Doña Tota, la madre de Maradona

Giving birth to Jesus wasn’t easy. Only a woman could do it. Giving birth to a little Che Guevara wasn’t easy either. Only a woman could. Giving birth to Diego Armando Maradona, a more than outrageously talented footballer and around 1986 one of the most famous people on the planet, wasn’t going to be easy either; not in the least.

I didn’t realise ’til I was thirteen, I was a bleedin’ idiot until I was thirteen, that when it was time to eat my mother always had a pain in her belly. I swear every time we were going to eat she’d get a pain in her belly, but she wasn’t really sick. It was that there wasn’t enough food, there wasn’t enough to go round so she’d go without in order to make sure we all got enough to eat…

That’s el Diego talking a while back about his mother, the much-loved doña Tota. She died on Saturday, aged 82. Beyond his headline-grabbing declarations, the genuine grief expressed in the newspapers and on the radio over the last day or so has shown the grip Maradona continues to hold on the nation. Free of controversy or bombast, it highlights how important he still is to the heart of the country.

Furthermore, the outpouring reflects one of the most interesting aspects of the Argentine character, how family-orientated they are. Fine, maybe it would be more interesting if to a man they spent their Sundays hunting imaginary geese with silver spatulas clad in lead dungarees, but thus far we have yet to witness such a spectacle. No, despite working long hours, not to mention the extremely high divorce rate, family gatherings remain a central part of Argentine life; most regroup for an asado on Sundays, meat prices permitting. They love their mammies. So when el Diego’s mammy passes away, we think it’s fair to say that far from any nonsense on tv, the nation really does mourn.

To mark the occasion, highlight this, and bring you, dear info-hungry web trawler, something a little different, we’ve decided to translate a short story written about the woman who gave birth to the best player ever. (You can hear an interview with the author, Rodolfo Braceli, with Victor Hugo here). It’s a bit silly at times, we’ll admit, but it’s got some good lines.

It’s flotsom, a footballing nativity. Yet just why Diego is so important was highlighted by Braceli in the Hugo interview. Among so many other things, of course, Maradona, he says, was a kind of conductor, a lightning rod for the racism of Argentine society. When things weren’t going well, the powers of ‘mis-communication’, in his phrase, would invariably hit out at this villero; while in the euphoria of success, “at every moment that eternal goal is being scored, Maradona helped us take stock of things,” reminded them of who they were and what they could be.

Pegáme, que me gusta.

The woman who gave birth to Maradona was able to bear such a being as beforehand she gave credence to and followed the advice written down for her by la Pierina word for word. As a midwife, you could count on la Pierina at any hour of the night or day. A digression: the midwife who helped my mother give birth to my three and a half kilos was also called la Pierina. It wasn’t the same Pierina, no, but one reminded me of the other, and the other led me to this story. It was at that high point of the diary that links one year with another, when we toast and hug one another and kiss and become good, albeit for a moment, that Dalma Salvadora Franco, la Tota, leaned over to her husband, Diego Maradona, Chitoro, and whispered in his ear:

  • The next one will be a boy. I’m telling you.
  • That’s what you said the first time…
  • … and it was a girl.
  • And the second time…
  • … and it was a girl.
  • And the third time …
  • … it was a girl. And the fourth time, too, I said the same thing, I know.
  • And it was a girl.
  • But the fifth, Chirito, is going to be a boy.
  • It’ll be boy, Tota, if it’s not a girl.
  • I’m telling you it’s going to be a boy.
  • If it’s girl i’ll love her just the same. You know that.
  • It’ll be a boy. And he’ll play football according to God’s will.
  • God, Tota, doesn’t have a clue about football.
  • Well if He doesn’t, it’s about time He looked down and learned a thing or two.

A pitiless rain was falling on the little house in Villa Fiorito in Lanús, in the province of Buenos Aires. Yet la Pierina had promised she was going to be there at six in the evening and there she was on that fifth of January, soaked, with her umbrella inside out. This midwife kept her word. La Tota threw a towel over her and they went off to the only room where they could talk privately. It was a conversation for grown-ups, let the girls play amongst themselves.

