Messi the Big Fat Racist

No, what really surprised us about this story was how out of touch it made us feel. The common thread over the last few years in the Messi-Argentina saga is that la Pulga doesn’t play well for his national team because of essential questions of belonging, identity; umpteen times and more we’ve heard how estranged he feels, how he’s been in Catalonia so long he’s hardly even Argentine, that this is the problem. No matter how outdated this viewpoint is (Time magazine published a hopelessly passé story on Messi not being accepted in his homeland a few months back) Pegamequemegusta was sure that, no matter how false any of that was, over there Messi was essentially viewed as a European – as opposed, say, to other squat, rotund, picante, mouthy powerhouses, clearly South American, like Tevez and Suarez. Although everyone obviously knew he was Argentine, we thought he qualified for honorary, non-lazy sombrero-wearing–wetback/sudaka status in the same way Henry had won gentleman status in England. In short we thought the press had granted him an exemption from his class, that there was always a leather-bound chaise waiting for him at the club if he wanted it.

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Messi yawned and scratched his cheek. After a few seconds he even decided to open his eyes. The journalist was still there. Should we all be racists, now, Lionel? ¿Qué? Should we all be racists now? It’s just with being on twitter all day, at night I just like to enjoy a cup of tea. ¿Eh? he shuffled in his anorak. The racism, Leo, the racism – you know, it was on the front page of the Sun; Drenthe and all that? ¿Qué carajo es un drenthe? I’m just a simple free-scoring underwear model with a left-foot that makes martyrs want to swap sides with the Holy Ghost.

It was left to his club to refute the claims. “They’re well wide of the mark,” Barcelona said in a statement. “The player has always shown a maximum respect [sic] and sportsmanship towards his rivals, something which has been recognised by his fellow professionals many times, and we are sure that any accusations to the contrary are well wide of the mark. His behaviour throughout his career has always been exemplary.”

Enough churnalism. (Feed the cat; drink the fernet; write the words). Grand, he’s Not That Type of Person. We’ve heard for years about how quiet, how reserved he is. Carles Rexach, the man who famously signed Messi on a napkin, said that after knowing him for ten years the most he’d ever heard him say was ‘alright, yeah, no, okay and nah’. However, that was two years ago, before his explosion into onion-bag-busting supremo, a man who breaks records like a young Marcelo Bielsa broke hearts. Perhaps our image of Messi is hopelessly flawed. Maybe Rainman’s drunk on power and success, the demure exterior but a front for a chest heaving with hate.

We read a story in the local paper here a few weeks ago of a family of marplatenses who run a traditional Argentine take-out business in Casteldelfels, where the roasarine ogre dwells. They were highly complimentary of his charm and good manners when coming to the gate to pick up the odd bag of empanadas. In the light of these Drenthe revelations, however, pegamequemegusta now wonders if lil Lionel wasn’t threatening the hamlet with blocking out their sun if the real tale of his ghastly, bone-munching character were to get out. Think about it, the praise heretofore has been so universal there must be a cover-up. No, really, he’s a dreamboat, they all insist, fingers quivering for a smoke when there are already three on the go in the smouldering tray; a Camp Nou flunkie a few kilometres away with a pair of Calvin Kleins pulled tightly across the snout of the family dog. 

What happened anyway? Currently clubless Royston ‘Vasey’ Drenthe spoke to a Dutch newspaper in his homeland. He said he’d had a few run-ins with Messi in his time with Real and Hercules. “I’ve played against Messi loads of times”, he chest-thumped vicariously. “You know what always pissed me off? He’d always call me ‘negro’.” The, in Olé’s words, ‘insconspicuous’ Drenthe goes on to say that before one match Messi shook his hand with an ‘Hola, negro’ but then they had a bit of a ruckus in the game. “Afterwards he didn’t shake my hand. I don’t think he’ll be inviting me to his birthday party.”

Shades of Suarez? Drenthe actually diffuses the situation like a bomb hound with his next comments: “I know it’s common in South America but I can’t stand it. [At Real] Diarra would get really angry when Higuaín and Heinze would say it to him. Eventually they cut it out.”

