Out of a Sabbath-like respect for the anniversary of the passing of a genius, and not at all out of laziness, pegamequemegusta has decided to bring you another translation today. Besides, while there have been plenty of noises coming out of the camp – chiefly the slushing of Bilardo eating cold spaghetti with his bare hands – about the team for Sunday’s game, we decided we’d wait just to make sure and see what the buzz is about Maradona’s decision.
What is it, you ask? Well it looks like pegamequemegusta’s number one fan has taken our advice and dropped Jonás and Verón in favour of Otamendi and Maxi Rodriguez. Yes, folks, it’s yet another mote for all our eyes as Diego continues to get every (non-Demichelis-related) decision right: Romero; Otamendi, Demichelis, Samuel, Heinze; Masche, Maxi, Di María; Messi, Tevez; Higuaín.
And so in the meantime, let’s listen to more voices of experience, some of which hate football as much as you or us. This piece is from La Nación on Wednesday [orginal here, Spanish speakers]. Titled ‘A miracle in Polokwane’, it was written by the eminent Ezequiel Fernández Moores. It takes the passing-on mid-World Cup of writers and intellectuals such as José Saramago and Carlos Monsiváis (who we vaguely recall appears somewhere in Bolaño’s Savage Detectives) to launch an analysis on all such folk who love and hate football in equal measure.
It’s well written, obviously, and has a good few decent lines and some interesting ideas. Plus, it makes a pleasant change from pegamequemegusta’s frequent lambasting of the oft-navel-licking Argentine sports corps.
The translation is ours, as always, and we hope it’s good enough despite being somewhat hastily banged out this evening after dinner. If you disagree, pegáme, que me gusta:
Polokwane – ‘The bad thing about victories is that they’re not definitive. The good thing about defeats is that they’re not definitive either.’ The phrase was coined by the Portuguese writer, José Saramago, who died a few days ago, just as Jorge Luis Borges did, right in the middle of Mexico ’86. The former Portuguese star Luis Figo admitted that the phrase had been of great solace to him at various points in his career. Will it be useful today for Diego Maradona? The victories in the first round of South Africa 2010, it is true, have resolved nothing. Defeats, on the other hand, would have. From this point on, any defeat will mean a trip home. Whatever transpired in the games against Nigeria, Korea and Greece will have counted for little.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal honoured Saramago on Monday by wearing black armbands for their match against North Korea. The only team in the World Cup to come from a communist country was trounced 7-0. Saramago was a communist, but one in favour of democracy. He may well have smiled with the same irony as old John Luc Godard. The French director once said that communism only existed for two 45-minute halves.
It was 1953 when the marvellous Hungarian orchestra led by Ferenc Puskas gave England a lesson in collective football. That would be unthinkable in South Africa 2010, where there are plenty of teams but few stand out players. The players that make it to South Africa are just whatever’s left over from their clubs’ seasons. Miracles are hardly even possible.
They say that one day in the Estadio da Luz, Saramago, who was an atheist, was surprised to see so many people blessing themselves or looking imploringly at the heavens. “I, too, wait for a sign from God everyday. It’s a shame i’ve never found one.”
Mexico, Argentina’s next opponent in the World Cup, also mourned one of its best writers during this World Cup, Carlos Monsiváis. Once Monsiváis was asked, his compatriot Juan Villoro relates, about the ‘atavistic incapability’ of Mexican football to ‘solve the matter of the maximum penalty’, which could well be a possibility this Sunday in Soccer City. Monsiváis, who believed he was being asked about troubles in the country’s prisons, answered: “There’s too much overcrowding and that provokes riots.”
Monsiváis hated football, just like Borges, who gave a lecture in the Teatro San Martín right as the World Cup was getting under way in 1978. “Juan Villoro said that God is round. In that case,” Monsiváis once said, “you can consider me an atheist.” Villoro, in fact, wrote an excellent book with the title God is Round.
These days, along with the Argentine, Martín Caporrós, author of Boquita, he maintains a blog on the World Cup. The collaboration will no doubt take on a new aspect now that Argentina and Mexico are facing each other in the last 16, just as in 2006.
“The Goddess Fortune,” Villoro tells me from Mexico City, “has been cruel placing the Argentina match right after our defeat. It was like watching the executioner sharpen his tools. I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. Our best hopes are a Virgin de Guadelupe or full-on Lacanian psychoanlysis to rid ourselves of the anxiety of playing an Argentina team that is clearly superior. One thing’s for sure, though, we’ll go out playing well and with many a fine phrase from our chroniclers.”
