Being Sabella

Today we bring you a translation of a piece by Ignacio Fusco, of Olé and Don Julio. Pegamequemegusta has translated several interviews of his – with Pipo gorosito, Carles Rexach and Di Stéfano – as he can be quite combative and frequently gets the best out of his subjects. This is not an interview, however, rather Sabella’s interior monologue during the final few minutes of Argentina-Switzerland.

We enjoyed it and agree with it for the most part. Indeed, reports from Argentina’s closed training session today concur with several of the ideas attributed to Sabella here regarding team changes, with Demichelis set to come in for Fede Fernández, besides Basanta for the suspended Rojo. (No indication Palacio will start…). Tomorrow will be a slog, though, so best to kick back with a slick, smart piece of writing in the meantime. We hope to have done it justice. (Spanish readers can find the original here). 


Monologue of a despairing manager

Palacio on the left, Basanta behind him, Biglia in next to Mascherano, stick to Mascherano, Lucas! There! Stay there, right? Good. Di María over there, getting back and covering Zabaleta, that’s it, we’re there, we’re almost there, how much is left? Two? How much? One? Come on, vamos, in the bag! In the air they’re not getting a thing, sorted, relax, relax, it’s sorted. I told Palacio: you’re a midfielder who gets forward, not a forward who defends, the world is how you see it, put ’em under pressure ’cause they’ll make a mistake. We need space to play, them on the back foot, attack, attack, attack, head down, dribbling past, these kids are unbelievable, I can’t believe this, four of them go forward and the other two just sit there, they don’t talk to each other, kids, they’re kids, like a bunch of school kids. The ones up front don’t want to get back, no-one is getting back, check out the goal if you don’t believe me: Palacio won the ball, he gave it to Messi, Messi to Di María, goal. We waited and went for them, goal, Now we’re good, sorted, two wingers, four in the middle, they haven’t come near us for about half an hour, stay close to Mascherano, Lucas, please! Close, close, there! How much is left? Three! What do you mean three?! Where the hell’d he get three minutes from? Whistle, ref, it’s over! Corner. Corner. He gave them a corner. A corner, la puta que lo parió. Two years ago we played these lads and we beat them without breaking a sweat: Campagnaro, Fernández and Garay at the back: physical presence, height; Mascherano and el Chapu in the middle: garra, cover, a mean shift; Maxi and Sosa out wide: balance, collaboration; Messi and Agüero up front. Three-one we won. Three goals by Leo, all with space to play in, on the counter. They say he picks my team and today he’s barely had a shot. With me, you get predictable football; football can be predictable. The goalkeeper is going up. Their goalkeeper is going up for a header. I can’t believe this. Garay! The keeper’s going up, Garay! The one is illuminous yellow, you muppet, who do you think! Where’s Campagnaro? What the hell are you doing here, Campagnaro? This is the last move, it has to be, we’ll get Belgium and I’ll organise this lot, once and for all. In the first half they had a chance on the counter because Mascherano got distracted on a corner giving out to the others for taking their sweet time in getting back, the second time… Football gives you time to… Nerves are for the other team to worry about. Rojo is injured, I put Basanta on at left-back, all we need now is for Lavezzi and Higuaín to pick up knocks. Who’s taking it? Rodríguez? Rodríguez takes their corners? Made you made a note of that? How does he take them? Uruguayan. His parents are from Uruguay. Mark the keeper! This goes in and we lose on penos and he had two years and he couldn’t find his starting eleven, they’ll say, Messi was picking the team, he tried five at the back but he didn’t have the clout to stick with it, he brought Agüero and Higuaín even though they were crocked and brought no back-up number 9, why they’ll ask me. A bicycle kick by the keeper: holy shitballs. The rebound, the rebound! We’re Argentina, we don’t have to worry about the opposing team: pull the other one. Get out, Romero! Post. It hit the post. How much left? It hit the post. Dzemaili. Dzemaili was it? I told them, I told them, Dzemaili goes out wide, he finds space, he gets round the back. Who was marking him?! Campagnaro, what are you doing on the bench? These kids will be the death of me. The best world cup ever. The best world cup ever, Jaysus, Mary and Joseph. It’s over! It’s over! Now I’m going to tell the press about Palacio. What a fourth man in the middle can do. Get your rival on the back foot. Hang back. In the second half we played better, we were balanced. I’ll tell them that, too: balance, we were balanced. After everything we went through here, they’ll let me change things. El pueblo has to learn. Foresight, foresight. Even better if we get Belgium, they like to play it around more. One more match and I’m in the record books. Twenty days ago I was fifty-nine years old. Today I turned eighty-three.

