¡Crisis!

Suarez Delaney masks

Ecuador lose 10-1 to Switzerland despite simultaneously losing 2-0 to Chile in the Copa América. ¡Crisis! Four Ecuadors – dimensional, gravitational, ethical ¡crisis! It was the Women’s World Cup, you say, dear bequiffèd one? Nevertheless, many a noisy ¡crisis! has beset Argentine football over these last months of silence, and now over in Chile all the different strands seem to be massing together like so many disaster-loving bacteria to form some kind of mega ¡crisis! Pegamequemegusta recalls.

Back in December 2012, with River finger-drummingly convalescent from their relegation ¡crisis! Boca finally succumb to their ever-throbbing nostalgia twitch and reappoint club legend Carlos El Virrey Bianchi as manager. Not to be outdone, River get rid of Almeyda, who stepped in in aforementioned ¡crisis! and got them promoted and secure in the top division once again, and reappoint Ramón Díaz, who had won their last Libertadores with Crespo and the likes in the mid-1990s, when ¡crisis! was but a whisper on the horizon. A year and a half later, in which time El Tata Martino has won the league in great style with Newell’s and gone off to Barcelona, making everyone feel more than a little silly about their earlier nostalgia, Bianchi leaves under an utterly forgettable cloud of sub Santa Rosa drizzle, as Riquelme will a few months later, too, after one too many a dressing/boardroom ¡crisis! River are vindicated somewhat by Ramón winning the Torneo Inicial in 2014, yet he leaves abruptly, quitting while he’s ahead, being replaced by uppity young tyro Marcelo Gallardo, former playmaker, who was an unused substitute in his last game for the club in May 2010, when they lost 5-1 to Tigre in the Monumental.

¡Crisis averted! River go on to play some of the finest football seen in these parts for quite a while, with at least two months of sublime dreamball seeing them unanimously regarded as uncrowned champions before ¡crisis! losing to Racing, on a one-nil, one-nil, one-nil eight-game streak of a stomp towards the title led and inspired by Diego Milito; Racing, ¿no? who had their very own mini ¡crisis! of their own earlier in the season after losing the clásico to Independiente but got back on track by coming from one down in the Bombonera in a twenty-five-minute instalment of a match previously suspended due to a storm to win two-one, leaving Boca’s new manager El Vasco Arrubarrena with ¡crisis!-flavoured egg on his face. Racing will go on to the quarter finals of this year’s Libertadores, scoring fifteen in the group phase before ¡crisis! inexplicably losing to a bunch of try-hards in the quarters. River, in the meantime, win the (Uefa cuppy) Sudamericana, knocking out Boca in the semis, but then in the Libertadores will, arguably, continue to suffer the fallout from Racing’s impetuous licking, and stutter into the second round as the worst-placed qualifier, leaving them to face the suddenly irrepressible Boca for the first time in living(?) memory, or at least since before Carlitos Tevez met Kia Joorabchian and did that chicken dance before an, as usual, screeching ¡crisis!-seething Monumental; and they’ll win the first leg one-nil (a penalty), then peck with majestic indifference at the Bombonera turf in the first half of the return (still nil-nil, nothing doing) until on emerging from the inflatable tunnel on the half-way line that protects the subterranean exit from the bowels of the ground they are assailed by a quite simply insane homemade, liquefied concoction of Mustard Gas (¡crisis!) poured into the air duct or whatever of what is fast becoming the angriest bouncy castle in the world; and the water they feverishly apply to cleanse themselves, as well as providing added fluidity, makes the gas mutate into an even stronger, lacerating compound that gives them third-degree burns on their chests and backs; and only after about an hour of confusion and River’s president invading the pitch and the head of CONMEBOL’s TV wing marching about in a very lovely white scarf and making dark threats, are they allowed to leave the pitch under a funeral guard of riot shields to protect them from the few malcontents who haven’t been driven home by sheer boredom and embarrassment. Mother of ¡crises! Boca are disqualified, fined and ridiculed, and the few people who still take this nonsense seriously wonder, apparently in earnest, if all this ¡crisis! would have happened were don Julio still around. River march into the next round, though, improving as they make the semis, e’en as Racing lose their way and lose to Guaraní of Paraguay.