In some versions of this story, that last line is rendered as ‘they were stopped’. We imagine the Argentines being gagged by kit men as they struggle to utter their favourite word, negro. Or perhaps they were fitted with buzzers to train them to be civilised, like rats in a cage with a pellet-dispenser. Either way, Drenthe seems to recognise that it is a perfectly innocent cultural misunderstanding – but nevertheless one that still got under his skin, so to speak. 

The glaring like a raybanned-rooster-in-a-vat-of-neon-paint problem in terms of interpretation here, however, is that the comments were made in Dutch. It is a lamentable fact that so many journalists in our most supermodern of worlds actually use google translate to do their work. If you compare the automatic translation of the Drenthe article on nusport with any of the English papers’ versions, you get a Spider Baby, a dollied up farce. One of the most damning elements of the headlines is that they say Messi called Drenthe “a negro”, not just negro as in ‘Alright buddy’ (not matter how many layers of sarcasm you want to apply) but a negro – it sounds so inescapably horrible.

That little twist doesn’t even occur to the editors over here because the phrase is so common. In other respects the versions on the Argentine pages differ slightly – not in terms of presenting Messi in a better light necessarily, but in terms of subtle grammatical changes. In the Googlish version, for example, it says Higuaín and Heinze ‘were stopped’, whereas in the Spangooglean version it says ‘they stopped’ of their own accord. It’s an important point that the language barrier prevents us from resolving. 

No such qualms troubled many a rag, though, when the semistory came to light. Nor, to our knowledge, did they use any of the tools at their disposal to investigate the matter. Rather, it appears that many were all too happy to sully the reputation of the stainless saint of nowball. Front page: Messi = Racist. Over here, the story only appeared on websites half-way down the page below the latest goings-on at River in their Divine Comedy round the seven circles of la B, and Copa Libertadores previews. Yet we think it would be churlish to say it was buried. After all, besides the mention of ‘tone’ in some translations, Drenthe’s own comments attest to a cultural misunderstanding more than any real malice.

No, what really surprised us about this story was how out of touch it made us feel. The common thread over the last few years in the Messi-Argentina saga is that la Pulga doesn’t play well for his national team because of essential questions of belonging and identity. Umpteen times and more we’ve heard how estranged he feels, how he’s been in Catalonia so long he’s hardly even Argentine, that this is the problem. No matter how outdated this viewpoint is (Time magazine published a hopelessly passé story on Messi not being accepted in his homeland a few months back) pegamequemegusta was sure that, no matter how false any of that was, over there, in DeVillepin’s centre for the spiritually retired, Messi was essentially viewed as a European – as opposed, say, to other squat, rotund, picante, mouthy powerhouses, clearly South American, like Tevez and Suarez. Although everyone obviously knew he was Argentine, we thought he qualified for honorary, non-lazy sombrero-wearing–wetback/sudaka status in the same way Henry had won gentleman status in England. In short, we thought the press had granted him an exemption from his class, that there was always a leather-bound chaise waiting for him at the club if he wanted it.

The appearance of this story in the European press tells us otherwise. Messi is indeed fair game for those who are wont to present South American footballers as preternaturally skilled halfwits, culturally bereft tricksters with such an instinctive, nay, animalistic attachment to the ball it makes their gliding past defenders essentially unfair.

Thirteen years in the Irish education system has this to tell you about South America: they said there was gold in a place called El Dorado. They couldn’t find it. Our complete ignorance of so many foreign cultures, and the lack of time in the day, leaves us eternally exposed to misreadings of events and people. Make no mistake: racism is a massive problem in South America, and especially in the Europe-tilted Argentina, but it has nothing to do with the American/English/French/Africa narrative we’re sadly familiar with. Drenthe’s comments weren’t particularly incendiary; they were actually pretty fair. Messi is just from a different place. They do not mean he’s a bigot, though. Indeed, Drenthe was probably most annoyed because Lionel did this to him (after all, it’s the Chinese he’s after): 

[vimeo 41952284]

Messi is Ours

It is a declaration of love for the wee man from Rosario, touchingly bashful at times (“i’d be uncomfortable overstepping the mark…”) while at others it veritably flushes with ardent reverence. It betrays a burning need for consummation, which comes through in metaphysical statements that suggest don Julio has been digging into his John Donne: “He plays as he is therefore he is as he plays.” Such demands could prove awkward for the object of his affections, we feel. And how surprising – by all accounts Mrs Grondona is a thoroughly respectable woman, a loyal companion and a fervent Catholic to boot, yet we never suspected her husband was a man of such romantic intensity, such burning passion, a man not content to smell the flower but one who must possess it, ravish it: “Messi is Ours.”

Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro
per la pietà del suo factore i rai,
quando i’ fui preso, et non me ne guardai,
ché i be’ vostr’occhi, donna, mi legaro

A look, a wordless gesture, a walk in the park hand in glove with birdsong, promise and tranquility; an act of devotion, selfless sacrifice, unflinching trust in moments of greatest vulnerability, companionship, self-fulfilment; romance, slavering desire to possess the other, to place them on the burning pyre of your own lust, to annihilate them, strip down to your undies and shoot them with an arrow, make their heart your own in a bloody act of cannibalism – the love scale has space a-plenty for every noddy to carve his notch. Just where you would choose to start cutting for a declaration like don Julio Grondona’s latest ode to Messi (brought to our attention by @ArgentinaFW), however, pegamequemegusta will leave up to you, dear cherub, dear reader.

This month’s AFA Revista is dedicated to the still unravish’d bride of quietness’s latest Ballon d’or triumph and, in particular, the reaction of the world’s media. It’s not a bad little magazine; in any case it’s deliciously produced, very glossy altogether as well as being bilingual. Here, however, we bring you our own rendition of the AFA’s eternal president’s editorial.

It is a declaration of love for the wee man from Rosario, touchingly bashful at times (“i’d be uncomfortable overstepping the mark…”) while at others it veritably flushes with ardent reverence. It betrays a burning need for consummation, which comes through in metaphysical statements that suggest don Julio has been digging into his John Donne: “He plays as he is therefore he is as he plays.” Such demands could ultimately prove awkward for the object of his affections, we feel. And how surprising they are. By all accounts Mrs Grondona is a thoroughly respectable woman, a loyal companion and a fervent Catholic to boot. Yet we never suspected her husband was a man of such romantic intensity, such simmering passion, a man not content to smell the flower but one who must possess it, ravish it, pound into a paste and use it to flavour a thick, steaming bowl of lovesoup to be snarfled down grunting and spoonless: “Messi is Ours.”

Enjoy, pegamequemegusta.

I almost never speak about players’ performances. I may have commented on one or two particular showings from the national team as a whole, but never have I commented on the players as individuals. It’s not my place to do so and i’d be uncomfortable overstepping the mark set by my obligations and responsibilities. However, in Messi’s case it’s different. Not just because he has just won the Ballon d’or awarded by FIFA for the third consecutive time – unquestionably the most sought after prize by all élite players – but because of everything he represents.

On the pitch Messi is just as he is in real life: generous to others, modest with regard to himself and he can always be relied on by those around him. He plays how he is therefore he is as he plays. Moreover, he’s always thinking of the Selección Argentina, of which he is captain. Every time he receives an award like this, in the few words he speaks he always mentions Barcelona, his country and his national team. What’s more, he expresses his hope to reach the highest achievements with the celeste y blanco.

In this issue of the AFA magazine, you will see how the world’s media covered Messi after winning, once again, FIFA’s Ballon d’or. And the truth is I feel a wholesome pride in having been around to witness his coming of age as a football player, in having acted on time to make sure he wore our dear national jersey, and in being by his side as well as with his teammates, the management team and those in charge of Argentine football as we look to all pull together to make their dream – and Messi’s – come true.

From Argentina I send congratulations and our best wishes.

Yes, Messi is ours.

