El Cartel – Ezequiel Fernández Moores

Nacional, as has been said, has exceptional players during Escobar’s time in charge. They include some of the best players of the Colombian national team, who impress in Italia ’90 and in 1993 thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Monumental. They arrive at USA ’94 as one of the favourites but get knocked out in the first round and, upon their return, Andrés Escobar, the player who scored the own goal, is murdered. One year earlier, the army, or paramilitaries working for the state, had killed Pablo Escobar. An Independiente de Medallín flag, not a Nacional one, is placed on his coffin. Two decades later, the druglord, who at the zenith of his power would hire the Brazilian musician Roberto Carlos [for private shows], is the subject of guided tours in Medellín – museum and tomb included – as well as a record-breaking tv series, and has even made Cannes, played by Benicio del Toro, even as the Colmbian state has been forced to castrate the hippos in his private zoo. There are now sixty of them. According to the authorities, “they represent a threat to public safety.”

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On Wednesday night River Plate play the second leg of the Sudamericana final against Atlético Nacional, from Medellín, Colombia. The first leg was a 1-1 draw so the odds are in River’s favour (although away goals do not count in the final). The Sudamericana is not the most important international competition in this continent; indeed it’s barely the most interesting competition that will come to a close this week, what with Racing, River and Lanús all in with a shout of winning the title on the last day of the season this Sunday. Nevertheless, they’re both good teams and the match does promise to be a bit of a stonker.

We came across this piece by canchallena’s Ezequiel Fernández Moores a few days ago and we wanted to share it with you. Pegamequemegusta veritably digs his comprehensive take on things and his deadpan delivery. We’ve brought you several of his articles in the past and they always get us thinking, even of hippos, so we hope you enjoy it, too. If not, pegáme, que me gusta.

Escobar's hippos
Photo by Guadalajaracinemafest

translation ~ pegamequemegusta

“What do you know about Atlético Nacional?” ask the Colombian journalists. The Brazilian player Josef de Souza replies: “They’re a good team, they’re strong in several areas and they’ve got good players, like Pablo Escobar.” It’s a few hours before the semi-final kicks off in Medellín and there are no follow-up questions. It isn’t clear whether it’s a slip, a mistake or, as many believe, just another of the little japes typical of the São Paolo player. Escobar, dead since 1993, is no longer “in the game”, of course, but his name is writ large in the history of River’s rival tonight in the first leg of the Sudamericana final. Before Escobar, Nacional had only won four championships in four decades and had never made it past the first round of the Copa Libertadores in their four attempts. Under Escobar, in contrast, Nacional becomes the first Colombian club to win the Libertadores, courts the heights of world football and establishes itself as one of the most powerful clubs not only in Colombia but in all South America. There’s no denying that they had – and still do – great players and plenty of style. Yet they were also backed by Escobar, ‘El patrón del mal’.

Before Escobar, over four separate terms from 1962 to 1983, the president of Nacional was Hernán Botero Moreno, widely remembered for, in 1981, waving a wad of banknotes during the clásico with Independiente de Medellín, suggesting their opponents had bribed the referee. Botero controlls 76% of the shares in the club when in 1985 he becomes the first Colombian extradited to the United States on money laundering charges. In response, the Colombian First Division declares a period of mourning and suspends the following round of matches. These are the times of narcofútbol. Another of the subsequent owners of Nacional, Octavio Piedrabita, also accused of money laundering, is murdered in 1986. Pablo Escobar comes on the scene. Millonarios, under Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, aka El Mexicano (the number two in the Medellín Cartel), wins the championship two years in a row (1987-88), knocking mighty América, run by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers (the Cali Cartel), off the top. In 1989 it’s Escobar’s turn. Nacional are proclaimed king of the Libertadores – but not of their country. The Colombian championship is suspended after a couple of hitmen kill referee Álvaro Ortega. “The assassination,” John Velásquez, alias Popeye, the drug lord’s right-hand man, says in 2012, “was ordered by Pablo Escobar.”