Villoro tells me that that he followed the day’s football at home, “listening to the bleaters on national tv”. His neighbours are Uruguayan. “It’s not love that unites us,” he says, “but fear… of playing Argentina.”
In his house in Montevideo, Eduardo Galeano, author of Fútbol en sol y sombra [‘Football in shade and sunshine’], has a sign on his door that says ‘Closed for football’. “I won’t take it down until the last minute of the last game. Helen and I live EVERY GAME really intensely. She’s an atheist since birth whereas I had a very Catholic upbringing, and traces of that remain,” he tells me before the Mexico match begins.
Caparrós followed Argentina’s win over Greece in the best hotel in Arúa, a place with ten rooms, that costs $15 a night and has no light after midnight. Arúa is a town in Uganda on the frontier between the Sudan and the Congo. An enormous screen, six plastic tables and four silent companions. Maybe it was better that way. In Ellis Park a few days ago, when South Korea were flirting with the idea of an equaliser and we were all suffering, an Argentine fan recognised him and asked: “Hey, Caparrós, do you reckon that if Argentina win the World Cup, the government will take advantage and use it for its own political ends?”
There’s no longer any chance of that happening for the South Africans. Or for Africa either, which right when it had the first World Cup on its soil had its worst ever showing. In her homage to Saramago, the Vice-President of Spain, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, said that the Portuguese Nobel Laureate “dreamed of a liberated world, where the strong were more just and the just more strong.” Football resembles life. There’s no justice there either.
“In every match,” Villoro says, “footballers strive to be gods and the ref to be a man. No other sport has such a weak justice system, that is to say, one so similar to what we have in life.” Caparros speaks of football, and especially about World Cups, as a ‘theatre of happy savagery’.
Villoro wonders if it makes sense “to jettison marriage, work and even breathing in favour of what goes on on the pitch” and defines football as “a return to childhood where every game is eternal and rules are open to be changed as long as it lasts”. How long, we ask, will this World Cup last for us? Will we make it past the quarter finals? Or will it be like Germany once more, once more the prettiest team in the opening round but then dispatched, leaving the trophy in the hands of another supposedly more ‘serious’ team, like Dunga’s Brazil? Will South Africa 2010, as it sometimes threatens, be a World Cup with Mourinho’s copyright, a World Cup free of ideology – pure pragmatism?
“Who cares about the World Cup?” The question, which could well have been posed, were they alive, by Borges or Monsiváis, was asked just a few days ago at a Literary Festival held in England by Nadine Gordiner, a South African Nobel Laureate. Neither does it interest the other South African Nobel winner, J. M. Coetzee. When he wrote Waiting for the Barbarians, Coetzee wasn’t thinking of FIFA or the Argentine barras.
Borges once said that “Football is popular for the same reason stupidity is popular”, and he added: “Football is one of England’s greatest crimes.” He died eight days before the Hand of God. I found out when I saw his face on a muted tv in a press centre in Mexico. Like Bustos Domecq, a pseudonym he shared with Adolfo Bioy Casares, Borges, who preferred cock-fighting to football, ended up writing a story for himself where there were neither teams not matches. The grounds had already been knocked down and only their ruins remained.
Nowadays everything happens on telly and on the radio amidst the disingenuous drama of the commentators. “Have I never suspected that it’s all a load of bollocks?” Galeano asks himself in his book How football resembles God. Yet he answers: “In the devotion of many of the believers and in the mistrust many intellectuals have for it.” South Africa 2010 required the construction of many stadia that won’t be demolished but may well be useless after the World Cup. “How can such luxurious grounds be built in an ocean of poverty?” Cissie Gool wondered aloud in a debate featuring South African intellectuals last May.
The one in Polokwane last night, in any case, was witness to another of Palermo’s exploits. Argieball is addicted to myths. Last night you could have taken Polokwane for the Bombonera. But there’s no greater myth, for us, than Maradona. “Those of us who had our doubts as to Maradona’s divine condition,” wrote John Carlin a few days ago, “find ourselves obliged to reconsider our agnosticism.” Atheists, agnostics and believers, intellectuals and normal fans, they may all agree, at least in these World Cup days, that Palermo was an Argentine miracle in Polokwane. May it not be the last.