Messi, Francescoli & Sports Illustrated

This may seem like curmudgeonly criticism, but when a magazine like Sports Illustrated rolls along with its feted, prizewinning auteurs deigning to shed a bit of light on Argentina only to tell a story anyone who’s at all interested in the topic already knows by heart, present bits of other peoples’ interviews as its own work and even make smug, condescending and downright stupid comments about a country the writer clearly doesn’t know very well, pegamequemegusta don’t like it; we expect better.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so does pegamequemegusta churn out these cold, wet and unpotable posts. My brothers, oh handsome brothers (and we stress this as narry a lovesick sailor after three years on the yardarm has espied more females than are wont to frequent this inhospitable coast), pegamequemegusta was forced out on its crutches to stalk the shoreline today for two reasons: firstly because of the usual financial imperative that sees us selling cigarettes to schoolchildren and, secondly, as the words of two contrasting Messi interviews in one day had set our salt-encrusted sinapses firing alternately bursts of delight and outrage as in the 50-gun salute once held by our dear, late schizophrenic skipper after what he claimed to be te vanquishing of his evil twin.

The first piece that set our ears as pointed as a horny cocker spaniel with a Nosferatu make-over comes from Sports Illustrated. The piece is imaginatively titled ‘Lionel Messi: the World At His Feet’. When we came across it, it had already been retweeted many times, nearly all of which referred to it as ‘outstanding’.

Although the sarcasm leaking from the previous lines is about as appealing as being dripped on by a paedophile, it is a good article, of course. Pegamequemegusta was even quite thrilled with such great lines as these:

The fact is, with a talent as otherworldly as Messi’s, charm would be a distraction. Miles Davis played a diabolic trumpet with his back to the audience, and that was more than enough; any hint of charisma would have blown the roof off the place. Maradona’s career, meanwhile, played out like a war between a glorious body and a corrupted mind; when, in 1994, his days as an international player ended in disgrace after he failed a World Cup drug test, the personality seemed to have consumed the player whole.

Great stuff; and it’s accompanied by interesting claims such as Messi “has indeed shifted Maradona’s gambeta, his capering dribble, into a higher gear.” Pegamequemegusta goes all Polonius: ‘capering’ is good.

Yet by page three we began to feel irked by the excessive name-dropping. When left to its own devices, the prose is good, so why laden it down with all these quotes? Well, they’re there to create a veritable chorus of respected football voices who can testify to Messi’s greatness, who can justify the interest (and, indeed, the length) of the piece, you say, oh handsome reader. Grand. But perhaps it’s just padding since Messi doesn’t have much to say. Perhaps we don’t need any more interviews with Messi. Pegamequemegusta is pretty bleedin tired of reading and watching these things, so god knows how the man himself feels.

Yet what does SI care? It prides itself on having an interview with Messi the day after his stonking performance against Real Madrid last November. The day after. Yet SI wants water for its souvenir-studded mill so bad that in its classic Gonzo, look-at-me intro, Price complains of Messi’s churlish reluctance to speak about the comparisons between himself and el Diez: “Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.”

SI try to get through to their man

This isn’t a minute by minute of Mr Price’s work but suffice it to say that it covers all the ground familiar to anyone who’s paid any attention to Messi over the past five years or indeed pegamequemegusta over the past three months: Newell’s, Rexach, Barcelona, Jorge Messi, criticism in his native land, Maradona. Though in fact, apart from some delightful prose describing Maradona’s character (“Diamond earrings flashing, waistline ballooning, marriage falling apart, Maradona soon became a cartoon figure”), there is almost no discussion of Maradona as manager, leader, or the country’s hopes in the World Cup, nothing for better or worse. Being turned down by Maradona, who gives about ten interviews a day, coupled with Messi’s unwillingness to speak on the matter seems to have stumped the eminent reporter.

He regales us with an unsubstantiated anecdote about Verón (“one of the team’s veteran midfielders”) changing the tactics at half time against Brazil and claims that Argentina attacked ‘more effectively’ in the second half’. Yet they didn’t. Maradona is not a good manager and his selection for that match and others was wrong but the pathetic goals they let in the first half had less to do with tactics or Messi’s position on the pitch than they did an inexperienced, bricking-it defence ahead of a startled goalkeeper and massive Brazilian centre halves. There’s enough shit to throw around already to keep a squadron of hyperactive monkeys happy for a month, so surely one expects a celebrated journalist to get their story straight.