  • I want the baby to be a boy, Pierina. A boy and a footballer and good.
  • A good person or a good footballer?
  • Both: a good lad and a great player.
  • I knew you were going to say something like that. But let’s pretend you didn’t. Let’s start afresh. Give me an answer for everything I ask you, yeah?
  • Yes.
  • You two have never been anything other than poor… you’ve got four little chislers there, do you really want to have another?
  • Yes, I do.
  • And your husband is fine with it?
  • Yes, he wants this, too.
  • Do you want a little girl or a little boy?
  • A little boy.
  • Then, Tota, you must look at the sun every time you have a drink of water.
  • I’ll look at the sun every time I drink water. But what do I do at night?
  • Look at the neck of the sun, the moon.
  • I’ll look at the moon when I drink water, then.
  • That’s not all. You and Chitoro, every day you must eat things that grow on trees, from wood.
  • Why?
  • So that the newborn comes with a little stick.

La Pierina was a woman with a bit of reading behind her. That line, for example, about ‘being born with a little stick’ she knicked from some poet who would include it three years later in a book titled The Last Father. These things happen. You’ve got to admit, too, that as a midwife la Pierina was extremely flexible and assured: more than once, with pain in her heart, she helped abort little dears who would have been devoured by a life sentence of poverty. No-one has the right to condemn anyone to hunger, she would say.

Giving birth to Jesus wasn’t easy. Only a woman could do it. Giving birth to a little Che Guevara wasn’t easy either. Only a woman could. Giving birth to Diego Armando Maradona, a more than outrageously talented footballer and around 1986 one of the most famous people on the planet, wasn’t going to be easy either; not in the least.

La Pierina asked for a herbal tea – with no sugar! – and sipped it slowly, pensive.

  • Tell me, Tota, are you really sure you want this nipper to be a top-class football player?
  • Yeah, of course, I want him to be brilliant, the best in the villa.
  • Look, if we’re going to bet on this, let’s go all out. While we’re at it, why not make him not just the best in the villa or the best in the province, the best in the country, but the best player of the century, the best player of all time.
  • Grand, Pierina… while we’re at it, sure.
  • I must tell you it’s not going to be easy. Having a kid like that won’t be easy. I came well-prepared, Tota. I’ve written down, month by month, what you have to do. You can’t leave anything out. If you forget one of the things or can’t get around to doing one of them, you can forget about the kid. You might get a little inside right or a holding midfielder who’s good enough on the ball, but nothing remarkable.
  • No, no, I want the kid to be a number ten, the best ever.
  • There you go, Tota, the best ever, in heaven and hell.
  • Pierina, is the hell part really necessary?
  • No, you can’t have heaven and earth without hell. They’re a package, eh.
  • Alright, Pierina, tell me what to do.

La Pierina asked for a maté or two, then she frowned and started to sip away rocking in her chair while looking at the floor. Looking at the floor as if she were staring into the very heart of the future, lost in contemplation. Her face darkened suddenly like a sky on a summer’s day. When she was done with her maté she moved her chair over and sat right in front of la Tota.

Their knees were touching.

La Pierina opened her little notebook and began to read in a somewhat solemn voice:

  • In order to have a son who’ll become the greatest of the great footballers, an unrivalled genius, you will have to follow, month by month, what I have here written down.
  • I will, I will.
  • During the first month, a raw clove of garlic first thing in the morning.
  • Garlic!
  • Yes, garlic. Come what may.
  • Grand, garlic, then. But why garlic?
  • So that he never bites his tongue. This kind of person must always say whatever he feels, no matter if it gets under the skin of the Pharoah or His Holiness himself… But let’s continue, it’s getting late. From the second month on, you will have to sleep on the left-hand side of the bed.
  • Why?
  • So that he’ll be a lefty, a real lefty. In the third month, you’ll have to fast for three days. Liquids only.
  • But i’ll be half starved, Pierina.
  • But him, too, so he’ll come into the world damn near insatiable. He’ll be hungry for goals, hungry for everything… In the fourth month, every three days you’ll have to make yourself a soup with spinach, celery, fennel, radishes, pumpkin, sweet potato, green chili, five onions… and the grass that grows at the edge of the well. A full pot of the stuff.
  • What’s that for?
  • I’m not sure, but be sure to do it, Tota. On the thirteenth day of the fifth month, the thirteenth, eh, you have to find a big round stone, about the size of a fist, and bury it in the middle of the nearest football pitch. This you must do alone, without anyone else watching, at three in the morning.
  • Can’t my husband come with me?
  • Alone, I said. And don’t tell a soul. Not even him.

The instructions for the sixth, seventh and eight months have been lost, for la Pierina, God knows why, whispered them in her ear. Women’s secrets. Spent secrets, too, as the page they were written was immediately ripped out of the notebook and set on fire.

