Cábalas, cábalas! The world is a drunken snake-cum-conveyor belt except it’s not fixed to the floor and it moves in several different directions at once! It is a river a-flood ten thousand fathoms deep on whose purely hypothetical bed of mud dead fish feed on the detritus of other dead fish, and it flows nowhere. Order! Order must be established. An Anchor, a Fisherman, an amulet, a stout blackthorn to banish ghosts and goblins, some sense of certainty like the loyal look in an old mutt’s eyes.
Such were, we venture, the night terrors of the Argentine coaching staff. For, as we mentioned yesterday, it appears Sabella has had enough of certain players’ bad performances so far in this World Cup and decided to second-guess himself in a search for security. Of the dead certain starting eleven, when Argentina play Belgium in under an hour’s time (bejaysus), four will have been changed, owing variously to injury (Agüero), suspension (Rojo) and poor form (Gago and Fede Fernández). The curious thing about it is Sabella is – cliché alert – a cautious man yet the certainty he seeks is actually bound up in two players in particular who he obviously likes but has either sidelined from the squad previously or never plays.
Demichelis, you may remember, dear be-flaggèd one, has not appeared for Argentina since the very first matches of qualifying, more than two and a half years ago, when he committed quite the blunder. Biglia, on the other hand, who was called up as a back-up to Mascherano, has long been a favourite of Sabella yet has practically never finished a match and has only played 20 minutes at this World Cup. Another curious element is the fact that the decision puts more a Glen Whelan type than an (in good form) Andy Reid in midfield while seeking to improve the side’s ability to play out from the back with, well, pegamequemegusta can’t think of any ball-playing Irish centre backs. It’s all somewhat back-to-front, certainty in relative novelty. At least Sabella has shown he’s not afraid to make big decisions, especially Given Messi’s predilection for playing with Gago. As he said himself in yesterday’s press conference, though,, winning is what determines whether you were right or wrong; you either look like a genius or a fool. Let’s hope, etc
Finally, this translation is yet another piece by Marcelo Sottile and Hernán Claus, of Olé, whose work we enjoy greatly. Check it out below, pegamequemgusta.
- You weren’t even dreaming of the call-up, were you?
- As far as I was concerned, I was out. When the coaching staff came to Manchester to see Agüero and Zabaleta, they didn’t get in touch with me. I lost hope.
- So to you the Bolivia match seemed like a kind of death certificate for your international career?
- Yeah, but I hoped that match wasn’t going to be the last. That dream kept me going. I had been in love with la Selección since my first game under Pekerman in 2005, and I hadn’t been able to finish my time there in the right way.
- What did you learn from the mistake against Bolivia?
- I had just got across well and knocked the ball out for a throw. And it was from that throw the mistake came: I decided not to play out from the back. The ball fell on my left foot and I tried to get it up so I could clear it with my right. Their forward got goalside of me and that was that, I couldn’t catch him…
- How were the following days?
- Bad. Really bad. In the stadium I loved the most I’d had the worst moment of my career. I’ve gotten injured playing for la Selección – an ankle operation, metal plates in my face – but you accept those things as part of the job. A mistake like that is different… Especially when there are loads of other things behind it: the poor Copa América, the bad start to the qualifiers after losing to Venezuela for the first time ever, the fact that they had raised the prices of tickets for the match so that day the Monumental was half-empty…
- Did Sabella say anything to you at the time?
- He was very sincere. We had a long talk before travelling to Colombia. He reminded me of a line el Bambino Veira had once said to a goalkeeper: ‘I’m taking you out to protect you.’ Alejandro added, though: “I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I’m not taking you out to protect you. I’m taking you out because I have to protect the group and at the moment your confidence is rock bottom.” He was right. I’ve had plenty of setbacks in my career, but that one was a knock-out blow.
- Did you think that was the end of your international career?
- Well… Look, in training before the match in Barranquilla we were having a kick around and they put me up front. I must have scored about ten goals that day. That’s when I thought: ‘Ah, this is their way of saying goodbye, ha.’
- You had already had some bad experiences with la Selección, like in 2006 when you were left out of the squad on the last day. You even said you were thinking of giving up football…
- That was an exaggeration; it was shock talking. Coming back to la Selección this time completely made up for that. That’s why when training started before coming to Brazil, they asked if I was nervous and I answered: “No, I’m enjoying myself. The others have been nervous for months wondering if they’d be called up.” I was out of the picture.
- And how are you feeling now?
- Honestly, and with all due respect, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone as happy and with as much energy as me at the moment. Obviously I’m ambitious and always want more, but at the moment all I want is to help the team win the World Cup.
- So all’s well and you’re going to take things as they come?
- It’s hard to change at 33. All my life I’ve been schooled and coached the same thing: respect for the ball, whether in Renato Cesarini, River or Bayern Munich. I remember one time, and I’ve never told this story in public, when I was playing in the Champion’s League final against Inter: I was on a yellow and I wasn’t playing well. To be honest, I thought Van Gaal was going to take me off. But then, in front of everyone, he said: “The next time you belt it long I’m taking you off. That’s not what we’re about here.” That had a massive effect on me… Pellegrini, too, in a match against Everton, said: “Even though I don’t want you to take risks, even though sometimes I feel like — and he makes a gesture of something tightening around his neck — I’d prefer if next time you’re going to make a clearance, instead of whacking the ball into the stand, you try to do so with a bit more class. Long balls like that embolden the opposition.” Still, sometimes you just have to get rid of it, take no risks.
- Are you ready to play?
- Yes, I’m raring to go. I’m happy and morale is good. We’ve got a lot of support… We have to be respectful, but ambitious, too.
- How far do you think this team can go? The performances haven’t been great so far.
- We have to put an end to this quarter-final curse and play all seven matches.
- After all these ups and downs, you must be dreaming of scoring a header like Tata Brown’s?
- Well, who doesn’t?… Talking to the press I try to play it safe, but at the same time I have this feeling that if I got into this squad through the back door, it’s because something big is going to happen. Now that I’m here, I can allow myself to dream a little.
- At least your kid already got his picture with Messi.
- Bastián, my five-year-old, is mad about football. He watches matches with me and he understands it – and like all kids, Messi is his idol. He has Messi toys, he sees him scoring goals for Barca, he wants to have Messi’s boots, he practices Leo’s moves…
- It’s not easy, though…
- A short while back I said to Leo: “Stop making my kid cry, man!” We were in Buenos Aires watching the telly and they showed a video of Messi as a kid, doing keepie-uppies. Bastián started crying. “I can’t do that,” he said, frustrated. I calmed him down and told him: “Don’t worry, either can I.”