Nacional’s year is also Pablo Escobar’s. In 1989, his Medellín Cartel assassinates vice-president candidate, Luis Carlos Galán, detonate 100 kilos of dynamite in the headquarters of the newspaper El Espectador and take down an Avianca airplane with 107 passengers in the belief that among them is another candidate, César Gavira. Other politicians are also murdered. Judges, too, journalists, priests, policemen and trade union activists, many of them victims of Escobar’s cartel. In 1989 Medellín is witness to 4052 homicides, almost twice as many as in 1988. Times of car bombs, massacres and magnicides; fifteen murders a day; an explosion every second day; times of narco-terrorism and cartels, armed gangs, guerrilla and paramilitary warfare. The peak of the violence is 1991: 6349 homicides, 17 a day. The “Capital of Crime”, writes Gerard Martin in his book Medellín, tragedia y resurreción, “is more violent than the Chicago of Al Capone, the Palermo of the Corleonesi, the Marseilles of the French Connection.” Dozens of politicians, judges and journalists are bought off. ‘Medallo’ [‘Medal’], the city’s erstwhile nickname, is ditched in favour of ‘Metrallo’ [‘M16’]. Medellín, “the city of eternal Spring” is now “the city of eternal shooting” [“la ciudad de la eterna balacera”].

Nacional’s successful Copa Libertadores campaign kicks off in 1989 against Millonarios. Raucous derbies and controversial refereeing. In the first round, they draw 1-1 in Bogotá and lose 2-0 in Medallín. In the second round, Nacional knock out Racing (2-0 and 1-2) while Millonarios pass Bolívar on penalties, with the Peruvian referee José Ramírez penalising the Bolivian goalkeeper in the defining stages for not staying on his line, and neglecting to do the same with Sergio Goycochea, who saved, winning his team the match. The two Colombian teams meet again in the quarters. This time Nacional win: a valuable 1-1 draw in Bogotá accompanied by scandalous refereeing by the Chilean Hernán Silva, and a 1-0 win in Medellín. “Tonight,” a Millonarios player tells a Colombian collegue, “there were guns in the stands, there were guns everywhere. I don’t know how no-one was killed.” Regarding the semi-finals, against the Uruguayan team Danubio, many will recall the referee Juan Bava telling El Gráfico: “A couple of guys came to the hotel with machine guns. They offered us money and threatened to kill us.” No further assistance required. Nacional, who had drawn the first leg 0-0, run riot 6-0.

In the final, Nacional lose the first leg 1-0 in Asunción against Olimpia. Conmebol [South American football association] decides that the return leg should be played in Bogotá. Olimpia come to the ground escorted by tanks. They lose 2-0. They also lose on penalties. Eighteen penalties, four saves by René Higuita. The fear stoked by the threats before every match played in Medellín goes to a new level in the following year’s Libertadores owing to a formal complaint by Uruguayan referee Juan Daniel Cardellino. Conmebol suspends all Colombian stadiums. “Extra-footballing reasons”, the sanctions are called by then president Sergio Naranjo in his farewell report on his stewardship of the club. That December, Italian newspapers argue that Nacional should not be allowed to play the Intercontinental Cup. AC Milan win, just about. Their owner, Silvio Berlusconni, is jubilant. “What money is clean?” wonders at one point the journalist Pepe Calderón, a character in Autogol [Own Goal], a novel by the Colombian Silva Romero.

Nacional, as has been said, has exceptional players during Escobar’s time in charge. They include some of the best players of the Colombian national team, who impress in Italia ’90 and in 1993 thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Monumental. They arrive at USA ’94 as one of the favourites but get knocked out in the first round and, upon their return, Andrés Escobar, the player who scored the own goal, is murdered. One year earlier, the army, or paramilitaries working for the state, had killed Pablo Escobar. An Independiente de Medallín flag, not a Nacional one, is placed on his coffin. Two decades later, the drug lord, who at the zenith of his power would hire the Brazilian musician Roberto Carlos [for private shows], is the subject of guided tours in Medellín – museum and tomb included – as well as a record-breaking tv series, and has even made Cannes, played by Benicio del Toro, even as the Colmbian state has been forced to castrate the hippos in his private zoo. There are now sixty of them. According to the authorities, “they represent a threat to public safety.”