  • Can I ask you something, Pierina?
  • You’re always asking me things. Go on.
  • Why did you have to whisper in my ear?
  • I don’t want anyone to hear us.
  • But who? Sure we’re here alone, there’s no-one else around.
  • Not quite, Tota, I feel as if someone were listening to us.
  • Someone…
  • Yes, I feel that right here, a third person… a writer, I don’t know, someone like that.

(Right then I felt ashamed and I blushed…)

  • Make me another maté, che, la Pierina said straight away, but change the yerba first. I’m not a big fan of maté mixed with bleedin’ enema run-off.

The maté came. And then the two women sat once again face to face.

  • Pierina, do you think i’ll be able to do all this?
  • That’s what I was just thinking. Will you, Tota?
  • I want to.
  • You’ll be able.
  • And in the ninth month what do I have to do?
  • From the first day , in the morning you have to go about your business without your shoes. In your bare feet, feeling the earth, the spine of the world. This will help your son come into the world liberal, catholic, universal… a cosmic kite
  • A cosmic kite?
  • I hear the words that one day some commentator who still doesn’t know he’ll be a commentator will use to describe him, for he’s still only about 14… Yes, barefoot, every day treading the back of the world…
  • No problem there, I like going barefoot.
  • What might prove a little more difficult is, in the first week of the ninth month, to thread a needle…
  • Sure I do that every day.
  • … thread a needle with your eyes closed. The same needle you use to sew buttons on the kids’ shirts. You can’t use some great big one, eh.

And la Tota became pregnant about three weeks after that meeting with la Pierina. She began to put on weight happily, without trying to hide it. Month after month she observed every instruction.

Until the day arrived when she finally had to thread a needle with her eyes closed. It was early when she made her first attempt, locked up in the bedroom, needle and thread in hand… she had to believe. Yet the first time she couldn’t do it. Nor at the third attempt nor at the tenth. She realised her hands were shaking. Blind and shaking, not even a year’s worth of trying would see her do it, she sighed. Three, six, seven tries more, she just couldn’t. She booted the spool and the ball flew out right through the angle of the open window. Someone outside on the street saw the ball spinning out the window and shouted what a goal! Tota heard the word goal and it was as if she’d just shaken off all the angst that had threatened to derail her. She decided to shout goal! with each new attempt to thread the needle.

She didn’t need many more tries. In fact, the very first time she felt the thread slip through the tiny little eye of the needle.

She could feel it, and she began to sob silently.

Then her husband came in and found her. He didn’t dare try stop her tears, he just bent down and kissed her swollen belly. Then he, too, began to weep softly.

Two days later, la Tota, at full term, was helping her husband, standing on his tip-toes on a chair, to change a lightbulb. Chitoro, why not use a bloody ladder… but the words were hardly out of her mouth when he dropped the bulb. She managed to break its fall with her knee; the bulb flies up again and begins to fall once more – but it doesn’t crash on the floor this time either; she cushions its fall catching it on her instep and flicks it into his bewildered hand.

  • Will it still work? he asks.
  • I’m sure it will, she says.

Having followed la Pierina’s instructions to the letter, she didn’t think her little feat with the lightbulb would seal, like a precocious birthmark, the peerless destiny of he who was to be born at seven in the morning of the following day, a Sunday, naturally; he who would be born for the ages.

On the 30th of October in the year 1960 anno domini, doña Tota’s waters broke at about five in the morning. On the way to the clinic that, of course, was named after Evita, she said to Pierina:

  • I’m sure Dieguito is going to be a number 10, but tell me, will my son be happy?
  • Your son will be condemned to bring happiness to others.
  • But him, will he be happy?
  • Look, we’re almost at the clinic. Finally.
  • But him, will he be happy, Pierina?
  • Give me your hand, watch your step.
  • But him, will he…?
  • Trust me, Tota, come on, quick.

“Scumbag” Maradona and the Blackberry Bruiser

Maradona, despite being in his dream job with a tasty enough team just a month before the World Cup, finds himself in a strangely weakened position. Gone is the rancourous, vituperative Diego of Uruguay gone the scorn king, the prince of put-downs. Enter Mr Maradona, august professional, driven to the pen as his peers’ lapdogs plot against him!

