Leave the gun, take the cannoli
Font of ideas, of brightness, light and life that we are, pegamequemegusta was thinking recently. Yes, we were, oh dear handsome one. We had an idea for an epic tv show. It would be a satire. It would be both bloody and humourous. It would be serious, bleak and thought-provoking while also containing a fair dollop of rumpy-pumpy. There would be dozens of characters, many of whom would die during the program’s run, for the most part in an extremely violent fashion. Others would start off young and grow older, allowing the producers to pick apart the thorny mess that is adolescence and allow us to perve on the starlets’ growing maturity. The hero, of course, would be what society considers to be the bad guy, such as the leader of a well-known yet secretive Italian-American crime syndicate apparently inspired by Arthur Griffith’s Hungarian monarchical fantasy, say, affording us a light, vicarious sense of rebellion. The program would take a key figure of popular culture and show him in an unfamiliar light as well as striving to analyse the thought-processes of someone we generally consider to be a monster. Indeed, notwithstanding his crude, violent character, the viewer would realise with shame that s/he was cheering him on all the same.
In the midst of thrashing out the plan for what would surely be, after the failed attempt to make a mini-series based on life of la Papisa Juana, our magnum opus, regretfully we had to discard Mar del Plata as a serious candidate for the location of the show. Pegamequemegusta is all about la guita. No, somewhere in the USA, we thought, but the peripheral nature of the show’s themes meant it couldn’t be a major city. New Jersey, perhaps? Yes. And the title? Well, given the Italian angle, along with the epic sweep of the series, it would have to be somewhat poetic. This being a daring challenge to received wisdom, it would have to be something that appeared clichéd but was really delectably tongue-in-cheek, as well as being memorable, timeless, yet less funny each time you heard it. How about the Sopranos, we thought? Aye, it was all falling into place.
Now, as regards those themes, we foresaw a six or seven-series meganarrative culminating ultimately in the greatest theme of all, death. After years of digging through the vicissitudes of life and the endless bargaining to sort out the bickering and the minutiae of the everyday, we’d take it to a new level. References to the tragedy of the human condition would abound. We would delve into the most profound questions of the human spirit, not just ask in parlour-room dialogues but illustrate our existential doubts as to what it’s all about through top class photography and classy, subtle montages. Certain phrases would serve as mnemotechnic triggers, pulling the viewer back and forth through the various episodes, creating an ark and flattering his/her sense of insight. The question of the sincerity of one’s own deepest feelings and one’s place in the world would come about through an analysis of the idea of pity; while the psychical reality of death would be probed as characters wondered over and over if one really hears the bullet before it lodges itself in your brain. The debate would become all the more pressing as more and more characters would disappear in an increasingly brutal bloodbath. It would be awesome. Everyone would love it.
Plus, it would be the perfect way to raise funds for our real project, one we’ve dreamed of for years. It’s about a young Danish prince who has to avenge his father’s death after his lusty mother marries his uncle, who turns out to be the murderer! What’s that, dear handsome reader? It’s been done? They both have? Man, this is the greatest setback we’ve suffered since our autobiography was rejected for being too hackneyed.
But no fear, we will bear no rancour, dear handsome friend. Instead, let us embrace clichés and repetition to the last syllable of this no doubt already recorded ‘time’. A fine case we have before us to get this, ahem, new project off the ground – the mooted merging of the top two divisions of Argieball into a super-dooper 38 team megaleague. And what better way to lay down our rouge-besmattered principles than with a stale mafia hook to discuss the latest goings-on at the execrable AFA.
Yes, for while watching a fictional mob boss screw make-believe people over may be thoroughly enjoyable, having to live with the real consequences of the AFA’s delinquency and, dammit, their downright disregard for decency, is most depressing. Last Thursday, news came riding over the waves towards our cave to the effect that reforms were afoot to expand Argieball’s first division to 40 teams. A guffaw and a gaspy draw on our hookah later and the matter was forgotten. ‘Twould never happen. We went back to sculpting our Biglia statue whilst meditating on the magnificent obliviousness of Diego Lugano’s psychoface. On Monday night, however, with the Copa América all wrapped up, as we awaited definitive confirmation that el Checho had been caught sleeping with the fishes, it became increasingly clear it had not been a joke.
From August 2012, the top two tiers of Argieball would be fused into one mega championship with 38 teams. The details were as yet unclear but it effectively meant River Plate’s ignominious stay in the second division could last no more than one year and the only thing they would have to do to get back up into the big time was avoid getting relegated to the third division. Likewise for the other big names currently languishing there, such as the destitute Rosario Central and Huracán, along with long-dormant but one-time power-houses such as Ferro and Chacarita. From August next year, the slate would be wiped clean. No matter how badly run the club, no matter how inveterately corrupt or stupid or criminally conchudic the people in charge, those who flog players, waste money, collude with organised crime masquerading as common hooligans, etc., they were being held out the real possibility of a new period of calm. The system of averages that determined relegation would be gone, hence so would the danger of any more of the biggest teams (such as Boca, Racing, San Lorenzo, all with a dangerously low promedio) falling into the lower divisions, at least for a few more years. Yippe-kay-yay, a new day. It didn’t matter if you’d been a good citizen, paid your taxes, kept players, kept faith in a manager, invested soundly, played good ball and punched above your weight to gain long-sought after-success. That’s a chump’s game. The mob were in charge now.