Escobar is dead. Medellín, while retaining a relatively elevated amount of homicides, is a different city, whose policies on social integration are cited as models, while the public works designed to highlight its great natural beauty have been widely praised. “Cities,” the Colombian writer juan José Hoyos, “are built on amnesia: one layer of asphalt, a layer of amnesia and then another layer of asphalt.” And Nacional, without a doubt, is a different team. Between 1994 and 2014 they’ve won nine Colombian championships, the last three in succession and with their eyes on a fourth. They also win two Cups and a Colombian Superliga. And two Copas Merconorte. Now they want the Sudamericana. They still have good players (Edwin Cardona and Daniel Bocanegra), good collective play and a worthy manager (Juan Carlos Osorio, firm favourite for the Colmbian job once José Pekerman’s cycle ends). Their patrón is different now, likewise the power wielded. The Organización Ardila Lulle, one of the four most powerful conglomerates in the country, is the sponsor of the championship through the soft drink Postobón (Liga Postobón). And they televise it through a mixture of free-to-air and cable tv, through RCN or Winsports. Carlos Ardila Lulle, whose fortune is estimated to be at $3000m, is the champion of the league he sponsors and televises. His conglomerate includes La Mega, a radio station that blasts reggaeton, pop and electro. The flagship program of La Mega is called El Cartel.

1978

One of the stranger and least defensible decisions of the people’s champ, however, was his regime’s commitment to military spending. It is said they spent some two billion dollars on Soviet equipment. The Chileans were worried, fearing a Peruvian campaign to retake the provinces lost in the War of the Pacific (1879 – ’83). No attack ever materialised, however, and Alvarado claimed his army had been bulked up solely for defence purposes, despite boasting that “the Chileans better stop their bullshit or i’ll be eating breakfast in Santiago.” Indeed, defence is the key word here, for it is the Peruvian defence in their infamous 1978 World Cup match against hosts Argentina that we are interested today in a story involving several fascist dictatorships and the execution of political prisoners.

The simple, repetitive task has always seduced pegamequemegusta. Polish the glass, pop in the ice, pour the fernet, open the coke, straw, serve, placemat, charge – far from being unrelenting drudgery, Sisyphysian frustration, it is liberating, giving the lie to that great obsession of soft-handed 20th century warblists whereby man must be rescued from the anaesthetising automaticity of the everyday. No, my dear gentle potential potters, Jesus was a carpenter, and twas whilst sanding an A-frame he coined that most famous phrase ‘The House of the Lord hath many rooms’. The body engaged, elbow-deep in swampy materiality, the minds wanders, blown about by the uplifts and depressions of its own lust and fancy. Yes, my pampered first world shirkers, work is freedom.

So felt Juan Velasco Alvarado as a lad, “living in dignified poverty as a shoeshine in Piura.” [wikiresearch] It even sounds like a song. Kneeling at the feet of Powerman, the ever-blackening boot shine was portal for the reveries of young Alvarado. He saw a new Peru, one taken out of the claws of the colonial oligarchy and restored to the Indians; a Peru where Quechua would have the same standing as castellano; a Peru where the poor would have land to work and the State would work for the pueblo. To that end he stowed away on a ship to Lima and took the entrance exam for the military, where he got the highest marks of all the applicants, they say. Unfortunately, when he did become leader of the country as head of a military government from 1968 to 1975, the sheen was harder to come by. Despite the wave of expropriations, nationalisations and the dedication to education, his bootblack dreams failed to materialise. Outside interference hardly helped in what was already a mammoth enterprise, and sickness also played a part. Alvarado lived as a semi-recluse in a military hospital for his last years and he had to have a leg amputated – the right one, obviously – owing to an embolism (?). Nevertheless, upon his death he was lauded by the Peruvians, who carried the one-legged corpse around on their shoulders for some six hours around the capital, we’ve chosen to believe.

One of the stranger and least defensible decisions of the people’s champ, however, was his regime’s commitment to military spending. It is said they spent some two billion dollars on Soviet equipment. The Chileans were worried, fearing a Peruvian campaign to retake the provinces lost in the War of the Pacific (1879 – ’83). No attack ever materialised, however, and Alvarado claimed his army had been bulked up solely for defence purposes, despite boasting that “the Chileans better stop their bullshit or i’ll be eating breakfast in Santiago.” Indeed, defence is the key word here, for it is the Peruvian defence in their infamous 1978 World Cup match against hosts Argentina that we are interested today in a story involving several fascist dictatorships and the execution of political prisoners.