O Death!

After 67 minutes of Argentina’s game with, or rather, match against Bolivia last Friday night, Carlos Tevez received the ball on the edge of the box with his back to goal. Not only that, the pass had come rolling swiftly along the grass so he could stop it with his foot with relative ease. This is important as it opened up several possibilities. He could pass the ball to a teammate, who in turn, given his proximity to the goal, could take a shot and hope the man in the gloves would not stop it. Alternatively he could shield the ball himself and trust in his own considerable skill, strength and punch to burst past the defender and fashion a shooting opportunity of his own. Another possibility was that he roll the ball back to the player who had so cleverly passed the ball to him in the first place so that his companion could have a more or less unobstructed shot at the goal. This move is known to erudites as a one-two as it consists essentially of two parts. The third part, however hypothetical, consists of a shot or a cross or a pass or even another one-two, perhaps with the same teammate, perhaps with another. There are all sorts of possibilities. Indeed, one is tempted to say that it is precisely this array of possibilities stemming from a simple situation – as opposed to the rather more limited potential concatenations involved in a tennis serve or a pitch, to give but two examples, although of course there are many more – that accounts for the popularity of association football.

The pass along the ground to the player’s feet allowed for all this. It gave him control of the situation in a way that a ball sent through the air would not have done. In such a case, it was much more probable that the goalkeeper, who is allowed to use his hands, would have plucked the ball out of the air like a slimy frog does a hairy fly, or a hairy frog does a slimy fly – neither the hair or the slime are particularly relevant, we admit – or it may even have rolled sadly behind the chalked touchline, bringing a definitive end to the possibility of a chance, not to mention a goal. For goals are important in football. They make it more probable that a team will win, thereby accruing points or advancing to the next round, and ultimately being presented with a trophy, thereby increasing one’s value in the market, and hence making it more probable that one will find a partner to reproduce with, or maybe even more than one. Hence we can see that the pass along the ground to Tevez’s feet was a veritable expression of the death drive. It is no coincidence that the Bishop of Barcelona has taken to condemning misplaced passes as abortions and contrary to God’s Will.

In the event, Carlos Tevez was tackled illegally by the Bolivian defender and a free kick was awarded. This was also an opportunity for the furthering of the human race, if not the nation of Bolivia, and while the possibilities such a situation offers are not as great as when the ball is in open play, it was still a positive outcome. The resulting free kick was taken by Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the best player plying this trade at this moment in history. His attempt bounced off the defensive wall and went out for a corner kick. Although a chance of a very different kind, it was nonetheless also a promising state of affairs.

That corner kick ended up in the goalkeeper’s hands, thus thwarting Argentina’s drive to the laurel-crowned harem in their hearts, temporarily at least. Amazingly, however, they did not seek to repeat the move. Despite its relative simplicity and the multitude of positive scenarios such a pass is likely to create, the team failed to recognise the path to a more precious future and onanistically wasted their seed, selfish Peters in a crowd failing to heed the cry of the cock. 

Yet, oh dear handsome readers, should we really have been surprised? For it had taken them 67 minutes just to conjure such a situation. Despite Checho Batista’s much-vaunted ‘footballing idea’, after months of tramping around Europe with a gaggle of assistants and being stopped many times at the Old continent’s frontiers under suspicion of being a roving DVD pirateer; despite a year’s worth of ‘renovation’, of change; despite a month of training together; despite the inclusion of Cambiasso and Banega in the midfield, the tonic we were told – you all said – that would have had the Germans spinning on their axes like greased up spinning tops on a roulette wheel attached to a carousel pumping out Scooter tunes on Adrastea, the fastest moon in the solar system, kids; despite being at home in the first game in the first tournament to be played in their homeland for nearly a quarter of a century; despite being up against Bolivia; despite it all, they were rubbish.

Checho’s Guardiolan plan of playing Messi as a ‘false 9’ lasted a mere 45 minutes: at half time Cambiasso was replaced by Di María, and Argentina were now lining up exactly as the hopeless, clueless, insane, not-a-coach Maradona had seen fit a year before, with two in midfield, Di María out wide, and Messi behind the front two, which was really a front one as Lavezzi stayed way out on the right shanking crosses until he was hauled off. Meanwhile, noted philanthropist Javier Zanetti was doing a faithful enough impression of his previous performance in an Argentina jersey in a competitive game some two years before, when he was torn asunder by nimble, tough Paraguayans. by turning green and tucking his head into his shell. On the opposite flank, teammates found it hard to pick out Marcos Rojo as no-one was sure who he was. 

