El Tata Martino´s Incontinent Cat

Ever tried to live with an incontinent animal? It’s trying. It tries to poop, but cannot, yet poop is all there is. It’s trying, trickle-down economics.

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Pegamequemegusta suspects Gerardo Martino has, or has had, an incontinent cat. Not a dog, for they vary too much as a species for a consistent image of Incontinent Dog to present itself to us; nor a budgee or a parrot, wherein comedy trumps tragedy every time. No, it must be, or have been, a cat, for incontinence in a cat is a curious phenomenon. The cat seems happy, only to redefine the idea of happiness you had assigned to the cat-happiness category. It runs, jumps, attacks stuff; it engages its various demons, as cats do. Grooming, as always, takes up a grand part of the day; only now it’s ineffectual. Likewise, the instinctual crap-concealing cats get up to, even the most domesticated ones who’ve never brought home a trophy of any size or consequence, convinced they’re Schwarzneggerarily invisible to both predator and prey, is no more, the burier diminished. Oh it will scrape around the water bowl as if digging a well, but the litter tray is no more recognisable than Radamel Falcao. The tail – the fluffy, expressive tail – is no longer under its control. Wet and limp it hangs; an unregulated sluice gate. At a poke drops will fall like merciless rain, yet the bowels ignore the thrum of the full emptying’s rhyme, reduced instead to the fragmentary inconsequentiality of the occasional blog post, seeping monotonously without ever truly delivering the payload.

Safety precautions must be taken, and firmly adhered to, as Martino found out the hard way one morning at the Camp Nou, we speculate. He had taken the Wrong Bag, the one that had been left within her grasp and was so perched upon as a nice change from her less than hygienic box. It was a gesture of possession, (semi-)loyalty, proximity in absence, a tribute, in a way. These considerations were lost on the back room staff, however, who scrunched up their noses. It was an accident. My cat, you see, her tail doesn’t… But Dani Alves just would not leave the matter be: “Caca Matino, Caca Martino!” It was the beginning of the end.

Yet his year-long sabbatical was not a waste. Martino most definitely discovered that the cat, so lorded as independent, disdainful, even, needs contact for validation. “Hello, I’m here. You – whatever you are – are here. If left with little other choice, I would eat you. For now, though, you are my anchor.” Now, post-Alves, such encounters were impossible except for brief comminglings when seated at the back step. Down at her level, things made more sense: a look, a caress, the odd purr, like in the old days when taking Spain to the wire, or all those Sundays of Maxi Rodriguez, Scocco, gol! A thought began to form: why even have a creature like this around if it’s banished out of sight like a mad ex-wife in the attic?

The question returned over and over, perhaps long ago but conceivably during this past year, as Argentina lost their way in the final and Sabella figured hanging around this team would leave him the world’s oldest man in his early sixties; even as months of pointless words and even less useful friendlies ticked by. The cat was distant but must be present. Never mind its schizoid state – the front half expressive, clean and occasionally vicious; the back a futile exercise in scatology – it’s still a cat. Besides, you’re stuck with it, Gerardo, he doubtlessly reflected, so no more Messi as a false 9, no more Messi as the crowded, beset-upon number 10, no more playing crocked players or putting on names to please the papers or hoping to get kudos for derring-do – at least not after Paraguay. Let’s not pick Palacio. Let’s just play Pastore in and around some decent midfielders. He now seems to have maturity on par with his ability, and balls to, say, not lay the ball off to Messi but instead Cruyff-turn a ¡Uruguayan! Let’s let Messi do his mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma thing, waiting for space and/or a ball of yarn. Distant but present. Yes, Pastore will be the bearded little face of this team, Aguero the incisors, Biglia the whiskers, Mascherano the rasping tongue. And the back? Well, we can’t be sure, but Martino probably stared into space for a while here before muttering: You know, market forces.

¡Crisis!

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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.