Then again, the mob had always been in charge, hadn’t they? Or at least since it had become clear just how much money there was to be made and taken out of the game. Yet, strangely enough, although don Julio has run the AFA as his own personal fiefdom for some time now, he has hardly taken a very active interest in the actual running of local football. He’s not a hands-on despot, he’s not wont to be on the front line busily directing operations from a train carriage. He’s more guilty of nonfeasance than malfeasance for the most part. His manual is less the Art of War than it is the Tao Te Ching – he rules without ruling. River and Rosario Central, among others, are perfect examples of how the AFA have let clubs be ransacked by dastardly miscreants. While an evil genius, Grondona is arguably a rather dull man, and his laissez-faire attitude is one of the principal reasons for his incredible longevity in the AFA throne: he has not looked to use his position as a springboard to greater things as a politician would (former Boca president and Buenos Aires mayor/would-be presidential candidate Macri, for example). Of course he has sought to extend and cement his power over his underlings, the clubs, but he has remained curiously impassive regarding what actually goes on in society and the football he ostensibly oversees. In short, to believe don Julio cares about football is like presuming the mafia care about the environment because they’re involved in waste management.
As the hours went by and we began to get more details concerning the new competition, this lack of concern for the well-being, the credibility of the game was ever more apparent. There would be two parallel championships of 19 teams (how the seeding would be done remained unclear…). After 18 rounds, plus two weekends devoted to the traditional derbies (such as River-Boca, Racing-Independiente, etc.), the top five teams between the two ‘divisions’ and the other best nine teams in the overall standings would qualify for the Zona campeonato, while the other nineteen teams would battle it out to determine the four sides to be relegated. The plan sought to ensure all the shiniest elements of Argieball would remain, the big teams and their clásicos, while fatally undermining any sense of meritocracy or fair play. It would need to be sold by a hypnotist whose likes haven’t been seen since the trilby-less Svengali, or come accompanied by a case of mass amnesia in order to have any validity at all. In addition, in order to create this monster, the upcoming season, due to start next week, would effectively exist in a coma since there would be no promotion or relegation. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration, but conceivably clubs could just decide to do without paying professionals for the year and send out youth players… All these measures provoked an instinctive rejection on the part of the fans for they, unlike the AFA, know deep down that, despite all the nonsense and conniving we’re used to (in all leagues in all countries), fundamentally football needs transparency. Even the whiff of illegitimacy is deeply unsettling, like Zane Lowe being crowned la Marianne. And the megatorneo is most definitely a bastard child.
That has not stopped everyone and their long lost sister’s prize nanny goat opining over the last few days as to who the father is, though. Some say it’s Grondona’s way of pleasing all his constituents: saving the grand and upgrading the lowly in order to secure four more years at the head of the Family. This line is backed up somewhat by the fact that the definitive date for the approval of the scheme was set for October 18th, the day of elections at the AFA. Others, however, insist the measures came down straight from the Casa Rosada. The AFA’s own spokesman, Cherquis Bialo, who on Monday night was dispatched to bring us the news that poor Checho had been stabbed in the back and thrown to the dogs, was of the latter persuasion. He stated quite frankly that the state pays the money for Fútbol para todos and they pay for the best: “If River hadn’t gone down, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” It seems ol’ Cherquis was enjoying his moment in the spotlight a bit too much, however, and had overstepped his remit. His boldness did not go down at all well at AFA headquarters. Today Humbertito Grondona even questioned the (soon-to-be former?) spokesman’s sobriety. One thin-moustachioed committee member holding a tommy-gun was overheard reprimanding him:
I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.
Nevertheless, help was on the way. Defending the AFA as the sole makey-upper of the plan, Quilmes president and Argieball bigwig José Luis Meiszner complained that people are always asking the AFA to sort out Argieball but when they do try something innovative all they get is bitchiness. Why now? they asked him. Why not now? he replied. Because it subverts the rules! they cried. Meiszner was unperturbed, however. He appealed to the great democracy that is the AFA, failing to mention that the initial plan for the megatournament was approved by the Executive Committee 22-4 following just half an hour of ‘debate’. Ah yes, the delegates present had just ten minutes to consult the proposal. Democracy? More like a shotgun wedding. Four clubs abstained, later citing the lack of time to consider what was certainly a real noodle-scratcher. The rest just said ‘Yes, Godfather.’