June 2011 - The Tour of Shame

Thankfully, Pablo ‘Captain of the Tour of Shame’ Zabaleta will take his place tonight. Then again, what’s the point? Are the team, and by extension, us, that is, we, likely to find more suitable life partners because the Captain of the Tour of Shame is playing? Perhaps. It’s worth a go. More important, however, is that the players try to repeat that fleeting moment of genius when the ball was rolled to Tevez’s feet and an array of possibilities presented itself, forked tongues eagerly licking out into the future, mocking destiny, praising God.

Not that those feet must necessarily belong to Carlos Tevez, mind, lest the dogmatic of you take these words of wisdom and set up an idolatrous church. No, for Carlos Tevez, after all the spittle, ink spilt and sandwiches left only half-nibbled on the counter such were the pueblo’s nerves, finally ended up starting the match. And what a start! Two minutes in, onside and directly in front of goal, he sent a header five or six yards wide. After four minutes, he dived in embarrassing fashion in the box. Then he disappeared for fifteen minutes, during which time he was only seen to appeal lamely for a supposed handball from a corner. He next popped up on the left wing but soon fell over, notwithstanding the absence of any actual challenge. At the 25 minute mark, he went on a good solo run into the box but he was soon crowded out. In the 37th minute, he was booked for charging into someone or other. “We’re seeing the Carlos Tevez of the World Cup qualifiers,” quoth the commentator. Not true, it was far worse than that. 

Messi, on the other hand, had definitely left his mopey, slumped-shoulders qualifiers persona far behind him. However, the class he was showing not only made him stand out from the Bolivian players harrying after him, it also illuminated the gulf of class that set him apart from his own teammates. Like a bird trying to teach its young to hunt, he’d eviscerate his prey, leaving his teammates the simple task of finishing off the now but faintly-squawking mess of tattered green feathers. Nonetheless, whether it was Carlitos, Lavezzi or even Cambiasso, they always managed to make such a hash of the opportunity that the wretched creature could crawl off and recover. 

Such opportunities were more rare than a non-talking parrot in a feel-good summer blockbuster, however. Batista brought seven forwards to the Copa América (Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Higuaín, Milito, Lavezzi and Di María) and has Messi as the number nine in a three man attack. Yet even in the second half when Argentina were desperately searching for a goal, much of the time there was no-one up front. They were way out wide, they were back in midfield, they were checking to see if their mistresses were sitting near to their wives in the stand, but where the striker was supposed to be there was a vacuum. We’ve all scoffed longer and harder than kilt-less Scotsman at a school sack race at Batista’s pretension to play like Barcelona, but on Friday it was clearer than ever: Messi was expected not just to be Messi but also to fill in as Xavi and Iniesta, too. (Mundoalbiceleste has a fine description of this we don’t care to improve on). It did not work.

Even though we don’t agree with his line-up, however, in fairness to Batista the real problem here is the players. Tactics only delimit a basic shape to the team and probably have more to do with defending and launching attacks than the actual creation of chances. The players he selected, with the exception of Rojo, all have considerable experience yet shirked all responsibility. This has been a constant feature of the team since the defeat to Brazil in the last Copa América in 2007, apart from a few games in the World Cup last year, when Diego had them believing they were champions. The refusal to step up means – even, say, after a bright start to a game – confidence drains out of the team until they no longer even know how to do the simplest things, as outlined in the 67th minute epiphany above. And God help them if they go behind, as against Brazil in Rosario in 2009 and Germany last year (in the third minute!)… The management team and the AFA’s constant elevation of Messi to beyond Maradona status hasn’t helped either. It’s given this weakest of groups another excuse to offload the ball in the middle of the pitch and hang back hoping someone else will sort things out. 

On the other hand, what on earth Tevez and Lavezzi were up to last Friday night is anyone’s guess. In barely 20 minutes Agüero changed the game by actually making it look more like a game of football: he would interact with his teammates, he would pass, run and shoot. Apart from that, though, he looked tough and lean. His military hair-do oozed death drive. He won’t start tonight but that hardly matters. He’s keen to show he’s happy to be a sub. Thank Christ he’s currently angling for a move to a bigger house in Madrid. And what’s more, they’ll be playing in Colón’s ground, el cementerio de los elefantes. Hopefully the whiff of death will be sufficient motivation to give the Colombians a good rogering.

