The press corps gosh and golly as the man of the hour approaches. They can just about glimpse him in the antechamber, all stubble and cigarettes, an awe-inspiring sight of rippling manliness. They coo like pigeons hand-fed with golden grain as his lips – those lips! – let fall little drops of Miltonic majesty, his trademark claro, dale and boludo. The warmth from those dark eyes turn their souls to so much margarine. He speaks with the unadorned authority of a master craftsman, whispers one. A latin Jesus, sighs another. But hark, he’s here! Lights, camera, action!
Poor Checho, the dream always ends there. He never gets to hear the now two-time Oscar winner Ricky Darín tell the world’s press of their afternoons pounding the streets of la Paternal, chomping down choripanes with local chappies and giving it more ches than a stuttering knife-sharpener whose trademark whistle has just been stolen. Not in the joyous, fleshy dream world but in the cold, sterile, limited frame of his conscious imagination can he make out the fuzzy image of the two boyos esconced in a nimbus of smoky banter. The phrase alpha male follows them closer than a glue vendor does a cockney funeral cortège as Batista shows Darín round the former Estadio Diego Maradona, now renamed el Chechista. The renowned thespian trembles with trepidation as Checho expounds on la nuestra, the traditional and true way of playing, nay living, football – a style perfected by but two teams in history: FC Barcelona and Argentinos Juniors. Though the threat of a heart attack is always just around the corner, like a heavy-footed steet tough with a lead pipe, he fearlessly lights another cigarette thereby underlining his unquestionable bona fides as the natural heir to Menotti.
All this he perceives but dimly as he snoozes though one of the more important aspects of his post, a task personally entrusted to him by don Julio – ensuring the Doc doesn’t steal the kit and flog it to the barras at knock-down prices.
The waking world can often be no less dream-like, however. El Checho sits down with some journalists, professional men, finicky fact-checkers, human probes, their crowns greased to faciliate entry. Their first question flummoxes him:
Checho, when you’re off travelling the world, do you notice how people respect you for being a World Cup winner?
The absence of the sounds [mɛ] or [sɪ̈] confuse him, strip the question of any recogniseable context. Was it even a question? He plays for time with a drag on his Menotti-stick, let them know who they’re dealing with here, then decides the situation will probably be resolved with a trademark move. After all, the two be-suited lads opposite are gurning as if they’ve just popped a couple of chuns blessed by the Holy Father himself. He decides to do a Darín. People love that. “Claro, boludo,” he mumbles laconically. One of the boys is so taken aback he swallows what looks to be an antelope-sized wad of spit, yet he manages to stammer: “I like you. I like how you talk.”
Take that, Diego.
Nonetheless, he’s slightly surprised why no-one asks him why neither Tevez nor Agüero are called up anymore (he wonders what Carlitos is up to these days, the loudmouth has been very quiet, suspiciously so), nor how he expects to play like Barcelona without Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Puyol, Pique, Dani Alves or Valdés. No-one asks about the multiple benefits – none of which are political, don Julio was quite clear on that – of having a bunch of locally-based players face Venezuela on a Wednesday evening in San Juan. The thinking behind beinging Fernando Belluschi to Costa Rica remains impeccably folded in the steam room of his mind, as do his great plans for Eduardo Salvio. Hence he leaves the interview somewhat deflated. After all, with Garcé tainted by his association with Diego, someone has to bring the alfajores.
When he gets home, he goes straight back to his dreaming divan and rests his magnificent stubbly visage against a pillow embroidered with a picture of Messi and he in Doha. Drool has erased part of the scene but their bond can never be broken.
He turns on the telly and sees – Ricky! Darín! Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all. They’re saying filming has been completed and the story of Checho in Beijing is finally coming to the screen! Checho: the Raven-Haired Olympian. Sounds about right, che. Strange don Julio didn’t mention it… but what’s this? What are you saying Ricardo? Nooo!