Ah yes, Paraguay, where while much of this has been going on Ramón Díaz decided to copy Martino and get on board the new continental fashion and become an Argentine manager abroad – with Sampaoli in Chile, Pekerman in Colombia, Gareca in Perú, Quinteros in Ecuador, Argentine managers have swept into positions in nearly all hispanohablante, Tordesillian South America, no doubt on Papal influence, except for plucky little Bolivia, playing the part of Gaul, as part of a fiendish plan to somehow, some way thwart Dunga, unstoppable Dunga the Merciless, whose defenders are mean and soar for corners like killer whales for snacks at Sea World, whose midfields tend to be malevolent, eye-popping vices; Dunga who even has the daring to cock a snook at Brazil’s little ¡crisis! last Summer by calling up another striker named Fred –; unfancied Paraguay, who, despite getting to the final last time and still counting amongst their numbers a fair number of players with more than a hundred caps – Haedo Valdez, Roque Santa Cruz, Néstor Ortigoza, Paulo da Silva, Justo Villar – have suffered somewhat of late; Paraguay, where, as is vogue, talk has been less about Ball than money, with Chilavert coming out against Ramón’s arrival as a money-grabbing “adventure”, since he’s “lazy” and his gaddabout son does the little work required. Yet then, no matter how vicious Chilavert’s tongue, on Saturday Paraguay get one back on their former manager, Martino, who melts into ¡crisis! mode and guts his midfield, deciding to play Tevez alongside Mascherano behind Di María, Messi and Higuaín, despite being one goal up with less than twenty minutes to play.

After all the non-Carlitos-selection ¡crises! of the last few years, since his own post-City-exile, post Copa América 2011 penalty miss eating binge – already hefty before, ¡ojo! – pegamequemegusta almost wishes he wasn’t around, if only to avoid some insecure manager gurning to do something silly like shoehorn him into the back seat of a Smartcar at the first sign of ¡crisis! beads coagulating on his lower back. Yet here we are again, just as against Bolivia four years ago – play like Barcelona, with Tevez and Agüero on the wings! -, with a complacent pick-and-mix poster-boy approach that glows with the unholy halo of Checho Batistenstein’s ghost. ¡Crisis!

Ramón’s Paraguay, of course, equalised in the last minute. Messi refused to accept the Man of the Match award. The players said they were angry, said they were sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. In truth, even a real ¡crisis! is unlikely as even finishing third doesn’t necessarily get you knocked out in a twelve-team competition. Tonight they play stubborn Uruguay, who are without Suarez (banned from training with his teammates at the World Cup, banned from being at the ground, banned even from setting foot in the team hotel, seven game international ban = ¡scandal!). Martino will repeat the shape of the team that started against Paraguay – with Zabaleta in for Roncaglia and Biglia for the already ‘tired’ Banega – but yet, it’s hard to take these personnel changes any more seriously than our own analytic quibblings. We insist on thinking problems have definitive solutions, situations round dénouments, people personalities and our acts meaning. Reason can only get you so far. The Lord gave us the Testaments but we didn’t learn and he had to morph into his own Son to make the message more explicit. Maradona came, but then he fell, before the prohets Aimar y Riquelme announced Messi, a further exegesis. Yea, his hair has grown ever shorter no doubt to accomodate the crown of thorns pressing in on his temples. Neither reason nor revelation suffice, and Good Lady Fortune is a bow-leggèd lurching clutz. ¡Crisis! always looms.

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.”

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.

Mascherano: “I’m Not Rambo”

His shirt sticking out from under his jacket, Alejandro Sabella paces around the technical area. When the first penalty is saved he lets out a roar and raises his little arms as only managers of his age and shape can. Then he uses one arm to hold the other down, like George Costanza with his sling. This is wrong. Superstition, la cábala, says you shouldn’t; it’s mufa, bad luck. For the same reason, he berates his assistants for changing places before the remaining penalties. “Stay where you are, for Christ’s sake!” Meanwhile, Enzo Perez has his fingers crossed and is muttering dark incantations at the Dutch players: ¡quiricocho, quiricocho! Ezequiel Lavezzi is doubled over, his face covered, praying to the football god. El chiquito Romero stands staring at a piece of paper. Is it a crib sheet? We know Sabella works on that kind of thing. But no, it’s a letter from his girlfriend from when they were teenagers. He says afterwards that he always reads it in times of strife.

Many wise words have been written regarding the destructive influence of Brazil’s magical thinking at this World Cup. Pegamequemegusta is a flitty creature, however, who believes firmly in such silliness. The series of last-minute wins over the last few weeks have seen us overdrive on OCD, cleaning, scrubbing, chain-smoking and generally fretting our way to false succour. Luckily, ¡la cabala! this Argentina team has a lot more going for it than a magic chair and twenty-odd gitanes blondes. Nevertheless, in a bid to bring relief to your World-Cup-Final-aching soul, we have for you today another interview with Argentina’s spiritual leader, Javier Mascherano.

As always, he speaks well; as per usual, we stole it from the good people at Olé. This time we’re the parasite deep in the back hair of Pablo Chiappetta. Enjoy or pegame, que me gusta.