Argentina v Greece – Plan B, Mink Winklepickers & Colombian Cartels

You see, it turns out Diego Maradona, the world’s best ever football player, knows a thing or two about football. And it also turns out that Diego Maradona, a big game player if ever there was one, and Argentina’s cheerleader in chief over the last few years, knows a thing or two about getting his players in the right frame of mind for important games. The garrulous rogue from the Buenos Aires slums has channelled all the nervous energy that saw him fritter away his extensive gifts into a lightening rod to draw attention away from his players. Somehow or other, the erstwhile looneytune, whose Wile E. Coyote-like dedication to pressing the self-destruct button was matched only by his childlike lust for saying the wrong thing, has has left behind the brood of vipers that stalked him in the desert and stumbled upon an oasis of lucidity [in an arbour of mixed metaphors – ed].

Yes, oh my dear handsome readers, pegamequemegusta is insufferably optimistic. This is the kind of positivity ions dream about. You won’t see a more reckless trade in rose-tinted glasses this side of Mardi Gras. We make Mormons look like Frenchmen. An ounce of our exuberance would keep a Colombian cartel in mink winklepickers for a decade.

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:10

Pegamequemegusta is giddy, giddy with the kind of unbridled joy usually associated with schoolgirls. Since the spoilsport authorities have repeatedly stated we are not allowed to share said unbridled joy with said schoolgirls, we turn to you in our unbridled joy to convey our schoolgirlish giddiness.

You see, it turns out Diego Maradona, the world’s best ever football player, knows a thing or two about football. And it also turns out that Diego Maradona, a big game player if ever there was one, and Argentina’s cheerleader in chief over the last few years, knows a thing or two about getting his players in the right frame of mind for important games. The garrulous rogue from the Buenos Aires slums has channelled all the nervous energy that saw him fritter away his extensive gifts into a lightening rod to draw attention away from his players. Somehow or other, the erstwhile looneytune, whose Wile E. Coyote-like dedication to pressing the self-destruct button was matched only by his childlike lust for saying the wrong thing, has has left behind the brood of vipers that stalked him in the desert and stumbled upon an oasis of lucidity [in an arbour of mixed metaphors – ed].

Yes, oh my dear handsome readers, pegamequemegusta is insufferably optimistic. This is the kind of positivity ions dream about. You won’t see a more reckless trade in rose-tinted glasses this side of Mardi Gras. We make Mormons look like Frenchmen. An ounce of our exuberance would keep a Colombian cartel in mink winklepickers for a decade.

As you know, Argentina won their first two games and look set to qualify for the second round, where they’ll most likely play Mexico or Uruguay. Of course it won’t be easy by any means. Many’s the oath that will no doubt pass through the bandages covering most of pegamequemegusta’s botched botox face job. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say, fairer than a flaxen haired youth on midsummer’s day, that none of the teams on Argentina’s side of the draw are particularly intimidating. They should be able to make the semi finals (and may even go on to continue their glorious losing streak against Brazil).

Even the prospect of playing Germany, more potentially ominous déja vu, no longer frightens us quite so much as it did last week. We grow bold, we grow bold, we shall wear the bottoms of our short-shorts rolled. Germany were at home. Lahm should have been sent off. The goalkeeper got injured. Pekerman made bad decisions. It was a fluke. It was a fluke. It was a fluke. It was a fluke.

But Mr Quemegusta, one of the few street children not to get a blast from our crutches yet, asks, ‘qué pasa con la defensa? El señor Demichelis es malo. Muy malo.’ ‘Aye pibe, he is,’ we intone with the gravitas our position of gringo requires, ‘but there are signs that things might change are afoot.’ We toss him a cigarette for his troubles before moving on to the realm of pure thought.

As you’ll no doubt know by now (pegamequemegusta walks the line but we ain’t the wire), especially if you follow us on twitter, the Argentina team for today’s final group game against Greece has many changes. There are seven in all: Otamendi for Jonás, Burdisso for Samuel, Clemente for Heinze, Bolatti for Mascherano, Verón for Di María, Agüero for Tevez, and Milito for Higuaín. So the team will look like this:

Most people have put the seven changes in the team down to suspensions and player-appeasement. However, pegamequemegusta reckons that the changes constitute an alternative line-up that we may well see again in the competition. Todays experiment, if successful, could well become orthodox theory.

