Messi, Francescoli & Sports Illustrated

This may seem like curmudgeonly criticism, but when a magazine like Sports Illustrated rolls along with its feted, prizewinning auteurs deigning to shed a bit of light on Argentina only to tell a story anyone who’s at all interested in the topic already knows by heart, present bits of other peoples’ interviews as its own work and even make smug, condescending and downright stupid comments about a country the writer clearly doesn’t know very well, pegamequemegusta don’t like it; we expect better.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so does pegamequemegusta churn out these cold, wet and unpotable posts. My brothers, oh handsome brothers (and we stress this as narry a lovesick sailor after three years on the yardarm has espied more females than are wont to frequent this inhospitable coast), pegamequemegusta was forced out on its crutches to stalk the shoreline today for two reasons: firstly because of the usual financial imperative that sees us selling cigarettes to schoolchildren and, secondly, as the words of two contrasting Messi interviews in one day had set our salt-encrusted sinapses firing alternately bursts of delight and outrage as in the 50-gun salute once held by our dear, late schizophrenic skipper after what he claimed to be te vanquishing of his evil twin.

The first piece that set our ears as pointed as a horny cocker spaniel with a Nosferatu make-over comes from Sports Illustrated. The piece is imaginatively titled ‘Lionel Messi: the World At His Feet’. When we came across it, it had already been retweeted many times, nearly all of which referred to it as ‘outstanding’.

Although the sarcasm leaking from the previous lines is about as appealing as being dripped on by a paedophile, it is a good article, of course. Pegamequemegusta was even quite thrilled with such great lines as these:

The fact is, with a talent as otherworldly as Messi’s, charm would be a distraction. Miles Davis played a diabolic trumpet with his back to the audience, and that was more than enough; any hint of charisma would have blown the roof off the place. Maradona’s career, meanwhile, played out like a war between a glorious body and a corrupted mind; when, in 1994, his days as an international player ended in disgrace after he failed a World Cup drug test, the personality seemed to have consumed the player whole.

Great stuff; and it’s accompanied by interesting claims such as Messi “has indeed shifted Maradona’s gambeta, his capering dribble, into a higher gear.” Pegamequemegusta goes all Polonius: ‘capering’ is good.

Yet by page three we began to feel irked by the excessive name-dropping. When left to its own devices, the prose is good, so why laden it down with all these quotes? Well, they’re there to create a veritable chorus of respected football voices who can testify to Messi’s greatness, who can justify the interest (and, indeed, the length) of the piece, you say, oh handsome reader. Grand. But perhaps it’s just padding since Messi doesn’t have much to say. Perhaps we don’t need any more interviews with Messi. Pegamequemegusta is pretty bleedin tired of reading and watching these things, so god knows how the man himself feels.

Yet what does SI care? It prides itself on having an interview with Messi the day after his stonking performance against Real Madrid last November. The day after. Yet SI wants water for its souvenir-studded mill so bad that in its classic Gonzo, look-at-me intro, Price complains of Messi’s churlish reluctance to speak about the comparisons between himself and el Diez: “Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.”

SI try to get through to their man

This isn’t a minute by minute of Mr Price’s work but suffice it to say that it covers all the ground familiar to anyone who’s paid any attention to Messi over the past five years or indeed pegamequemegusta over the past three months: Newell’s, Rexach, Barcelona, Jorge Messi, criticism in his native land, Maradona. Though in fact, apart from some delightful prose describing Maradona’s character (“Diamond earrings flashing, waistline ballooning, marriage falling apart, Maradona soon became a cartoon figure”), there is almost no discussion of Maradona as manager, leader, or the country’s hopes in the World Cup, nothing for better or worse. Being turned down by Maradona, who gives about ten interviews a day, coupled with Messi’s unwillingness to speak on the matter seems to have stumped the eminent reporter.

He regales us with an unsubstantiated anecdote about Verón (“one of the team’s veteran midfielders”) changing the tactics at half time against Brazil and claims that Argentina attacked ‘more effectively’ in the second half’. Yet they didn’t. Maradona is not a good manager and his selection for that match and others was wrong but the pathetic goals they let in the first half had less to do with tactics or Messi’s position on the pitch than they did an inexperienced, bricking-it defence ahead of a startled goalkeeper and massive Brazilian centre halves. There’s enough shit to throw around already to keep a squadron of hyperactive monkeys happy for a month, so surely one expects a celebrated journalist to get their story straight.

