If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn –
Pegamequemegusta wrote a few pieces last week about Maradona’s preliminary squad (first this, then this). Of course it shared the widespread annoyance with the omission of Zanetti and Cambiasso, as well as Nico Pareja, Gabriel Milito, Banega, Aimar, Zabaleta, Zárate and Perotti, even of Maxi Moralez. Such are the players who have not been included you could arm a shadow squad along the lines of F365’s brilliant series on England’s B team during the alternate Euro 2008 with Jimmy Bullard & Co. However, we are getting a bit sick of seeing these names now and bizarrely find ourselves defending Maradona’s selection.
On Football Weekly today the ever-enthusiastic Paolo Bandini mentioned a theory that had apparently first gone out on one of ESPN’s multifarious platforms. It went like this: during some game with Argentina, apparently “the one where they qualified for the World Cup”, Zanetti disobeyed Maradona’s instructions, leading the team on the pitch like a lion while Diego, a sea lion, then, I suppose, thrashed about on the shore. Thereafter, Maradona’s wrath being akin to Poseidon’s, Zanetti has been ostracised from the national team.
Insofar as we care, it’s a shame we don’t have what ESPN actually said, of course, but as the theory stands it seems pretty preposterous. Firstly, it would be odd that nothing has ever been said or even intimated in the tidbit-hungry media about the matter. Secondly, what match was it? “The match were they qualified” was the last one, against Uruguay. Zanetti wasn’t in the squad if memory serves us right. The match where qualification was saved at the death was against Peru. Zanetti didn’t play then either. His last match for Argentina was in the 1-0 defeat in Paraguay, where he looked utterly hopeless.
So we come to point number three, that of ferociously taking charge on the pitch, using all of his experience and respect as the usurped captain. Yet far from leading any kind of an albiceleste charge after Paraguay’s domination of the first half, Zanetti was completely anonymous in attack and ineffective in defence. In fact at no point, even when he was captain, did Zanetti really show any leadership qualities whilst playing with Argentina. He never looked like the kind of character his experience would have one believe him to be. Indeed, one might, as pegamequemegusta is wont to do, don one’s shit-stirring pub hat and ask: captain of who for the last decade? Inter? Up til Iron José arrived some of the game’s most celebrated bottlers! What kind of a captain is he anyway? Maradona agrees: the first thing he did on taking charge was to strip him of the captaincy.
This is important as, unlike other players who haven’t convinced either when turning out for their national teams, Zanetti’s very longevity, the amount of instances that we can cite build up a body of evidence which does not do him much good. His excellent season and his hugely impressive – and clean – stuffing of Messi’s exhaust pipe in the Champo League semifinal notwithstanding, perhaps Diego is justified in reckoning he has failed to convince one too many times.
After all, unlike Cambiasso, he was given many opportunities and never stood out. He wasn’t the only one. Maradona experimented fitfully with a good few full backs: Zanetti, Papa, Insúa, Zabaleta, even Jonás played right back once or twice. He even played without full backs a couple of times, setting up 3-3-1-3, 3-4-3, etc. He was never convinced by any of them so he ended up abandoning them altogether in favour of his current formation with four centre backs. Although this makes some sense in that Argentina are clearly not particularly blessed in the position, the drawbacks are obvious and require no further treatment here.
Rather than come up with conspiracy theories, however, it seems more likely that Zanetti has been discarded because of his poor performances and a consistent lack of leadership, despite it being so conspicuous at Inter. Nonetheless, there is a definite political element in the omission of him and others: if not big egos, the very nature of the personalities left out of the 30 showed Diego didn’t want a tough decision for the final squad, didn’t want a close run. Discarding players out of hand has been one of Maradona’s most defining traits. He was hardly going to turn his back on it now. And if the reasons for Cambiasso’s consistent omissions are even harder to fathom and so explanations tend toward the personal (was it the missed penalty in 2006?), Zanetti’s is somewhat easier to understand once one takes his overall contribution into account.
He’s wrong, of course; they should be there as back-up, but it seems among other things, that Maradona wants a group he can dominate. He’s intrigued by the apparently metamorphic power of the World Cup, a time of such pressure a whole new level can be reached. He never tires of talking about Mexico ochenta y seis, and the Niembro interview was no exception. “When we got to Mexico, no-one knew who Burruchaga was, no-one knew how strong Valdano was, no-one knew Ruggeri and el Tata Brown were going to be so solid. We had Nery [Pumpido – GK]. Carlos [Bilardo] had to make decisions as we went along that weren’t worked out in training. Now they’re all respected household names.” From his selections and his statements, and just listening to him an awful bloody lot, pegamequemegusta reckons el Diego’s after coming down with a bit of Theo Walcott 2006 syndrome.
There is method in the madness: a deliberately anarchic approach where improvisation is prized above all else, a cauldron of character-forming uncertainty where real men will float to the top like alphabet spaghetti. No doubt the words said tinned pasta spells out will be transcribed onto the first team sheet, too. All this talk of having the team decided already is just a fudge for fat bloggers to chew on, chum for the chumps. He said it last month, we just weren’t listening: “The players aren’t going to have any excuses, they’re going to run and run.” What we failed to understand was that they would be running from a team of automated fire-breathing dragons controlled by Wolf from Gladiators.
So many plaudits have been raining down on the heretofore quiet men of Inter’s squad over the last week, yet shame on us jittery, chattering type-monkeys, useless halfwits most of whom don’t even get the opportunity to feel their work in print, let alone get bloody paid. Maradona knew long ago Zanetti and Cambiasso had no feel for the horn, too long Italy have they been, too, too Apollonian are their souls. South Africa will be a Dionysian feast.