which was rumoured to have cost at least £448,769 in agents' fees alone. The first player to leave was Pablo Rodríguez of Argentinos Juniors who returned to his club after failing his medical. A few days later Cristian Raúl Ledesma (not the more famous Cristian Daniel Ledesma of Lazio) returned to Argentinos as he was unsatisfied with the terms of the contract on offer, he eventually signed for Argentine giants River Plate in 1999.
The only player left was 22 year old defender Walter del Rio who was signed from Boca Juniors for a fee of £187,500. Walter, nicknamed "Wally" and "Wicha" in Argentina had played only 3 first team games for Boca Juniors before being sent out on loan to Argentine 2nd division club Huracán de Corrientes between 1997 and 1998.
Palace found Del Rio a flat in Croydon and bought him a car with deductions to be taken from his wages for both. He only ever started one game for the club in a 0-4 defeat against Barnsley. He also made two appearances as a substitute under manager Terry Venables, but once Steve Coppell took over he was frozen out of the first team altogether.
In March 1999, after Crystal Palace had gone into administration Del Rio received a two-sentence letter signed by the club secretary, Michael Hurst stating "This is to confirm that Crystal Palace Football Club have given you a free transfer. You have the club's authority to seek future employment with any other club," At this point Palace stopped paying his wages despite the fact that he was under contract until June. This was a severe blow as he was sending most of his wages home to help support his mother and younger siblings cope after the death of his father in the late 1980s.
Despite not being paid Del Rio was attending training every day in order to ensure that the club could not withhold his wages for breach of contract but he was not allowed to practice with the other players so he trained on his own. His PFA agent at the time Neil Fewings said "He has a great attitude. He's not one of these players who've come over here thinking he's owed a living. He's a lovely bloke, just looking to get on, play football, and prove himself somewhere."
It is not entirely clear what he did for the year after leaving Palace, but it is safe to assume that he remained in the UK seeking an alternative club as he had an unsuccessful trial with Norwich City in 1999 and another trial with Scottish side Dundee in July 2000 which earned him a 2 year contract with the club. A few months later he was joined by one of the most remarkable signings in the history of the club; fellow Argentine Claudio Caniggia.
Although he didn't play many games in his first season with the club it must have been a wonderful experience for the lad, who up until this point had barely played top flight football finding himself in a small Scottish town playing alongside one of the icons of Argentine football in the 1990s.
Caniggia left the club at the end of the season to join Rangers but Del Rio was kept on for another season, he earned himself a place as a regular first team player and was well liked by the Dundee fans for his hard working attitude and commitment. By the time he left in 2002 he had played 49 times for the club.
Del Rio made good use of the Italian passport that had allowed him the opportunity to play football in Europe by joining Italian lower league side Carrarense in 2002 where he played for one season. His next club were Cosenza who like Crystal Palace a few years before ended up in severe financial difficulties, they went out of existence in 2004.
Del Rio then found his way to the Swiss 2nd division where he played for FC Wohlen (2004-05) and Young Fellows Juventus (2005-06).
In 2006 his nomadic career as an international journeyman footballer took him to his sixth different country, he joined Extremadura, who in their glory days in the 1990s had boasted famous Argentine players like Fabián Basualdo and Carlos Navarro Montoya but by the time Del Rio had joined them they had fallen back into the 3rd tier of Spanish football. For the third time in his career he found himself at a club experiencing severe difficulties, they were relegated from the division at the end of the season and then dropped down another division for financial irregularities.
Del Rio stayed in Spain joining San Fernando in the 4th tier of Spanish football in 2007. He helped the club to achieve promotion to the 3rd tier as champions in 2007-08 but in 2009 the club got into financial difficulties and went out of business in August 2009.
Having experienced 2 relegations, two clubs going into administration and another two going out of business altogether Del Rio cut his losses in European football and returned to Argentina. he eventually found a club in January 2010 when he joined semi-professional side Boca de Río Gallegos in the regionalised 4th division of Argentine football.
In January 2010 former club Crystal Palace entered administration for the second time and in November 2010 another former club Dundee went into administration for the second time since he had left the club, as a result they were docked 25 points leaving them bottom of the table 20 points from safety.
It would be absurd to suggest that Walter del Rio is carrying some kind of curse, but the sheer scale of the troubles experienced by his former clubs is remarkable. It is a shame for the lad, since he seems to have worked hard in his football career without much glory or success, been well liked by the fans and done his best to support his family back in Argentina.
Part of the What ever happened to? series.