As part of the successive Kirchner governments’ refusal to pardon genocide in the interests of a meek, bland democracy (Garzón? garçon!), courts in Argentina continue to investigate and prosecute crimes of lese humanity under the last military dictatorship (1976 – ’83). On Feb 1st last Argentine judge Norberto Oyarbide issued an order for the extradition of the former Peruvian dictator (1975 – ’80), Francisco Morales Bermúdez, over the sending of thirteen political prisoners to Argentina in 1978. Peru was not a fully signed-up member of the Condor Plan, which involved intelligence-sharing between the régimes in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, etc. leading to the rounding-up and elimination of leftist militants and sympathisers, yet in 1978 Morales Bermúdez requested his Argentine counterparts take care of thirteen enemies of the state. This was essential, he said, to Peru’s ‘transition to democracy’. It is unlikely Morales Bermúdez will be questioned in Argentina as he is now 90 years of age. One of the thirteen men, however, Genaro Ledesma Izquieto, testified in Buenos Aires in the last few weeks. He said they were flown from Peru to Jujuy in Argentina on the 25th of May 1978, Argentina’s revolution day.

Unfortunately for Morales Bermúdez, however, though perhaps somewhat predictably, the eyes of the world’s meeja were on Argentina as the World Cup was less than a week away. Family members of the kidnapped men had contacted human rights organisations, and these in turn got the attention of the Americans, Swedes and the French. Pressure was put on Videla’s mob regarding the fates of the thirteen political prisoners, now hidden away in Buenos Aires. One of the reasons these men received so much attention, unlike the thousands of others who were ruthlessly drugged and thrown out of planes into the Río de la Plata, was that among them were the secretary-general of the Peruvian workers’ union and two former members of the cabinet of our old bootblack friend, Velasco Alvarado. Videla’s junta had invested a great deal in presenting their phony image of Argentina for the World Cup and they weren’t going to let thirteen scaldy Peruvians mess that up. Hence, they agreed to send them off to France on condition that the French pay for their passage, Iberia’s low low bargains not being available at the time.

Thus goes the testimony of Ledesma Izquieto to Oyarbide, more or less. It’s a horrible tale where a brutal gang of genocides decide to stave off their banal bloodlust so as not to be spoken ill of in high society for a few weeks. Pegamequemegusta’s pointed little ears pricked up, however, when Ledesma alleged that part of the deal concerning their transfer to Argentina was murkier than the sum of Río Ferdinand and Kia Joorabchian’s respective sock drawers: Peru had to throw their match against Argentina at the World Cup.

Pekerman's joke before Argentina v México 2006 (in which Heinze should have been given a straight red... ahem)

For at that time, dear suntanned, sociable, outdoorsy reader, the World Cup had a different format. Instead of the knockout stage that now follows the initial group phase, a second group stage followed. There were two groups of four the respective winners of which would face each other in the final. This meant that a team could be out of the running in the final match despite being up against against a team looking for a place in the final. It also meant goal difference could come into play. Both of these circumstances combined in the final game of Group B in 1978 as Brazil and Argentina faced Poland and Peru respectively.

Both matches should really have kicked off at the same time. However, the Argentine organising committee (viz. junta) had insisted all of their games kick off at 19:15 “so that all Argentines could watch the people’s World Cup”. Thus, before the match kicked off, Menotti’s team knew that following Brazil’s 3-1 win over Poland that afternoon they had to win by four. No mean feat on paper, but at least it was clear. (It was only after Spain ’82, where Germany and Austria connived to progress at Algeria’s expense, that FIFA began to insist that final group matches kick off at the same time). Besides the kick-off time, the Peruvian players were also subjected to a pre-game visit in the dressing room by Henry Kissenger (oh jaysus) and General Videla himself, who apparently gave them a speech touching on the theme of South American brotherhood. Plus, Peru’s goalkeeper, Ramón Quiroga, had been born in Argentina and played for Rosario Central. Argentina won 6-0, with the Peruvian defence exhibiting some of the least convincing defending since Socrates toasted Aesclepius’ cock. It was fishier than a swamp monster’s fishnets after a weekend supping brine juice from Davy Jones’ crock.

