Pegamequemegusta is as prejudiced as the next faceless fool peddling nonsense plagued by a disheartening abuse of the royal ‘we’. Most days as we hunt sea urchins for their pocket money or sit gazing menacingly at the surf threading cork after the cork together to make a groundbreaking winter vest-cum-raft, our thoughts rarely progress beyond the same tired few themes, the same gripes and exasperated polemics against society’s hopelessly misconstrued repertoire of idées recues. Like all good wannabe demagogues, a reflexive self-lacerating bent is rarely missing from these musings: we recognise we may be wrong on some things. Yet these brief solstices of self-examination are almost never long or profound enough for real progress to be made, and the cycle of error inevitably begins another round, nothing gained and nothing lost, save time.
However, not once in all these mental orbitings did we ever stop to consider the prevailing attitude of the Costa Rican sporting press. Not once did it ever occur to us that they would be in any way particular or peculiar regarding the aspirations and, indeed, demands placed upon their sports men and women. Far from being yet more evidence of our arrogance and ignorance, this speaks well of us, we feel. For we thought they would be just as bland as everyone else: recognising their team’s limitations, and only occasionally engaging in low intensity sniping when they feel it’s time to engineer a change.
This is not enough for the Costa Rican press corps, however. The country evidently did not get to number three on the Happy Planet Index without setting some pretty high standards for itself. For while we can only dream as to what the media is like in Vanutu, pegamequemegusta was quite taken aback by the harshness of the tica reaction to La Selé‘s 1-0 defeat to Colombia in the Copa América on Saturday.
The Al Día newspaper’s tagline is ‘For sports-loving families’, yet its report on the game must have made for some serious puckering at the nation’s breakfast tables on Sunday morning. ‘La Sele frozen to the spot’, reads the headline, while they go on to praise Colombia for ‘showing mercy’ by not thumping them 9-0. “[Costa Rica] decided not to attack so as not to leave themselves open to another humiliation [such as the Gold Cup Mexico debacle]. In any case, la Sele doesn’t have any decent forwards.” They go on to posit a hypothetical exchange between their manager, Ricky LaVolpe, and his Colombian counterpart at half-time where the former Argentine goalkeeper implores his rival in supposedly typical rioplatense patois to show a little consideration for his charges: “Che, tell your lads to take it easy on us, would ya?”
To our delicate ears, it all seemed a little unfair. After, all, Costa Rica were only ‘called up’ to the competition at the last minute after some uppity German administrators put the kybosh on Japan’s participation by refusing to let some of their subs miss a few weeks of pre-season training. The Ticas themselves lost out on few players due to greedy clubs not affording the Copa América much respect. Indeed, they lost another few players in even more dramatic circumstances: one of the defenders died in a car accident in June, while their goalkeeper, who plays with Az Alkmaar, was accused of attempted murder by his missus, who claimed he’d Drederik Tatumed her down the stairs. (The DA hadn’t made any decision on the matter at the time of going to press as he received the file last thing on a Friday as he was closing up the office).
Of course the clubs were reluctant to release some of their players owing to Costa Rica’s participation in the Gold Cup, in June. At that competition, the senior players suffered an opening day 1-4 trouncing at the hands of the Mexicans but still managed to get through the group stage by drawing 1-1 with El Salvador and thumping the hapless Cubans 5-0. They eventually went out to Honduras on penalties. The players’ clubs clearly felt one international competition was enough. Hence, whereas Japan were expected to bring a scintillating blend of sexiness and otherness, the Copa América had to do with a debilitated Costa Rican under-23 team. Nonetheless, the Tica press would tolerate nothing other than total victory.
Unfortunately, the much anticipated Costa Rican neutron bomb failed to materialise. Apart from the mitigating circumstances, however, what really surprised pegamequemegusta about the reaction of the media in Costa Rica was that they hadn’t even played that badly. Far from being humiliated, they struggled quite bravely to get back into the game considering one of their forwards was sent off after only 30mins. (Needless to say, in this respect the press came down heavier than a ton of lead-painted bricks on the sun, embracing the referee’s sanction like a guilty Quaker after a jumbo-sized horsebag of butterscotch skittles: “The sending off was unquestionable and irrevocably condemned the Tricolor”). Clearly the Cafeteros had much more of the ball but Costa Rica managed to stifle them manfully enough and even go on the odd foray upfield from time to time. We’ve seen far worse performances from lots of teams many a time, and we’ve seen plenty of bad games put down to poor refereeing, a blip, bad luck, or whatever other reason the paper decides upon to use as its line to sell a few more copies. However, the concept of a moral victory is apparently unknown to the Costa Ricans. They’re made of sterner stuff than us.