The Fear

I

The Battle of Cerro Corá, dear beardless ones, was the final battle of the War of the Triple Alliance. In a scheduling nightmare men with sabres vowed would never be repeated, Uefa’s Franco-Prussian fan zone extravaganza was going on at the same time. As usual, however, the Conmebol version was far more robust. Paraguay, raised high in the breeding grounds of the life-bringing waters of the Ríos Paraná, Pilcomayo & Co., sought to exert more control over lands south of her far too restricted borders. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay formed a troublesome barrier to her ambition, however. The Paraguayan coach and his Irish physio/floozy knew they had some problems at the back but they had faith in their attack, especially given England’s assistance in that area – oh the eternally angle-working England – so they went ahead with the invasion anyway. About 70% of the male population of Paraguay died in the war. At Cerro Corá, the final battle, the last remnants of Paraguay’s army were retreating along with their fleeing coaching staff. In order to gain time, children were dressed in army uniforms and little beards were painted on their little faces. From a distance they might just look like a real team and the invaders take a little longer to advance. Brave gambles on another man’s reticence is one of the things we prize most highly, as long as we are not among the victims. Yet victims there were. Paraguay’s painted children were no match for the combined forces of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, every regiment of which had its own professional beheader, a knife-wielding Diego Lugano-type figure who shuns the sword or rifle as pansyish, arms-length communication devices utterly devoid of the personal touch. Romance, according to a contemporary stone etching, is the glint of the beloved’s eyes in a blade flashing like a hand-held star, powered by the heart.

Romance, eh. It can be hard to be romantic when the other lies prostrate at your feet, unable to stand, blubbering blushing inanities. Well, depends what you’re into, really. Those of a more sadistic bent will no doubt have spent the 2014 Eliminatorias purring contentedly, cheering a succession of hefty wins. Four against Ecuador and Chile respectively, three against Uruguay, five against Paraguay. Stop hitting yourself, Paraguay!

Last time out, it was argued that the South American qualifiers were largely responsible for getting all five teams into the second round and four of them (Chile fell to Brazil) into the quarter finals. The long trips, the changing seasons, climates and altitudes, the different styles, the derbies and long history of scores to settle, over the course of the campaign a unit could be formed whose discipline, timing and murderous instincts had all been honed on the road. The Uefa version was derided as a non-event, a rabbit-killing exercise (did you know you can punish a rabbit by standing it up against the wall?) that left England, Portugal and so on faffy, bloated and with suspiciously clean fingernails.

That line hardly stands up this time given Brazil’s absence. Chile were able to ditch their manager half-way through and regroup, while Uruguay made a play-off with Jordan after finishing fifth in nine-team league. Even Argentina’s string of heavy victories now seems an awful long time ago. Continuity and a clear idea tend to be hailed as the most effective, the most desirable qualities a national team can hope to groove on. Yet it seems that at this World Cup – and, in a revisionist stroke, the last one, too – freshness and spontaneity are what will bring the greatest number of enemy heads in a sack. (BYOS). You can have all the clarity you want, but if you really want to mix things up, you have to be able to surprise and strike terror into your opponent.

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II

It appears that when Argentina lined up against Iran ten days ago, they did so with little colouring pencils in hand. When not cutting each other’s hair – the modern footballers chief delight – they had been practising drawing little moustaches that curled to a cheeky point and Duchampian goatees on their supposed victims. Before Messi’s thunderbastard, the team they most reminded pegamequegusta of was England of the last fifteen years or so – all empty swagger with no cohesive aggression or control to back it up. Indeed, the debate over the line-up and maximisation of resources was harrowingly similar to the Stevie G/Lampard cataclysm. Iran clearly didn’t fear them. Horror was surging from within Gago’s pointless shuffling, a nervous tic betraying repression at full tilt.