Neither was pegamequemegusta too fond of the suggestion that ‘Their marriage has felt strained since September 2008, a month before Maradona took over, when he clucked, ‘Sometimes Messi plays for himself; he feels so superior that he forgets his teammates.” Again, ‘clucked’ is good, but the claim is outlandish and simplistic: what about the performances of beloved, world-class players such as Tevez, Cambiasso, Zanetti and even Riquelme in the last year of Coco Basile’s reign?

But this is going on for far too long. There’s some orchestra-heavy Woody Harrelson/Wesley snipes flim that’s not White Men Can’t Jump on TV (with lines like “You’re busted and you’ll be licking the inside of your asshole for a month to get the taste out of your mouth” – jaysus), the missus is snoring and pegamequemegusta is tired. Suffice it to say that Mr Price’s well-written article is littered with faults.

'El Príncipe' Enzo Francescoli

Yet it was just earlier tonight that we saw an interview with Messi that did ask some questions that he was willing to answer. It was on Canal 7 with Enzo Francescoli in a program with an equally tacky title, ‘Juego Sagrado’. Unlike the Sport’s Illustrated piece, which had a gestation period of a few months, this chinwag took place about ten days ago, as evidenced by Messi’s wearing a Barça training top. It’s very relaxed and Enzo is impeccably turned out in a dark sports jacket and dark navy shirt. Rather than looking to bathe a lack of details in a sea of prose, it is more focused on chatting about what it’s like to be Messi and play like Messi. Obviously, the scourge of a thousand interviewers so far has been the standard response ‘I don’t know, I just do it’, yet Enzo, if his lack of journo credentials meant he couldn’t do the interview alone and had to be accompanied, at bottom is a real football man and he managed to extract a few gems from Rainman himself.

Some of pegamequemegusta’s personal highlights were when they got Messi talking (how about this for a question, SI?) about his favourite players. Aimar, was the immediate response. He even sat up in his chair. Soon he mentioned Zidane and original Ronaldo but watching Aimar back in his Valencia days was one of his great joys. Very interesting, we said as we slapped our good knee, especially since arguably he should have been in the squad.

The next nugget wasn’t long in dropping either. Enzo wanted to know what Messi thinks about when he’s in the box. “For example,” says Francescoli, “whenever the ball would be in and around the box i’d always look to position myself on the left-hand side of the area and look for knock-downs, short passes, one-twos and the like.” Messi stirs, looks up and smiles, certainly picturing the scene to himself as this slick legend talks about playing football. “You, however, score all sorts of different goals but do you think about it? Or do they just happen? Take the third goal against Arsenal, for example, such a lovely goal, to have the calm to lob the keeper like that, was that improvised?”

“Nah,” says Messi, “that one wasn’t improvised actually. I had decided that if I was in a one-on-one I was going to do that as Xavi had got into that position in the previous match and he’d missed it. You know,” and he grins whilst nervously scratching his arm, “with Almunia you had a good idea of what he was going to do.” And they all titter knowingly. Ah, Almunia.

Messi dinks the ball over Almunia for his hat-trick

It wasn’t a laugh a minute by any stretch of the jaw. They spoke about competition in training, practising free kicks, trying to get better every day, etc. The interview inevitably covered much of the same ground, (he’s twenty-bloody-two) yet it seemed more comfortable than the impression given by Sports Illustrated of their encounter. When the other journalist – sorry, pegamequemegusta doesn’t know who he was and I couldn’t find any clips so far – asked about Maradona, you could see immediately his face tensing up, ready to give the same spiel Again. “I always said there’d only ever be one Maradona, and to be honest the comparisons make me uncomfortable,” he said. Yet Enzo arrived to take the edge off with one of his characteristically long interjections, which we don’t have to hand, and they end up talking about how the important thing is what you’re like as a person.

What Messi did say on the team’s chances in South Africa was that they were going to have to work hard in the build-up once they all get together. Could they play like Spain? “Ojalá,” he said, “that’s what we’re missing, we have to get used to keeping the ball and creating chances; we’re going to try and get that nailed down.” The Germany match helped greatly in stabilising things, he assured Enzo. “Whatever about the result, you could see we grew as a team and we have to keep on that track.”