In 1998, Quiroga said that he suspected the commitment of some of his teammates was not what it should have been. (Indeed, some of his teammates had requested he not play himself!) He questioned the fact that some of the normal starters had not begun the match and implied that some of their challenges had been less than robust. Moreover, he pointed to the untimely deaths, in car and plane crashes, of several of the players as well as the manager. These were the ones who had taken money, he alleged, although he later retracted his statements. Other players have denied flat out that there was any direct interference in the result of the game, merely citing tiredness and a lack of motivation. While at least one player, José Velásquez, has claimed, along with some in the Brazilian press, that the Argentine players were drugged up to the eyeballs for the entire tournament. 

The allegations of match-fixing for this particular fixture are far too varied and fun too leave it there, though. Argentine journalist Ricardo Gotta wrote a book titled Fuimos campeones [‘We were champions’] a few years ago entirely dedicated to the subject. He says that Morales Bermúdez rang the captain of the Peruvian team before the Argentina game and told him “never mind the result tonight, we’re all very proud of you.” Never mind the result, he repeated. Intriguing, though the idea that a dictator would make a personal call to the team’s captain in order to fix a result and then talk in code sounds a little more farfetched than the idea that a team containing Kempes, Ardiles and Passarella could beat by a comfortable margin a team they had beaten 3-0 only a few months previously.

In another book, an autiobiography titled The Chess Man’s Son Vol. 2 [El hijo del ajedrecista 2], the son of one of Colmbia’s biggest coke barons, and the nephew of another, Francisco Rodriguez Mondragón, wrote that the game was thrown indeed – but it had nothing to do with the dictatorship’s PR. Rather the Cali cartel bribed the Peruvian players in order to get Brazil knocked out of the competition. (Mondragón furnishes neither figures nor proof of any kind). Proof there was, however, according to article penned by Gonzalo Guillen in the Miami Herald in 2007, when one of the many suitcases constituting payment, with some $250k in cash, was lost in transit and ended up in New York. That article postulates, furthermore, that the bung paved the way for Argentina becoming a friendly spot for Colombian drug money, with Videla’s consent. Why else, the journalist asks, would Pablo Escobar’s family have been able to take refuge there after the kingpin’s death in 1993? 

On the pitch, in any case, none of the Argentine players noticed anything particularly unusual. Argentina only got their first goal after 20 minutes, by which time Peru had hit the post with one chance and gone close with another. The second goal doesn’t come until the stroke of half time. It’s in the second half that the Peruvians, with nothing to play for (or were they playing in their second strip to avoid shaming their real jersey…?) lose two goals in a minute, securing Argentina’s passage to the final. There were no penalties, no offside goals, and according to the testimony of everyone at most at most possibly one or two Peru players may have been bribed or in some way coerced – without anyone ever saying anything either damning or coherent. Ever.

Ozzy Ardiles reckoned it was kosher, as did Victor Hugo Morales, who commented on the game, citing stage fright as a contributing factor in the Peruvian collapse (the voiceover on that clip, incidentally, should be used in journalism classes as a textbook example of how to make an earnest and respectable interviewee sound like a camp used car salesman – shocking stuff). Leopoldo Luque, of the broomhandle moustache, later said: “Football players aren’t actors, you can always tell if they’re just going through the motions. [….] We played our best match of the tournament up to that point. We went out there fully fired up and prepared to flatten our opponents.” He added that it was ‘painful’ to continue to hear allegations regarding a match that “had nothing to do with the dictatorship.” Luque did lament, however, the single-mindedness of the squad in not paying attention to what was happening in the country at the time: “We were stars, we were only concentrating on the World Cup. We never lifted our heads to look at what was going on around us.”

Pegamequemegusta can’t help but feel that at least part of the lingering resentment towards Argentina’s triumph in 1978 comes from the fact that their win came against that Holland team. Such a great group of players coming off second best in two finals meant they were either losers, which they didn’t seem to be, or they were jipped. Whichever it was, it had all the ingredients of a splendid myth. Add to that the complete ignorance and suspicion of all things South American in the West, as well as the dictatorships, and it becomes a certainty – the World Cup was stolen.