In his press conference the following day, however, Ángel Di María was having none of it. “Why do you think the team is playing bady?” he was asked. “What do you mean we’re playing badly? I didn’t say that. Maybe you think that but as far I can tell we’ve won two matches and qualified for the next round.” Good, thought pegamequemegusta. This team needs a fired up Di María, one with a machete in his hand and a point to prove; one with whom pride may be fucking, Bruce Willis-style; one for who a Champo League triumph actually needs to be backed up with further glory.

For at the last WC he fairly bottled it and left criticising Maradona, the only one to do so despite the manager having stuck by him through a six-game suspension and some horrible performances where he was outran, outshone, outballsed and outscored by a 32-year-old Heinze. Sure, talking is one thing, but he Brought It against Nigeria, taking up inside positions, complementing the midfield and generally causing havoc. His poor performances in South Africa meant his crucial role in Maradona’s plan was never fulfilled. In the first minute of the Mexico match he was caught on the ball and bundled over: he lay with his face pressed to the turf for quite some time, before peeking up through his fingers a la Busquets. This time he seems more mature, is one of the only Argentine players in fine physical shape and, far from harbouring fear, seems to have embraced the creative possibilities of the death drive. Indeed, they’re grappling as we speak, but reports say he has Eros by the balls.

He must be wary, however. There’s a Norwegian novelist out there who wants to get a little too close. Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote an article recently in the New Republic‘s series The Literary Eleven: Writers and Intellectuals on the World Cup’s most Compelling Characters – yes, you’re right to shudder, dear soon-to-have-two-rest-days-in-a-row sufferer – where he dreamed up a laudably insane parallel between Di María and Franz Kafka. The principle reason for the comparison is that he claims they look alike. However, he goes on to say that unlike the over-rehearsed moves of Ronaldo, Di María has that spark of sudaka unpredictability, the gift of being able to put the unexpected into relief, opening life up even though it reveals nothing other than itself, just like Franz in literature. “It gives me goosebumps to see it, and I shout, THIS IS SO GREAT!”

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That last sentence made our fear-gizzard tremble.

III

Here we are, though, a few sleepless hours from a quarter-final. Talking about press conferences and creepy New Republic loonies. Besides a nice move or two in the first hour against Nigeria, though, there has been fairly little to discuss regarding Argentina in this World Cup. We had the formation mini-crisis that in the end wasn’t one; we had the Iran-contra affair. Besides that, it’s been slow. Sabella’s delegation is well-organised and tight-lipped, so news is slow. One night on TyC, Horacio Pagani even told us he had to eat alone in his bedroom. “Solitude makes me a bit depressed,” he said about his meal of soup with some hotdogs. He thought about throwing himself out the window, only being dissuaded by the fact he was on the second floor. “You break all your bones without solving anything,” one of the studio boys said. Quite.

Pegamequemegusta almost envied other teams that were fighting to stay alive; we almost envied teams that were gone for having lived moments of hope and crushing lows already. At least they had something to shout about. If it hadn’t been for the fans’ glorious rendition of Bad Moon Rising, it could almost have been as if the World Cup hadn’t begun for Argentina

For the last few days here, for example, the tv, papers and twitter have been full of profound reports on.. you guessed it, dear toasted one, Lavezzi’s tattoos. Lavezzi has a tat of a glock sticking down into his shorts and another one of Jesus and another of the seven-times tables, just in case. Images abounded of Lavezzi as a more rotund youngster, before his floppy hair gave way to an exquisitely-sculpted Iron Man look. The video of him squirting water on Sabella was shown alongside him tugging a most-displeased-looking Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s nose. What a character! 

Of course he played well when he came on for the crocked Kun Agüero against Nigeria. Against Switzerland, too, he’ll bring speed and energy to a team that tends to plod. In attack he gets to the byline, while in defence he should be reliable enough to help out the oft-exposed Zabaleta. That’s about it, though. After all the initial excitement, it was clear the media was taking the Carlos Tevez vacuum hard. For Messi has given us some outstanding moments so far, but if Argentina fail to make the quarter-final at least, they will fade into insignificance. These Messi goals have to be a preamble, not necessarily to ever greater golazos, but to moments of transcendence. Otherwise they were just sublime acts of infanticide.