Av. Mascherano

  • You must feel like Rambo
  • No, no, I’m not Rambo or San Martín or anyone like that. I don’t let any of that stuff get to me. It’s funny but it’s also embarrassing. The thing is, when people praise you too much they start expecting things of you that you mightn’t be able to deliver. Over the last few days it’s been close to that: people think you’re able to do things you’re just not capable of.
  • Have you been able to sleep?
  • You don’t get that much sleep during a WC anyway. It’s not easy, it’s a long time, you’re anxious, and the games get bigger and bigger. It’s tough, but we try to relax.
  • What about dreaming? Have you dreamed of lifting the cup?
  • No, I haven’t. If we get there, it’ll be up to Leo anyway. I don’t really think like that. I want to win the final and be a world champion, but what I care about is putting in a performance worthy of a huge match like this, doing ourselves justice in a final, playing without nerves or fear.
  • The way you play. That’s why people have reacted as they have.
  • For me, the most important acknowledgement is when people from within football write to me. They appreciate me for who I am as a person. You know, I’ve never tried to be something I’m not. I’m grateful for the affection people show but, I insist, I don’t like praise, it makes me uncomfortable.
  • Bielsa used to say success warps people. Do you agree?
  • Marcelo also said he learned from his failures. Success makes you fall in love with yourself. You think you’re prettier, you’re better than you really are. That’s why it’s so important to stay focused, feel at home in yourself.
  • Are you willing to admit you’re having a great tournament?
  • In a competition like this, when the team works, individual players stand out. The team has grown to be more than just a random selection of names. We were lucky Chiquito saved the penalties, that Ángel’s shot went in in the 120th minute – that’s how stories like this get written. If things had turned out differently, though, I wouldn’t be tearing my hair out right now. Obviously I’m happy with my performances so far – I’m not going to lie – but I’m one of those people that thinks the analysis has to come at the end. And this isn’t over. Tomorrow we have the kind of chance that comes around once in a lifetime.
  • How do you avoid complacency at having reached the final?
  • I was afraid of that after the Belgium match, that after 24 years without a semi-final we’d slack off. But we kept going. If this team strikes a chord with people, it’s already a kind of victory – not the main one, but we’ll have achieved something. The thing Argentines always take most pride in is a team that represents them.
  • A team that clearly isn’t as attacking as it was.
  • The team has changed. From the first match with five at the back, there have been changes. There has been a massive improvement in how we approach matches and how we adapt to the other team. The co-ordination in defence we showed against Holland is proof of that. Hopefully against Germany we’ll be just as lucid.
  • As the manager on the pitch, what do you reckon – should you play Germany the same way you played Holland?
  • It’s a different match. One team gets more players inside, between the lines. That’s where we’re going to have to be tight and get around the pitch very quickly. They defend and attack with the ball. If you give them space, as we saw against Brazil, they tear you to pieces. They’re technically good, they’re strong, powerful and know what they’re about. But I trust this Argentina team. I can see the others are convinced by what we’ve been doing, and that’s important. We have the tools to neutralise Germany’s strong points and create problems for them, too.
  • Then you need Messi more than ever.
  • Leo got this team going in the first few matches and then he adapted to the demands of the whole. In some matches he’s had to slog away much more than we would have liked, but he did it for the good of the team. Hopefully on Sunday we can help him a bit more than he’s been helping us. In the last two matches the team, for various reasons, hasn’t been able to give him what he needs.
  • If you win the World Cup, will it be the end of your international career?
  • We’re not there yet so don’t ask me that. Monday is the time for appraisals. Right now I feel very lucky for having had the opportunity to do things right, something many former team-mates weren’t able to do. I’m happy, I feel good, strong, and I want to continue. The match, and our hopes, are so huge that wasting mental energy thinking about my own affairs would be irresponsible both personally and with regard to my team-mates. 
  • Were you surprised by what Neymar said? [that he was up for Argentina]
  • He showed the kind of kid he is when he said that. I wouldn’t have expected any thing else from him. Since he came to Barcelona he’s done exactly as he should. He never gets out of line. And for him that must be pretty tough at this stage.
  • Has Sabella surprised you or were you sure he was going to do the business at the World Cup?
  • He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t need to shout to get his message across: his knowledge of the game is enough to convince you. He’s honest, professional, respectful and always prepared. It’s not even enough just to judge him in a sporting sense – he made me want to play for la Selección again. I was more out than in, but bit by bit we went about building something. That made me want to be a part of this. The same goes for many of my team-mates.
  • Was Maradona right: ‘Mascherano and ten more’?
  • Here it’s not about Mascherano or Messi. It’s about all of us, those in the squad and those that got left behind and helped us to where we are. We’re proud of having formed such a good group, without egos and everyone pulling in the same direction.
  • And regarding splaying yourself on the ground, with what happened to you the other day, who’s going to dare do that again?
  • What happened with my arse the other day… Look, I won’t say it’s never happened. But if you start asking around, it’s happened to most players in the bottom half of the pitch. I’m not going to burn anyone but we were talking about it amongst ourselves, and, well… Whoever has to do it, though, I tell the lads this is something that only happens to players like us. Really, it’s a kind of blessing.