The Dutch were quite upset with the pre-match delays and the Argentine complaints over one of their players wearing a bandage. So upset that they began the contest with a series of reckless fouls. (Pegamequemegusta can’t remember the last time that happened to a Holland team in a World Cup final…) Even without Cruyff, however, – who, contrary to urban legend, had not refused to play because of political convictions, as well he might, but because of a completely unrelated kidnap affair some time before the tournament, – they finished the 90 minutes the stronger team. Rensenbrink hit the post in the last minute in a move no-one could control. It took Argentina until extra time to make the final push and win 3-1.

In effect, Holland seem to be bitter at the fact that the final wasn’t held in some neutral territory: once again they went down to the hosts. A shame. Though then again, out of the eight finals that have been contested by the host nation, the away team has only ever won twice. Pelé’s Brazil beat Sweden in Stockholm in 1958, alleviating the pain of the tremendous Maracanazo of 1950, when Uruguay stunned twenty Tallaght stadiums of Brazilians (although technically that wasn’t a final, rather a final pool game, in which Brazil only needed a draw). Were World Cup ’98 to have taken place in a country of less prestige than France, perhaps we would still be hearing nefarious tales concerning Ronaldo’s fit.

Yet, dear gentle one, this post is not intended to deny that nothing untoward has ever happened in the southern cone. Our mission, as always, is to shed some light on the narratives that take hold of certain stories, whether they are justified, how they are refracted through socio-cultural lenses and are filtered through communication systems and  distorted by political agendas. After all, Genero Ledesma testified about ten days ago yet we only heard about it this Monday morning (‘pon returning from a long night of gloriously repetitive tasks) when Simon Kuper was on BBC Radio 4’s Morning programme (from 1hr 20mins in). The presenter’s introductory script wondered whether, on foot of the allegations, Argentina would be stripped of the World Cup. Such a question must be interpreted in the light of the heightened tensions between the United Kingdom and Argentina over las Malvinas.

After all, if Ledesma’s allegations had been made in a normal trial as opposed to a tribunal, the opposing barrister would have objected immediately on the grounds that they were utter hearsay. “The junta needed a triumph to boost their image,” he says. No shit, but one thing does not necessarily entail the other. The timing in this seems to be all mixed up: the men were flown to Argentina a month before it was even dreamed that Argentina would be playing Peru. While it was only shortly before kick-off that it was known that they would have to win by a particularly large margin. Then we have the stories of the personal interventions of the two dictators, Videla and Morales Bermúdez. It is always tempting when such personages are involved to conclude that they are all-powerful, as if they were able to stop time with their bloodied leather gloves and ridiculous overcoats. Yet when we hear the stories of their supposed interventions, Morales Bermúdez’s cryptic phonecall, and Videla’s visit to the Peruvian dressing-room accompanied by Kissenger, the allegations appear to have less consistency than hobo soup. Is this how they wielded their power? We’re inclined to impart too keen a perspicacity, too much charisma to people who in the next breath we’re wont to dismiss as idiots. It’s the same insecurity and inability to read that allows us to be suckered into accepting bad governance in the first place.

Other parties point to the unfreezing of Peruvian bank accounts by the Argentines as well as the shipment of grain to Peru in the months following the match. Yet these could just as easily be explained by any number of aspects of the relations between the two régimes, not just football. To that end, the biggest revelation of Ledesma’s testimony is really that Peru was part of the Condor Plan, which heretofore they weren’t thought to have been. 

Besides, the accusation is not even new. In 2004, another of the kidnapped men, Ricardo Napurí Schapiro, made the same statement in an interview with Argentine newspaper Página 12: “Peru’s defeat was the result of an agreement between the two governments and we were part of the deal.” It’s all so Keyser Söze, but, considering all the factors we’ve gone through here, pegamequemegusta is tempted to say there was no coke on that boat.

No, but the BBC’s jocular little morning interview with Kuper has quite a bit more spice to it than that. As the interviewer joshes heartily about Archie Gemmil’s pointless screamer against the Dutch, auld Kuper intones in his erudite way the shame that all involved felt at the shenanigans of June 1978:

The Argentine players, interestingly, do seem to accept that something may have gone on. Leopoldo Luque, a striker in that team [he scored twice against Peru] said later ‘With what I know now, I can’t say I’m proud of my victory.’ And that’s quite a thing to say for a man who won a World Cup.”

That’s quite something alright. It’s shocking, almost heartbreaking. There is proof (somewhere); all were victims of unstoppable forces, and Kuper, whose book Football Against the Enemy features a piece on Argentina ’78 so he knows what he’s talking about, is just sorry the world isn’t a better place. 