Then again, so are most. Now, pegamequemegusta has never considered the Argentine sporting press a model of impeccable high standards. We could never accuse them of stripping away the layers of hype to take a long hard look at itself. If the normal Argentine had a quite different outlook, the press was always ready to avert its gaze or sob openly in the face of misfortune. In the last few days, however, since Friday’s lame 1-1 draw with Bolivia, we have been quite taken aback by a phenomenon that had quite passed us by over the last few years – if the Ticas are a tetchy, demanding bunch, the Argentines are riven by an acute case of angst.
Olé‘s headline after the Bolivia match was the pointed question ‘Who are ya?’ Ostensibly it referred to the lack of ‘respect’ Bolivia had shown la Selección – damn Bolivians, they refused to keel over! Deep down, however, it was a cry for help, an existential crisis brought on by a sudden (but was it sudden? Hasn’t it really been like this for the longest time but we were too blind to see it? Ay!) loss of their sense of self. Descartes spent years moping in bed playing with burning wax, yet even so he managed to find the impenetrable rock upon which to build his metaphysics and save himself from solipsism. For Argentina, the cogito was beating the bolitas. It was truth, it was beauty. It was almost 2-0 to Bolivia!
With this certainty gone, the newspapers have become difficult to read owing to the shower of dead skin raining down from the journalists fidgity, scratching hands; not to mention the great streaks of black across the page. Pegamequemegusta was briefly concerned that the crudest form of censorship was back in force, but it was merely that black was back in vogue as the lost scribes gave vent to their inner darkness. Who are we? What are we doing? What is our real place in the game? Are we worse or are others better? We know there’s a D10S, but is there life after he succumbs to a debilitating cocaine addiction and is reincarnated as an angry caller on phone-in shows? What is the point of it all? If we win, do we really win? Should we lose, should we… end it all?
Don Julio weighed in amongst the furrowed brows and self-harming, spiky-haired hacks with an epistemological teaser of his own: “Messi never plays badly,” he said, “it’s those around him.” This had the academy up in arms. Messi only makes a sound if he’s wearing a Barcelona jersey, concluded some. No, countered others, he only falls over in the first place if he’s wearing the colours of the albiceleste. The room fell silent. A dog coughed. A mouse looked up from its knitting. Journalists started rummaging nervously for their ezcema ointment. Finally a lone voice asked: “If Messi is not in a wood, is standing upright and he’s wearing an Argentina jersey, why do his teammates insist on falling over at the most inopportune times? How does this affect Ezequiel Lavezzi’s ability to cross the ball? Why does the great leader Zanetti hide at left back instead of doing something to help or encourage his team? If Messi is wearing his Barcelona pyjamas and Argentina are playing Bolivia 2,000 miles away, will Banega find it in himself to stop a ball with his foot instead of letting it trickle between his legs like an incontinent child?”
Just then Messi himself came in. He explained that Argentina’s problem against Bolivia was that they had been too nervous from the outset, too eager to score. A gloss, but okay. What was needed, he said, for tomorrow’s game against Colombia, was for the team to stay calm, to take its time. He then rubbed his nose as if to say: your identity comes from what you do, not from the actions of your forebears or certain ideas you might have of what you should be. Once again, silence descended upon the great hall. Soon people began to look each other in the eye and even smile wryly. Of course he’s right, they said, and they soon felt silly for having invested so heavily in dark cloaks, black eye-liner and gaudy rings. Things were going to be alright. Until a member of the Costa Rican press corps slammed his whisky down in disgust and boomed in an inexplicable Scottish accent: “Ye flamin bunch of numpties! A bunch of bampots, so ye are! Ger over yerserls!”