Neither was pegamequemegusta too fond of the suggestion that ‘Their marriage has felt strained since September 2008, a month before Maradona took over, when he clucked, ‘Sometimes Messi plays for himself; he feels so superior that he forgets his teammates.” Again, ‘clucked’ is good, but the claim is outlandish and simplistic: what about the performances of beloved, world-class players such as Tevez, Cambiasso, Zanetti and even Riquelme in the last year of Coco Basile’s reign?

But this is going on for far too long. There’s some orchestra-heavy Woody Harrelson/Wesley snipes flim that’s not White Men Can’t Jump on TV (with lines like “You’re busted and you’ll be licking the inside of your asshole for a month to get the taste out of your mouth” – jaysus), the missus is snoring and pegamequemegusta is tired. Suffice it to say that Mr Price’s well-written article is littered with faults.

'El Príncipe' Enzo Francescoli

Yet it was just earlier tonight that we saw an interview with Messi that did ask some questions that he was willing to answer. It was on Canal 7 with Enzo Francescoli in a program with an equally tacky title, ‘Juego Sagrado’. Unlike the Sport’s Illustrated piece, which had a gestation period of a few months, this chinwag took place about ten days ago, as evidenced by Messi’s wearing a Barça training top. It’s very relaxed and Enzo is impeccably turned out in a dark sports jacket and dark navy shirt. Rather than looking to bathe a lack of details in a sea of prose, it is more focused on chatting about what it’s like to be Messi and play like Messi. Obviously, the scourge of a thousand interviewers so far has been the standard response ‘I don’t know, I just do it’, yet Enzo, if his lack of journo credentials meant he couldn’t do the interview alone and had to be accompanied, at bottom is a real football man and he managed to extract a few gems from Rainman himself.

Some of pegamequemegusta’s personal highlights were when they got Messi talking (how about this for a question, SI?) about his favourite players. Aimar, was the immediate response. He even sat up in his chair. Soon he mentioned Zidane and original Ronaldo but watching Aimar back in his Valencia days was one of his great joys. Very interesting, we said as we slapped our good knee, especially since arguably he should have been in the squad.

The next nugget wasn’t long in dropping either. Enzo wanted to know what Messi thinks about when he’s in the box. “For example,” says Francescoli, “whenever the ball would be in and around the box i’d always look to position myself on the left-hand side of the area and look for knock-downs, short passes, one-twos and the like.” Messi stirs, looks up and smiles, certainly picturing the scene to himself as this slick legend talks about playing football. “You, however, score all sorts of different goals but do you think about it? Or do they just happen? Take the third goal against Arsenal, for example, such a lovely goal, to have the calm to lob the keeper like that, was that improvised?”

“Nah,” says Messi, “that one wasn’t improvised actually. I had decided that if I was in a one-on-one I was going to do that as Xavi had got into that position in the previous match and he’d missed it. You know,” and he grins whilst nervously scratching his arm, “with Almunia you had a good idea of what he was going to do.” And they all titter knowingly. Ah, Almunia.

Messi dinks the ball over Almunia for his hat-trick

It wasn’t a laugh a minute by any stretch of the jaw. They spoke about competition in training, practising free kicks, trying to get better every day, etc. The interview inevitably covered much of the same ground, (he’s twenty-bloody-two) yet it seemed more comfortable than the impression given by Sports Illustrated of their encounter. When the other journalist – sorry, pegamequemegusta doesn’t know who he was and I couldn’t find any clips so far – asked about Maradona, you could see immediately his face tensing up, ready to give the same spiel Again. “I always said there’d only ever be one Maradona, and to be honest the comparisons make me uncomfortable,” he said. Yet Enzo arrived to take the edge off with one of his characteristically long interjections, which we don’t have to hand, and they end up talking about how the important thing is what you’re like as a person.