“It’s going to be a semana hot”, Maradona announced after the Haiti friendly last Wednesday. Hot in Argentina usually means scantily-clad WAGs throwing oil over each other and/or slapping each other in the face. Yet although he was referring to the provisional squad to be announced this evening, these week has seen el Diego embroiled in several pointless and embarrassing set-tos with the offspring of eminent football men.

Alfito, the Blackberry Bruiser, with his father Coco Basile, erstwhile manager of la Selección

First came a verbal waxing of the nether regions from Humbertito Grondona, who threatened to “crush” him if he so much as looked askance at his poppy, the long-term godfather of the AFA. Then yesterday, Alfito Basile, progeny of the former Argentina manager who stepped down after a Mark Hughes-ish run in October 2008, accused Diego of being underhanded in his ascension to the manager’s job. Alfito claimed his father was systematically undermined – in particular during the Beijing Olympics, where the under-20 manager was in charge and D10S cheerleader in chief – and labelled the current DT a ‘conspirator’ over and over again via his Blackberry.

Maradona's dog is not the only one who's been snapping at him recently

Maradona of late, perhaps owing to the influence of his magnificent beard (despite its purely practical purpose in covering up the love-bite inflicted by his dog), has been trying to cultivate a quiet dignity, be more of a statesman and cool things down, or at least consciously avoid polemics. Granted, his political play backfired last Wednesday but in general he has kept schtum and not leaked team or squad selections through the media. He never expected Humbertito to spank him so last week and hence his unusual reaction to the latest attacks. Repressing every natural instinct he has, he replied to accusations not by a pitch-side broadside, nor, as is his wont, by picking up the phone and dialling whichever of the talking shops stocked with numerous fat, cranky men was currently in session, but by means of a letter! A letter containing very un-Maradonian phrases such as “nothing further from the truth” and “I cannot accept what he says”. Oh the indignity!

El Coco Basile and Ribolzi in Venezuela 2007

Yet his detractors were not content with completely altering his modus operandi. Since then Basile’s former assistants, Ribolzi and Dibos, have backed up Alfio Jr and slammed Maradona. Ribolzi said today: “As a player the manager of the Selección was the best I ever saw […] but as a person he’s a scumbag, he’s an unqualified scumbag.” He went on to say that Maradona would talk back “to the Pope, to Grondona, to Humberto, to anyone, but on this he’s silent. He sounded quite nervous in the letter.”

On the contrary, far from sounding nervous, pegamequemegusta has not bothered to translate the letter as it’s quite boring. Alfito Basile, last seen in these parts when he was making a documentary about Coco’s campaign, seems to have chosen this moment purely to embarrass Maradó. He seems to be taking full advantage of Diego’s attempts at propriety to take a few cheap shots. His father’s resignation took everyone by surprise and Maradona, far from immediately appearing as favourite due to underhand dealings, was not in the running at all (all round legend Carlos Bianchi was the overwhelming favourite).

Still, it’s a funny time. Maradona, despite being in his dream job with a tasty enough team just a month before the World Cup, finds himself in a strangely weakened position. Gone is the rancorous, vituperative Diego of Uruguay gone the scorn king, the prince of put-downs. Enter Mr Maradona, august professional, driven to the pen as his peers’ lap-dogs plot against him! Oh the indignity!

The provisional squad will be announced this evening and Pegamequemegusta, for one, wants him back.

“I’m happy [Maradona]‘s manager, but I warn you, if you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.”

This time, more conscious of his position now and trying to maintain some kind of dignity (is that magnificent beard an attempt at portraying a more statesmanlike image?) Diego tried to play politics; while Humbertito had the freedom to snap at him with absolute impunity and even put him down with a vertitable frase maradoniana: “He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [….] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.”

If you get a young kid, make him think he’s the greatest guy in the world, throw money and power at him along with a fawning press, don’t be surprised if he ends up running his mouth from time to time or giving the odd hysterical, incoherent foul-mouthed tirade. No, for once on pegamequemegusta we’re not talking about Diego. We’re talking about the capo of Argieball, the man who calls the shots, Humberto Grondona.

"Humbertito throws lighter fluid on the flames" - Olé

Humbertito, as he is affectionately known, is the son of AFA President, Julio Grondona. His pappy Julio, who has been President for 32 years now, is a don in every sense of the word and so Humbertito has been given many toys to play around with over the years, teams to manage, referees’ phone numbers, committee chairs, and even the women’s football team.