Except Luque was not referring to a dark secret about the Peru or Holland games, which is what the interview was about. He was referring to the basic fact of playing the World Cup while 30,000 of his fellow citizens were being slaughtered. He was lamenting that his desire to achieve his own dreams and that of his countrymen blinkered him to the reality that was milling all around. He was sorry for having been unwittingly complicit in the triumph of a dictatorship, not because the dictatorship bought it but because the immaculateness of a World Cup win should never be sullied by contact with such filth, let alone serve to keep them in power, albeit for a short time longer. Celebrations and disappointments have a similar duration; shame lasts longer, as anyone who’s ever mixed WKD with a polo neck will tell you. The Argentines were more robbed of that World Cup than the Dutch.

Pegamequemegusta spoke to Simon Kuper about the quotes and he informed us that they have been doing the rounds in the Dutch media “since Luque began expressing regret re: ’78.” No doubt they were used in good faith – however, Luque’s quotes are not new: they appear to come from a 2008 book titled Voetbal in een vuile oorlog [‘Football in the Dirty War’] by Marcel Rozer. (This would explain the fact that they are nowhere to be found in Spanish). It appears Luque is getting the AP/Carlitos Tevez treatment in the Dutch newspaper AD, whereby context is dismissed as irrelevant and a useful line is used – either disingenuously or out of ignorance – to clothe a ragged story. A minor part of Ledesma’s testimony is seized upon and presented as authoritative proof, multiplied through syndication, forging a new myth, just like the many others we’ve covered in this post.

Clichéd though it may be to say it, understanding this process is important as, unlike the simple repetitive task that liberates us even as it occupies us, our thoughts turning to ash as the smoke taps the tray, journalism is a purely meditative engagement that should liberate us somewhat from the ghosts sent to occupy our minds. Unlike the simple repetitive task, there is no chance of happiness. Its goal is truth. Truth is Kempes, Luque, Ardiles, Bertoni, Passarella, Fillol and Menotti in 1978. Legends all. Myths, however, have the nasty habit of repeating themselves, often through journalism.

Tevez v Mancini? Part II

Dear handsome, oh so lonely fellows, welcome back on this VD day. After spending the post earlier today complaining about meeja laziness and sloppiness, it was brought to our attention that one of our barbs at the Guardian was incorrect: we had accused them of fabricating a quote by paraphrasing the gist of what Tevez had said, which we’ve caught them doing before. The line in question, which we have since removed, was “The club statement protected the manager.” The quote originally came from the on-the-fly translation of our esteemed colleague @MundoAlbicelest. He did not enjoy the comfort – and, indeed, the shocking indolence – that allowed us to listen back a few times.

Dear handsome, oh so lonely fellows, welcome back on this VD day. After spending the post earlier today complaining about meeja laziness and sloppiness, it was brought to our attention that one of our barbs at the Guardian was incorrect: we had accused them of fabricating a quote by paraphrasing the gist of what Tevez had said, which we’ve caught them doing before. The line in question, which we have since removed, was “The club statement protected the manager.”  The quote originally came from the on-the-fly translation of our esteemed colleague @MundoAlbicelest. He did not enjoy the comfort – and, indeed, the shocking indolence – that allowed us to listen back a few times.

The difference is minimal but important; it’s a subtle difference. We were convinced the original quote was not accurate as it seemed surlier than his demeanour in the rest of the interview. It turned out it appears right after the video we put subtitles to, so lovingly, ended. So what could we do to rectify the situation? Simply remove the line after a whopping pub-at-eleven-in-the-morning-ful of people had read it? No, a retraction was necessary, a retraction and a clarification. So, wallowing in our own free time, we found the audio in question and scribbled out the transcript for you. An act of love.

It is important, however, as this part of the interview is arguably the cornerstone of Tevez’s defence as it justifies to a certain extent his subsequent flight. He claims that everyone at the club supported him in the investigation into what happened in Munich – everyone testified that he had not refused to play. The problem was that Mancini came out after the game, in a pretty understandable rage, and declared that Tevez had refused to play. That meant that, given the findings of the enquiry, the club was going to have to contradict the manager. This could cause all sorts of problems. In the event, the club chose not to do that. Tevez, therefore, had to leave.