What Messi did say on the team’s chances in South Africa was that they were going to have to work hard in the build-up once they all get together. Could they play like Spain? “Ojalá,” he said, “that’s what we’re missing, we have to get used to keeping the ball and creating chances; we’re going to try and get that nailed down.” The Germany match helped greatly in stabilising things, he assured Enzo. “Whatever about the result, you could see we grew as a team and we have to keep on that track.”

Platitudes. You see, it’s not just an awkward, defensive reflex on the Diego question: he won’t truck any nonsense about naming his ‘Ideal XI’ either. Nor does he ‘dream’ about lifting the trophy: of course he thinks a lot about winning it but, you see, Messi don’t dig oneirism much. He may be a likened to a poem-in-prose but he’s no soothsayer or poet. He’s no Valdano, Maradona or Victor Hugo Morales. He hasn’t got the words to express himself; he doesn’t even seem to think much and he doesn’t watch much football. I imagine the staff employed to keep him happy never tire of sending gracious letters of thanks to Sony.

As everyone who’s met him seems to concur, he’s a lovely boy but grade-A interview material he ain’t. Of course, he brings it on himself with the outrageous number of endorsements he does. Sports Illustrated say he earns in the region of $46m a year. Utterly insane. If you’re Beckham and that’s your world, grand, but if you’d be just as happy sitting in a wicker chair with a piece of straw in your mouth, please, for the love of God don’t sign any more contracts once the current ones end. Don’t do any more underpants ads.

Beckham has nothing to be worried about...

This isn’t another of those cheapest of cheap shots whereby Jorge Messi is accused of treating his son like a particularly fertile hen, that he has been too quick to cash in on his son, right from the initial decision to up sticks and go on the grand Barcelona adventure. While it’s clearly rubbish, it is interesting to wonder how Messi how might have been different had he stayed in Argentina, had he developed longer in the vicerrealista culture of Argieball. For all his undoubted picardía on the pitch, he doesn’t have the same swagger of an Agüero, say.

For pegamequemegusta, these are more interesting topics than his relationship with Maradona. Enzo Francescoli got much closer to the heart of the matter than Sports Illustrated, who besides mentioning that he spoke in Spanish (!) didn’t feel it was necessary to point out how Messi speaks, the fact that he still has a real bogger accent and still uses Argentine slang despite living in Barcelona for most of the last decade. Does Mr Price speak castellano? In any case, he does go out of his way to quote an idiot like Sergio Almirón: “He has a Spanish mind,” Almirón says at last. “He thinks he’s Spanish!”

Even if they’re someone else’s words, it’s another cheap shot: You wouldn’t ask Don Givens why McGeady doesn’t play well (and Almirón is far less important than even Don Givens). Also, the line about the picketers smacks of condescension: protesting about the hail may have something to do with the fact that the response to their no doubt shoddy houses being fucked on was nonexistent. And Argentines don’t eat beef for breakfast since the rate of inflation in the country means most people – including pegamequemegusta – can hardly even afford it.

This may seem like curmudgeonly criticism, but when a magazine like Sports Illustrated rolls along with its fêted, prizewinning auteurs deigning to shed a bit of light on Argentina only to tell a story anyone who’s at all interested in the topic already knows by heart, present bits of other people’s interviews as its own work and even make smug, condescending and downright stupid comments about a country the writer clearly doesn’t know very well, pegamequemegusta don’t like it; we expect better. ‘Grab some wire, duct tape’ – excuse me, pero quién te creés, yanqui conchudo ? Do you know how hard people bloody well work in this country and the fact they get almost nothing for it, and have no security to speak of? Is this due to their ‘lunacy’ alone? Would your own government care to offer an opinion on its involvement in multiple disasters in Argentine history, its role in constructing the stage on which all this madness unfolds, from the overthrow of Perón down to the their complicity with the dictatorship and the crash of 2001?

Sports Illustrated seems offended that Maradona’s qualifications aren’t as impressive as their own, yet they singularly fail to identify with the subject of their interview or to shed any new light on the man or his situation. Francescoli hasn’t got much experience either yet he got a lot more out of Messi in more or less the same amount of time. ¡Viva Enzo! Sigan mamando, SI.

*Tonight Enzo is interviewing Zidane!