Today he sounded off against (well, he could hardly be far) Maradona. In the aftermath of the bizarre Haiti ‘friendly’ on Wednesday night, el Diego used his post match comments to launch a personal attack on Julio Grondona. Of such little interest was the game itself, Diego spoke pitch-side about how he felt shafted by Julio Grondona over the cancellation of another friendly that was to take place at the end of the month in Dubai. After the team’s send-off in Buenos Aires on the 24th May, the idea was to bring everything – beef included – for the World Cup and stop off in Dubai along the way. “It’s a joke,” he said. Why? It would have been a good opportunity to play meaningful opposition? Acclimatise? ‘Try out’ more players? Rest? It was never explained. Yet what did annoy Maradona was the fact, repeated several times, that he had done the AFA President a personal favour by granting permission for 40 ‘guests’ to travel with the squad. Diego didn’t want to but it was a personal favour. “I did Grondona a favour. Now he should do me one.”

This goes to the heart of the matter: just as the match had nothing to do with football – being a farce and a vanity project for some oil barons down in Patagonia dressed up as a charity game when in reality, as the commentators revealed during the game shortly before a rocket blew up in Palermo’s face, just 2% of the gate receipts will be going towards disaster relief in Haiti – this quarrel has little to do with Dubai. It’s pure political posturing.

While Maradona has one list to define before next week, that of the squad, it is still not certain whether his beloved Oscar Ruggeri will be part of the management team in South Africa. Although everything points to a no, pegamequemegusta has reason to believe that the matter is not entirely dead, or if it is dead the matter is still kicking up a fuss like some childish vampire.

El Cabezón Ruggeri - a man's man, no chewing gum for him

Without retelling the whole sorry tale, unlike the choice cuts that will be accompanying the squad to South Africa, there’s plenty of bad beef between Maradona and Ruggeri on the one side, and the Grondona family on the other. Despite everyone having taken a pop at the Don at some point over the last 32 years, Ruggeri seems to be small enough fry for a grudge to stick. Maradona wants him in his management team, though. In February he said if Ruggeri couldn’t go to the World Cup then Humberto couldn’t either. Humberto Grondona has hit back several times, the most recent being in El Gráfico yesterday, where he called Ruggeri a tarado (a fine word some of you may recall Tevez using to describe beloved ex team-mate, the Neviller).

Meanwhile, pegamequemegusta already brought to you the hilarious exchange between Ruggeri and the AFA over the club directors and their “well-earned trip” to South Africa. There’s not a long way from that mini-scandal to Diego’s premeditated and insistent comments about how he had gone to such lengths to mollify Grondona by “making an exception” in the case of the 40 or so officials who were to travel with the team to Dubai. That the comments were premeditated is obvious first for the faux-causual manner in which he pronounced them pitch-side last night, and secondly, because he said the same thing the day before the match!  Pegamequemegusta had not deemed them worthy of comment – he also went on his usual rant about how now, just like in ’86, “there wasn’t one journalist in Argentina who wasn’t beating Bilardo with a stick” – but with Humberto’s retort today all the pieces came together.

“I’m happy [Maradona]’s manager, but I warn you, don’t touch my father. He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [….] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you,” he stormed in a teacup on Radio La Red.

Whatever about Un traje para Diego, this beard has to stay

Despite Maradona’s persecution complex – he sees bloodthirsty hounds where puppies play – pegamequemegusta can’t think of any instance where someone spoke to Maradona like that. And especially not since he’s become manager. Even at the bleakest moment of the qualifying campaign, fear of failure merely meant less categorical cheerleading. No, no-one talks of ‘crushing’ Maradona… except perhaps the next president of the AFA. Humbertito, it seems, has called Maradona’s bluff. His last play to get Ruggeri on the plane seems to have failed – and ended in another unedifying episode in a long run of unedifying episodes, another conflagration, another feebly coded slagging match. This time, more conscious of his position now and trying to maintain some kind of dignity (is that magnificent beard an attempt at portraying a more statesmanlike image?) Diego tried to play politics; while Humbertito had the freedom to snap at him with absolute impunity and even put him down with a veritable frase maradoniana: “He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [….] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.” It’s not for nothing this family have been in charge for more than 30 years.

It’s got to hurt. Any move now could only jeopardise further his preparations for the World Cup so hopefully Maradona will take it on his august chin on wait for another day to take his revenge.

In the meantime, there’s only a few days to go til the initial 30 man squad is named. Pegamequemegusta will be back with all the piping hot tips and lukewarm tea, or is that the other way around?

Don Julio Grondona