Platitudes. You see, it’s not just an awkward, defensive reflex on the Diego question: he won’t truck any nonsense about naming his ‘Ideal XI’ either. Nor does he ‘dream’ about lifting the trophy: of course he thinks a lot about winning it but, you see, Messi don’t dig oneirism much. He may be a likened to a poem-in-prose but he’s no soothsayer or poet. He’s no Valdano, Maradona or Victor Hugo Morales. He hasn’t got the words to express himself; he doesn’t even seem to think much and he doesn’t watch much football. I imagine the staff employed to keep him happy never tire of sending gracious letters of thanks to Sony.

As everyone who’s met him seems to concur, he’s a lovely boy but grade-A interview material he ain’t. Of course, he brings it on himself with the outrageous number of endorsements he does. Sports Illustrated say he earns in the region of $46m a year. Utterly insane. If you’re Beckham and that’s your world, grand, but if you’d be just as happy sitting in a wicker chair with a piece of straw in your mouth, please, for the love of God don’t sign any more contracts once the current ones end. Don’t do any more underpants ads.

Beckham has nothing to be worried about...

This isn’t another of those cheapest of cheap shots whereby Jorge Messi is accused of treating his son like a particularly fertile hen, that he has been too quick to cash in on his son, right from the initial decision to up sticks and go on the grand Barcelona adventure. While it’s clearly rubbish, it is interesting to wonder how Messi how might have been different had he stayed in Argentina, had he developed longer in the vicerrealista culture of Argieball. For all his undoubted picardía on the pitch, he doesn’t have the same swagger of an Agüero, say.

For pegamequemegusta, these are more interesting topics than his relationship with Maradona. Enzo Francescoli got much closer to the heart of the matter than Sports Illustrated, who besides mentioning that he spoke in Spanish (!) didn’t feel it was necessary to point out how Messi speaks, the fact that he still has a real bogger accent and still uses Argentine slang despite living in Barcelona for most of the last decade. Does Mr Price speak castellano? In any case, he does go out of his way to quote an idiot like Sergio Almirón: “He has a Spanish mind,” Almirón says at last. “He thinks he’s Spanish!”

Even if they’re someone else’s words, it’s another cheap shot: You wouldn’t ask Don Givens why McGeady doesn’t play well (and Almirón is far less important than even Don Givens). Also, the line about the picketers smacks of condescension: protesting about the hail may have something to do with the fact that the response to their no doubt shoddy houses being fucked on was nonexistent. And Argentines don’t eat beef for breakfast since the rate of inflation in the country means most people – including pegamequemegusta – can hardly even afford it.

This may seem like curmudgeonly criticism, but when a magazine like Sports Illustrated rolls along with its fêted, prizewinning auteurs deigning to shed a bit of light on Argentina only to tell a story anyone who’s at all interested in the topic already knows by heart, present bits of other people’s interviews as its own work and even make smug, condescending and downright stupid comments about a country the writer clearly doesn’t know very well, pegamequemegusta don’t like it; we expect better. ‘Grab some wire, duct tape’ – excuse me, pero quién te creés, yanqui conchudo ? Do you know how hard people bloody well work in this country and the fact they get almost nothing for it, and have no security to speak of? Is this due to their ‘lunacy’ alone? Would your own government care to offer an opinion on its involvement in multiple disasters in Argentine history, its role in constructing the stage on which all this madness unfolds, from the overthrow of Perón down to the their complicity with the dictatorship and the crash of 2001?

Sports Illustrated seems offended that Maradona’s qualifications aren’t as impressive as their own, yet they singularly fail to identify with the subject of their interview or to shed any new light on the man or his situation. Francescoli hasn’t got much experience either yet he got a lot more out of Messi in more or less the same amount of time. ¡Viva Enzo! Sigan mamando, SI.

*Tonight Enzo is interviewing Zidane!

3 thoughts on “Messi, Francescoli & Sports Illustrated”

  1. Great piece. Great ! I’m so happy to have found your blog. Well written, on target, and with just enough edge. As for “Sports Illustrated”, I grew up in the states as a maniacal sports fan and devoured the magazine weekly. I revered the old copies I had from when SI was first published. For many years the writing was even better than the much celebrated photography. Like much in the states however, their tenacity to be professional and do the right thing began to be eroded in the 1980’s, and downhill from there. It hasn’t helped that journalists in the states (and I am assuming elsewhere to a degree), have become more interested in creating their own personality cult than working on their craft and maintaining a sense of fair play.


  2. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.

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