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Indeed, our only real complaint regarding press conferences are the opportunities lost by the generally quite inane questions put to the players. We’d like to hear more probing enquiries, dilemmas that seek to crank open the hinges of the protagonists’ fears and preoccupations, questions that can’t be answered by platitudes. Would you rather wake up buried in a coffin or find yourself in an open space faced with a marauding head-chopper? If you had to sacrifice a limb, which would it be? What would you be willing to do to guarantee a place in the final? Would you miss a year of football, whether through a reputation-destroying ban or a career-threatening injury? How many disabled children would you slap for a goal in the World Cup final? What makes you tick, guy? What, if anything, are you afraid of?

IV

Terror is, after all, the lifeblood of international ball. Otherwise, it would be little more than an exotic Uefa Cup. Terror is watching your boys battle against apparently more skilful players you’ve never heard of, watching in horror as you gradually learn their names from the commentary and pass-after-terrifying corner they burn themselves into your long-term memory. Terror is Hernán Crespo raging a decade later at the impudence of Anders Svensson for rocketing a free kick into the top corner. Terror is Clint Dempsey or Tim Cahill running clipped mayhem at confounded defences: aaahhhh. For terror is inflicted as much as it is suffered. One cannot say one does not believe in terror. Terror is.

Hence the chilliest of chills last week when we read Olé’s interview with Martín Demichelis (again by Marcelo Sottile and Hernán Claus). In truth, it was strangely moving to read, a list of bumbling errors and setbacks. Demichelis was last seen in an Argentina shirt giving away a silly goal against Bolivia more than two and a half years ago. Before that he had also given away several goals at the World Cup, including a notable blunder against Korea (the only goal they conceded before the quarter finals). He tells how his five-year-old son cries at not being able to emulate Messi. “‘I can’t do that,’ he said, frustrated. I calmed him down and told him: ‘Don’t worry, either can I.'” Yet he played for Bayern for seven years, and this season he was having a great game against Barcelona – until he gave away a peno and got sent off. He’s not in the starting line-up today but we were still amazed Sabella brought him to Brazil as despite some positive qualities, for us he can only be a curse, that most implacable figure of terror.

  • What did you learn from the mistake against Bolivia?
  • I had just got across well and knocked the ball out for a throw. And it was from that throw the mistake came: I decided not to play out from the back. The ball fell on my left foot and I tried to get it up so I could clear it with my right. Their forward got goalside of me and that was that, I couldn’t catch him…
  • How were the following days?
  • Bad. Really bad. In the stadium I loved the most I’d had the worst moment of my career. I’ve gotten injured playing for la Selección – an ankle operation, metal plates in my face – but you accept those things as part of the job. A mistake like that is different… Especially when there are loads of other things behind it: the poor Copa América, the bad start to the qualifiers after losing to Venezuela for the first time ever, the fact that they had raised the prices of tickets for the match so that day the Monumental was half-empty…
  • Did Sabella say anything to you at the time?
  • He was very sincere. We had a long talk before travelling to Colombia. He reminded me of a line el Bambino Veira had once said to a goalkeeper: ‘I’m taking you out to protect you.’ Alejandro added, though: “I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I’m not taking you out to protect you. I’m taking you out because I have to protect the group and at the moment your confidence is rock bottom.” He was right. I’ve had plenty of setbacks in my career, but that one was a knock-out blow.
  • Did you think that was the end of your international career?
  • Well… Look, in training before the match in Barranquilla we were having a kick around and they put me up front. I must have scored about ten goals that day. That’s when I thought: ‘Ah, this is their way of saying goodbye, ha.’

That ‘ha’, bejaysus. The fear. The corrosive fear of making a mistake; the productive fear of avenging one; the demoralising fear of fear present; the motivating fear that desire channels; the panic surefire decapitation spreads; el terror Lío Messi.