Santiago Solari & Facundo Sava – Great Budgies

Fresh meat, flavour of the month, new blood, firm-buttocked, ogle-worthy Adonis – all epithets that tend to be standing somewhere out back enjoying a woodbine, dusting off their well-worn polo necks when pegamequemegusta is being discussed. The new, pshaw, we’ve never been too fond of it – especially all these blog posts on up-and-coming players, which only take off when driven along by a particularly smooth scribeToo often it’s an over-enthusiastic exercise in cradle-gazing, almost always without any real, first-hand experience or knowledge (hence its appeal for pretend journos, perhaps). Moreover, it involves too long a wait for what is ultimately a rather trivial pay-off, little more than an eventual smug bar-stool diatribe ending in the words “[…] profitable nor popular.” What’s more, in South American football, in particular, while somewhat unlikely, it can potentially lead to the very sales of young players bloggers tend to deplore. After all, foreign clubs have proven over and over again that their scouting policy is about as sophisticated as pegamequemegusta’s grooming techniques.

When it comes to new managers, though, we become quite energised. A couple of reflective, articulate respected men slowly asserting themselves on the scene gives us real hope for a Jota Jota-less day. A change from the same old faces on the managerial sorrow-go-round that make up Argieball could bring about some change, could (indirectly) bring some stability, could lead to thoughtful, timely critiques of the many avoidable ills that continue to undermine the game here.

Hence we were delighted to discover some of the finest prose being written about the game coming from ex-players such as Facundo Sava, who retired last year after a 17 years lanking around Ferro, Boca, Fulham and Racing among others, and Santiago Solari, the dreamy left-winger who was part of del Bosque’s glorious Real team ten years ago before getting bogged down in the torpor of Zanetti’s Inter. Crucially, neither seem content to merely add further bulk to the dangerously overstocked punditry pulpit, like the admittedly precise and loveable Diego Latorre. Rather, reading their pieces, one gets the impression that for now they are biding their time, that they have a real vocation for management, that this is a period of meditation – albeit public – as they prepare themselves for the inevitable time when they put their theories and experience into practice.

Santiago Solari, indeed, a magnificent piece of whose we translated a while back here on pegame, states as much in his latest column in el país. Titled ‘The simple Life of a Footballer’, he lists with great rhythm and style down through his opening paragraphs many of the difficulties that beset the modern footballer: having every minute of the day accounted for, the constant changes in schedule, the travelling, missing one’s family, never being around for holidays, birthdays, school plays, etc., the rigorous diet he must follow, the injuries, taking five minutes just to make it to the bathroom, the relentless competition throughout one’s whole (short) career, not to mention the threat that one’s career could end at any moment “in any match or any training session”.

In the final paragraphs, however, he turns this Hobbesian catalogue of horrors on its head. He recognises that, despite being the son and nephew of football managers, and despite his own vast experience in different set-ups, he had forgotten how everything surrounding the footballer, even the organisation of what he regards as his own trials, essentially depends on others. At a coaching course organised by the Spanish FA the previous week, he finds his mind opened “to a new dimension where everything that happens on the pitch is but a fraction of the responsibilities that the position [of manager] entails.”

“The life of a footballer is really easy. No Anatomy, Pschology, Sociology or Law. No Training Theory, Team Management or Teaching Methods. Coaches, managers, physios, doctors, psychologists… These were the people who were thinking of every detail of every day of every year so that I, the player, didn’t lack for anything and could devote all my attention to achieving the objective: put a few crosses in and, if I could, score the odd goal.”

Much of this is ‘obvious’, of course, but it’s the depth of thought that strikes us like a slap from an aggrieved mother on one of our blind bumbling careers through the park. 

We were similarly impressed with a piece by Facundo Sava that came out on Wednesday. Titled ‘Boca, team play’, it discusses the triumph of Falcioni’s men in the Argieball Apertura with two rounds left to play. The merits of Falcioni’s Boca are clear – solid defence, pressure on the ball, always a man in support, patience – and while their play may have been somewhat prosaic at times, they’re worthy champions for the simple fact that no other team in the division had the wherewithal to emulate such elemental virtues. El colorado Sava, however, who we always thought of as a dull-looking journeyman of a striker, spins the Orb of Power and inflects the story nicely. 