Pegamequememgusta chuckled mirthlessly as we listened to Nicolás Russo, the president of Lanús, one of the better-run outfits in recent years, explain on the wireless how he voted yes but that 99% of the clubs were against the plan. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the backlash he saw himself (and the other 86% that voted in favour) engulfed in. Sure ’twas just more japes down at the AFA, like. In any case, he hastened to explain, he had got the impression that don Julio had not had much room for manoeuvre: “He was called into the Casa Rosada and told to implement it immediately.” The Don was but a meek little schoolboy taking dictation from a stern latin master in a swishing soutane.
According to La Nación and a thousand other media outlets part of the Clarín media monopoly at war with the government and who also stand to lose the rights to broadcast the second division matches (don’t you just love politics, my dear handsome fellow – you’re so pretty when you’re weary), the nasty government was abusing its power, taking advantage of the unholy FPT to intervene in football. With the presidential elections also in October, Cristina wanted to deliver the final death blow to TyC while shoring up a few more votes in the provinces by ‘federalising’ football, sending big teams like Boca, River, Racing, etc. all around the country, where most of their fans live (?). On the one hand, this seemed logical enough, following the unprecedented nature of the truly federal Copa América. However, in reality, thundered the snorts of thousands, this year’s Primera was already going to be the most federal in years, following the promotion of teams from Santa Fe, Córdoba and San Juan. And they had got there on merit! The system worked! And now their hard work was going to be spat on by an ignorant, meddling government. FIFA sanctions were called for. People were very upset. Surely there’d just be too many games anyway to have them on television at all, unless some brand new free-to-air national tv station was launched just for this. Or would this lead to the re-privatisation of Argieball again?! Even Victor Hugo, a champion of Fútbol para todos, remarked: “It’s not that easy to put together a package with such disparate elements and yet there be absolutely no-one happy about it.”
The truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle, we’re tempted to conclude in a thoroughly undergraduate fashion. Several things are beyond doubt: the idea that the AFA is a democracy is a farcical one and should not be entertained; the AFA have not made this decision for the good of Argieball; the question of reform would not have been raised if River hadn’t been relegated; the government are obviously taking advantage of football as part of a noble yet treacherous drive to reform the country’s media, and they’re no saints either. Pegamequemegusta refuses to believe, however, that this, or any other government for that matter, has the time or inclination to draw up such a proposal. In this respect, the idea that the megatournament was imposed on the AFA is ludicrous. Far more likely, and perfectly in tune with Cristina’s rhetoric in recent times, is that a somewhat naïve wish was communicated to the effect that the league be made more federal. The rehabilitation of River of course would make any such product much more valuable, but was by no means the overriding concern of either the government or the AFA. Don Julio, we posit, saw an opportunity. Well, he mumbled, you know that would take a lot more money. How much exactly? Well, you can’t just kick teams out of the first division… We’d need to bring in more teams… Perhaps double the money? Double it is.
The figure being bandied about at the moment, denied of course by all AFA men, is AR$1,300m pesos (about US$300m). Double the money to dole out, ay. And they talk about democracy, federalisation, football. If don Julio was in the house-building business, he’d be ringing up the papier-maché suppliers as we speak. He doesn’t give a hoot about the integrity of the tournament. River certainly haven’t asked for this. Passarella released a statement this evening saying they had got themselves into this mess and they would get themselves out – playing football. Having undergone the ultimate humiliation so recently, they finally seem to have recovered a modicum of propriety, or at least some self-respect, and a humble Passarella is clearly something to be cherished.
Staying with the good news, we can finally reveal that about an hour after that River statement this evening it was announced that plans to reform the 2012-13 tournament were to be put on hold, with a decision to be taken before the end of the year. The extent of the public backlash was not referred to in the communiqué, which mentioned only that more time was needed to consider further proposals. They may well just be playing for time, though, so we consider it important to clear up exactly what’s been going on these past few days: what’s happened here has been foolish and shockingly jejune on the part of the government, but it’s not evil nor has it sought to bend the AFA to its will. In Román Iucht‘s phrase, it’s opportunistic rather than opportune. However, the real opportunist here is Grondona, who once again has taken advantage of Cristina’s crusade against Clarín to cash in. If they end up handing over the money, besides the inherent waste, it will be the second time they’ve bolstered the cancer eating away at Argieball in the name of returning it to the people. In the week that began sleepily enough with the orchestrated dismissal of the hapless Checho, we’ll have another multi-million dollar deal signed that, as Juan-Pablo Varsky points out, “does nothing to strengthen the clubs or aid player development”. Once again there will be no checks on the flow of cash, no body to oversee the administration of funds either at the AFA or the clubs, no real insistence on any project to get back to the glory days of la nuestra, the distinctive style of ball-playing that developed around the Río de la Plata bred from the genius of the criollo character, at a time when, as now, far from wallowing in self-pity, even if Argieball was poor, it still had dignity, before la nuestra was consumed by la cosa nostra.
Listen to us, we sound all nostalgic. But who cares? A revolution based on novelty is far more likely to be unsubstantial than one based on a return to basic principles. It’s all been done before.