The great worry so far, for example, has been the defence, and in particular, right back. Owing to Jonás’ suspension, Nico Otamendi will play there today. He’s really a centre back (AC Milan were reported to have offered about €10m for the 22-year-old last month) and we’d be withholding the full truth from our shareholders if we said we were happy when Diego first mooted this plan. Nonetheless, putting a robot programmed only to head and kick would be preferable to continuing with the set-up used so far. Maradona may not want to drop Jonás but a fine performance by Otamendi today would surely give him grounds for a change, especially since the latter was originally expected to be a starter.

Likewise Clemente Rodriguez, a player pegamequemegusta wouldn’t have had near the squad even if he hadn’t handed back that video of us with the giraffe. Ostensibly the man with Zanetti’s jersey – Garcé has not been picked; that decision was made before Diego had his 5th Act moment of clarity –  the two-footed Estudiantes full back starts today on the left of the defence. Unlike Otamendi and Heinze, who’s carrying a booking, Clemente’s strong point is getting forward. In a lopsided team, such a characteristic could prove highly valuable. Despite all our misgivings, it will be interesting to see how he does today.

What gave pegamequemegusta hope for change and stayed our hand from slapping the insolent child earlier, was the possibility of Demichelis losing his place. For if the Otamendi/Clemente experiments prove successful, and Burdisso acquits himself competently at centre back, as with Jonás, Maradona will be justified in organising a defensive rejig not seen since Moe stopped giving those jive-dancing lessons.

Again, this seemingly temporary change in line-up could consolidate itself this afternoon and form a genuine alternative for a team that for all its strengths and impressive showings thus far, is still lacking in experience and a plan B. Lest we forget, and despite what we said above, this was arguably Pekerman’s undoing in 2006.

A major part of the construction of this plan B is of course the midfield. As with the defence, it’s not so much a question of which player will fit better into a strict tactical system rather than the shape of the team being determined by the particular characteristics of the players. For example, Verón’s absence in the last game due to injury saw the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez. He brought greater mobility, more going forward and more protection to Jonás at right back. Should be a lock. Verón is a very important player for Maradona, however, on and off the pitch. Indeed, for this game it appears he insisted on playing so as not to lose further ground on the starting eleven.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration but in any case this will be the first game where we will see a more or less orthodox 4-3-3. Previously it had been claimed that Di María was forming part of that midfield three but really he was closer to the front four. We wondered at length last week what Diego would do about the misfiring Di María: drop him or work to get the best out of him. Diego put his arm around the young man’s shoulder and he delivered an improved performance.

We don’t know what to make of the situation: we had high hopes and really felt he could shine, especially considering the amount of focus, and defenders, that was going to be on Messi. We’re only two games in, of course, but already in pegamequemgusta’s asbestos freedom tower, we reckon he might be best employed as an impact sub.

El Kun starred in yet another under-20 WC win in Canada 2007

Pegamequemegusta recalls an interview with Agüero after Argentina’s win in the under-20 WC in 2007 where he said the same thing about himself. When asked what his ideal starting line-up would be, he said with Tevez and Messi. You wouldn’t include yourself, asked the journo. “No,” he said, “i’d come on with twenty minutes to go to run the tired defenders ragged.” Interestingly enough, Higuaín refused to travel to that tournament since he reckoned he should be in and around the first team squad. Yet he ended up making his debut much later than el Kun for that very reason. The latter starts today and is worth his place considering his contribution on Thursday, which fulfilled his prophecy to the letter. However, failing a four-goal masterclass in piss-taking, we reckon Carlitos will be back for the last 16 game. What Milito does with his chance will also be scintillating, of course.

So today we will see a vastly changed team, an experimental team and one led by Messi for the first time. It’s not just a tiny-screws-in-space experiment though. With FIFA’s ingenious decision not to wipe out yellow cards until after the quarter finals, it is quite possible that some players, especially Mascherano, will miss at least one game through suspension if Argentina continue to progress through the rounds. In this respect, as we’ve discussed before, the strength in depth of Maradona’s squad will come under more scrutiny than pegamequemegusta’s navel. Bolatti playing centre mid is not just a wry joke. He might well play there in the quarter finals. Otamendi might well be entrusted with quelling Germany’s rainbow attack.

In less than two hours Argentina will no doubt win 3-0 and advance to play Mexico in the second round, with their youngest ever captain scoring his first goal in this World Cup. The make-up of their challenge for the rest of the tournament is still very much a work in progress, however. Today’s experiment could change the whole face of the team for later games. Let’s hope it answers more questions than it raises.

Maradona’s got nothing wrong so far, not even the press conferences. Pegamequemegusta is as giddy as a schoolgirl.