For in the run-up to the title-decider against Banfield last Sunday, the dominant media line was whether the oft-crocked Riquelme was going to play or not. Updates, worry, exasperated murmurings, the impression was that without their talisman Boca could still mess up the championship. This, Sava asserts, was completely wrong-headed. Indeed, the real secret of Boca’s success, he argues, was that such media speculation must have seemed as foreign to the players as it did to him, a disinterested observer paring his fingernails coolly observing Falcioni’s creation from afar. For the players were united, Falcioni had instilled in them such conviction in the validity of their play that they “had no need to even look to the bench during a game.”

This quality reminded us of Coco Basile’s Boca, whose consistency saw them crowned bicampeones in 2006. The team they remind Sava of, however, were Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, under the management of Phil Jackson. Facundo insists that Jackson’s book Sacred Hoops is obligatory reading for any coach in any sport. For the ‘Zen Master’, he says, managed (the key word, Mancini) to get a group of superstars to prize the collective over the individual. He convinced them that there was something larger than themselves to play for – avoiding the distressingly common occurrence whereby a team’s most gifted player can mutate into a burden, like being gifted four large ducks when you don’t have a freezer – thereby achieving a kind of synergy.

Gah, ugly word! Fair enough, a lot of this is obvious. Moreover, words like the offensive one just used smack of the wisdom of auld handmaidens, suspicious Brent-speak. Sava’s right, though. His point is timely, original and savvy shrewd. Having a keen analytic grasp of the game, or being an intellectual for that matter, is no guarantee of success, of course. However, it bodes well. Moreover, the cristaline quality of Solari and Sava’s prose, and the generousness of their opinions in general, make us think they’d have no problem conveying their points to a group of pampered, overly-developed men-children. Both both weigh their words judiciously, both appear to be independent thinkers, neither have any problem taking a stance contrary to the prevailing opinion, nor do they squirm when the obvious needs stating. 

Of course, neither are managers yet. Nor are they alone in their field. Abroad, too, there are several more reasons for hope in the future of Argiemanagement in the satellites orbiting the mad moon Bielsa (there should be a moon named after Bielsa), the Genghis Khan of coaches.

At home, though, there’s a dearth of such folk: Diego Simeone should be one of the luminaries but his glib, blind bumbling at Racing, forever haughtily sniping at the short-sightedness of the pueblo whilst ignoring his own shortcomings, is but a blueprint for despair. Simeone is the Man Who isn’t Here. The very title of Solari’s blog, El Charco (‘The Pond’), on the other hand, implies a connection to the auld country, that he’s not an eternal ex-pat; it reveals a sense of commitment, of duty. Likewise Sava, who keeps an even lower profile far from the fanfare of Olé. Nationalism is such a dirty concept, but we’ve come to believe that some of its cleaner qualities, namely a sense of solidarity, far from cheap xenophobia or base self-congratulation, ought to be rehabilitated – especially in such an outward-looking, insecure nation such as Argentina (or Ireland, for that matter). 

Yet, as we said, we’re not heralding a footballing revolution here. After all, the man who just won the Apertura, Falcioni, is a gnarly old-timer whose face looks like a chewed up slipper. Novelty, indeed. However, in the absence of justice, Batman cometh; and in the shadow of the AFA’s neglect, strong, well-spoken personalities with a respectable record are what are needed. As Wenger said in an interview mark Arsenal’s 125th anniversary,

the development of a football club depends on individuals, who take the right initiative [sic?], take the right decisions, have the right dedication for the club […]

Whether they bring anything inherently new or not, Facundo Sava and Santiago Solari, so far, look well on course to make a positive contribution to Argieball. They are distant stars whose light has yet to reach us. In the meantime, Real-Barca, eh?

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