If you get a young kid, make him think he’s the greatest guy in the world, throw money and power at him along with a fawning press, don’t be surprised if he ends up running his mouth from time to time or giving the odd hysterical, incoherent foul-mouthed tirade. No, for once on pegamequemegusta we’re not talking about Diego. We’re talking about the capo of Argieball, the man who calls the shots, Humberto Grondona.
Humbertito, as he is affectionately known, is the son of AFA President, Julio Grondona. His pappy Julio, who has been President for 32 years now, is a don in every sense of the word and so Humbertito has been given many toys to play around with over the years, teams to manage, referees’ phone numbers, committee chairs, and even the women’s football team.
Today he sounded off against (well, he could hardly be far) Maradona. In the aftermath of the bizarre Haiti ‘friendly’ on Wednesday night, el Diego used his post match comments to launch a personal attack on Julio Grondona. Of such little interest was the game itself, Diego spoke pitch-side about how he felt shafted by Julio Grondona over the cancellation of another friendly that was to take place at the end of the month in Dubai. After the team’s send-off in Buenos Aires on the 24th May, the idea was to bring everything – beef included – for the World Cup and stop off in Dubai along the way. “It’s a joke,” he said. Why? It would have been a good opportunity to play meaningful opposition? Acclimatise? ‘Try out’ more players? Rest? It was never explained. Yet what did annoy Maradona was the fact, repeated several times, that he had done the AFA President a personal favour by granting permission for 40 ‘guests’ to travel with the squad. Diego didn’t want to but it was a personal favour. “I did Grondona a favour. Now he should do me one.”
This goes to the heart of the matter: just as the match had nothing to do with football – being a farce and a vanity project for some oil barons down in Patagonia dressed up as a charity game when in reality, as the commentators revealed during the game shortly before a rocket blew up in Palermo’s face, just 2% of the gate receipts will be going towards disaster relief in Haiti – this quarrel has little to do with Dubai. It’s pure political posturing.
While Maradona has one list to define before next week, that of the squad, it is still not certain whether his beloved Oscar Ruggeri will be part of the management team in South Africa. Although everything points to a no, pegamequemegusta has reason to believe that the matter is not entirely dead, or if it is dead the matter is still kicking up a fuss like some childish vampire.
Without retelling the whole sorry tale, unlike the choice cuts that will be accompanying the squad to South Africa, there’s plenty of bad beef between Maradona and Ruggeri on the one side, and the Grondona family on the other. Despite everyone having taken a pop at the Don at some point over the last 32 years, Ruggeri seems to be small enough fry for a grudge to stick. Maradona wants him in his management team, though. In February he said if Ruggeri couldn’t go to the World Cup then Humberto couldn’t either. Humberto Grondona has hit back several times, the most recent being in El Gráfico yesterday, where he called Ruggeri a tarado (a fine word some of you may recall Tevez using to describe beloved ex team-mate, the Neviller).
Meanwhile, pegamequemegusta already brought to you the hilarious exchange between Ruggeri and the AFA over the club directors and their “well-earned trip” to South Africa. There’s not a long way from that mini-scandal to Diego’s premeditated and insistent comments about how he had gone to such lengths to mollify Grondona by “making an exception” in the case of the 40 or so officials who were to travel with the team to Dubai. That the comments were premeditated is obvious first for the faux-causual manner in which he pronounced them pitch-side last night, and secondly, because he said the same thing the day before the match! Pegamequemegusta had not deemed them worthy of comment – he also went on his usual rant about how now, just like in ’86, “there wasn’t one journalist in Argentina who wasn’t beating Bilardo with a stick” – but with Humberto’s retort today all the pieces came together.
““I’m happy [Maradona]‘s manager, but I warn you, don’t touch my father. He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [....] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you,” he stormed in a teacup on Radio La Red.
Despite Maradona’s persecution complex – he sees bloodthirsty hounds where puppies play – pegamequemegusta can’t think of any instance where someone spoke to Maradona like that. And especially not since he’s become manager. Even at the bleakest moment of the qualifying campaign, fear of failure merely meant less categorical cheerleading. No, no-one talks of ‘crushing’ Maradona… except perhaps the next president of the AFA. Humbertito, it seems, has called Maradona’s bluff. His last play to get Ruggeri on the plane seems to have failed – and ended in another unedifying episode in a long run of unedifying episodes, another conflagration, another feebly coded slagging match. This time, more conscious of his position now and trying to maintain some kind of dignity (is that magnificent beard an attempt at portraying a more statesmanlike image?) Diego tried to play politics; while Humbertito had the freedom to snap at him with absolute impunity and even put him down with a veritable frase maradoniana: “He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [....] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.” It’s not for nothing this family have been in charge for more than 30 years.
It’s got to hurt. Any move now could only jeopardise further his preparations for the World Cup so hopefully Maradona will take it on his august chin on wait for another day to take his revenge.
In the meantime, there’s only a few days to go til the initial 30 man squad is named. Pegamequemegusta will be back with all the piping hot tips and lukewarm tea, or is that the other way around?