Ol’ pegamequemegusta don’t have the tools to find out whether there is any truth to this or not. Tevez’s version of it, however, is coherent, free of equivocations, and he is not pushed along by the interviewer at all. (In fact, he changes tack, annoyingly enough). Moreover, he displays a level of understanding of the difficulty the club found itself in that we would not have expected (“The club found itself between a rock and a hard place”). We would love to know if there is any truth to what he is saying as it’s quite a compelling argument. 

Picture it. Mancini, thunderstorm raging outside, a fire doing its elemental best to attract his attention like a poor juggler at a porn convention, brandy goblet sloshing in his palm like the fates of men, with the richness reserved for kings, his faithful scarf tucked into his collar. A messenger enters and states timidly that the enquiry has found that Tevez never refused to play. An owl hoots hoarsely; a waxwing coos at is reflection in a window as it glides past cooly. Give me pause, sirrah, quoth the Italian. He pets his pet giraffe. No, nevermore will that shit-stirring, disrespectful little tyro interfere in my plans! Not even that lanky elf Edin is a afraid of me anymore! He thinks i’m going to be the one to fall here? Not on your mother’s barnet, Carlitos. You’ve lost some of your stuffing now, me boy. No, the club can choose – it’s him or me. He looked down at his glass. The rolling waves of souls in the brandy parted to reveal a sunken city. And a penny. Mancini straightened his epaulettes. Still got it. 

Tevez Fox interview continued [part one here]:

– So after that, they decide to fine you and you make a certain decision, no?

– Yeah, well I was okay with the fine but we still had to sort out how I was going to come back to the club. ‘Cause the manager wouldn’t even look at me. And I was worried, too, about how I looked in all this, as I was getting knocked around by everyone, everyone was having a go. In England, In Argentina, even in China, for jaysus’ sake. So I said: ‘Look i’m an employee of the club, just as Mancini is. You have to look after me just as much as you do him, as another employee of the club.’ But Mancini had said something that wasn’t true so the club was between a rock and a hard place. “If we go and say that Mancini lied, he might have to step aside.” That’s when I fell out with the directors, with the club management, ’cause they were saying that they weren’t going to put that in the statement. The thing about the statement was it had to find a way of saying that I hadn’t refused to play but that I had refused to warm up, all the while protecting the manager,  without saying straight out ‘No, Carlitos didn’t refuse to play’.

– Now, Carlitos, you’re a guy who’s been playing football your whole life, who’s always wanted to play, so I imagine what was bothering you was – whatever about the personalities involved or the club – was that there was this unresolved conflict. It looked as if you had refused to play but what you were really annoyed about was this situation which hadn’t been cleared up properly.

– Yeah, that’s what I was annoyed about. The fine didn’t matter, nor did the suspension. I don’t care about two weeks wages. Just tell people the truth. Nothing else. But they weren’t able to do that.

– That’s when you decide to come back to Argentina. You think about your family, your loved ones. Just like all the players abroad who want to play there but are always thinking about Argentina. And apart from everything else, you surely wanted your people here to know what had really happened.

– Yeah, and besides that, just leaving the house in Manchester, to bring Flor to school, meant having five journalists following me. I’d go for a round of golf and there were ten more in every hole. I couldn’t live a normal life as it was all ‘Where’s Carlos Tevez? What’s Tevez up to?’ And then training 20 or 30 days with the reserves, with the youth players, 14 and 15 year olds. The kids were looking at me and they couldn’t believe what was going on.

– More autographs than training, I imagine.

– The team would train in the morning and when they were leaving at one i’d just be arriving. It’d be uncomfortable for anyone, no? So all that stuff, plus the fact I wasn’t in a good way, meant I came back here.

– So you came back here to get away from the situation over there and spend time with your family here.

– Yeah, but imagine I left without even telling anyone from the club. I was getting different legal papers, summonses, every day. I still am, asking me what’s wrong, why won’t I come back, saying I have to go for a medical…

– With Manchester City’s doctors?

– Yeah. The whole thing was really draining, exhausting, and I needed to get some solace with my family… Though they were saying I was fine and nothing was stopping me from going back to training with the club.

That’s enough of that. You get the drift.