Tintin, Argentina and the Land of Black Gold

Fans will be allowed to bring mobile phones, cameras and 500cl bottles of water. Yet if that water bottle is one centilitre over, not a chance, and God help you if it’s made of glass. Lighters will be banned as will belts! Are all the extra police being posted for suicide watch? They may have to be: the traditional hotdog, hamburger and empanada vendors have been banned from the stadium for the game.

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“In Cutral Có, Neuquén the city of black gold, petrol, the Selección have arrived for their match against Haiti. A city of just 35,000 people, tickets have been retailing at $200 for the chance to see Maradona’s ballet. Alianza’s ground will be full, they’ve added extra seats. And the police have said that no-one carrying a thermos and maté will be allowed entry.”

So begins Olé‘s article, entitled Blue and White Gold, on the friendly between the Selección local and Haiti, a match organised to raise money for the poor Caribbean nation devastated further by an earthquake in January. This apparent contradiction of a national team consisting solely of locally-based players has been one of the projects most forcefully insisted upon by Diego. It hearkens back to an earlier age, a purer one, they would no doubt say, when Argentina could field a brilliant team featuring the idols of the teams they followed with such distinctive passion and pageantry each week. All but two of the 22 members of the 1978 World Cup winning squad was made up of players who plied their trade in the grandes equipos of Buenos Aires, such as Racing, River, Independiente and Huracán. Today, however, the situation is much changed for obvious reasons.

In pegamequemgusta’s opinion, only a sizeable chip on one’s shoulder and blind nationalism could make anyone believe that the current standard in Argieball bears any relation to that era of Argieball. Nevertheless, a couple of good performances in Primera have been known to suffice for a call-up to Diego’s squads over the last year and a half. And although those call-ups have been shown to be pretty cheap, with players discarded after barely a few minutes and others retained after shambolic performances (Dátolo made his début against Brazil, scored a screamer and never appeared again). Although Diego does seem to take these things seriously enough as auditions for the first team (Palermo, for one, has real chances of going to South Africa), it must be admitted that at this stage they are only played for cash. At least this time, the cash will go to a worthy cause.

The Haiti squad, undiminished despite the January's terrible earthquake

At least this is what the organisers are claiming as they gouge the Patagonians for seven times more than it would cost them to go see the players play in a normal league match. Bizarrely, these fans could still be paying for the novelty in six months time as a payment plan has been designed for those with limited cash flow (about 90% of the population in pegamequemegusta’s experience).

Police man the streets in expectation of a violent outburst by the irrepressible Captain Haddock

Another unusual aspect of the game is the hefty police presence. For a game, a friendly match, which the Haitian coach, Colombian Jairo Ríos, has described as “a relaxation exercise, like taking a pill”, it seems excessive to bring 380 police officers. One hundred and thirty of them will be brought in specially from Neuquén Capital. For crowd trouble? Well, they’ve clamped down on what can be brought. Fans will be allowed to bring mobile phones, cameras and 500cl bottles of water. Yet if that water bottle is one centilitre over, not a chance, and God help you if it’s made of glass. Lighters will be banned as will belts! Are all the extra police being posted for suicide watch? They may have to be: the traditional hotdog, hamburger and empanada vendors have been banned from the stadium for the game.

Alianza's Colossos, which holds 16,500 people, where la Selección local will take on Haiti on Wednesday

Pegamequemegusta was surprised upon learning that the match was being played in Patagonia. Then, in a condescending bout of big cityitis, decided it was nice for these mountain people, Sly’s peons and others crushed under the heel of the United Colours of Benetton, to be able to see real legends like Ortega and Palermo in their country’s colours in their home town. Sure it costs way more than usual, but Buenos Aires is a long, long way from Cutral Có. Plus the adventure fits in with the federalist vision propagated in the venues chosen for the Copa América 2011.

On further thought, though, pegamequemegusta wonders what powers are behind this apparently benevolent gesture. Who pulled the strings to have this game played here, of all places? Could it be a similar occasion to the utterly forgettable friendly with Belarus in 2008? Why are there so many police? If the match is to raise money for the Haitians, why is it being played in such a small venue? Is this not a vanity project for some powerful men down in oil-rich Patagonia? Dear, loyal, oh so handsome readers, this is a case for Tintin: Argentina and the Land of Black Gold.

Bigmouth Strikes Again – and it’s not Maradona!

Ah yes, Argieball is a land where precious few opinions are kept to oneself, where the amount of exertion in just keeping schtum about all the really dodgy shit seems to provoke an equally intense outpouring of utter crap. There’s so much pressure from corrupt shit that they spout out inconsequential nonsense. It should be like when Homer turns up the radio to hide a smell but surprisingly enough, due to a complicit media, this strategy, despite having all the complexity of throwing a coin across the room to confuse a cat, tends to work. So while the paper and the TV are constantly braying about the internas that rack the fragile little skiffs that make up Argieball’s flighty fleet, the macro problems that determine their eventual destination – with the possible exception of fan violence, in which Olé, for one, has an admirable record – go ignored. It is surprising for a nation of people who describe themselves as “just off the boat” to have such unsound navigational principles – the equivalent of plotting a voyage by studying mess chat. Though perhaps that can be explained by the fact that the founder of their navy was a Paddy.

This week, in any case, was a particularly raucous week where it actually appeared that there was more substance to the flying insults than a mere desire to sell papers and give bored micro-journos something to talk about.

Caruso vs El Turco

It all kicked off on Monday, when serial club hopper Caruso Lombardi of Tigre had a burlesque exchange with el Turco Asad, of shock table-topper Godoy Cruz. The latter were winning 6-2 in Mendoza when the ball came to Caruso in his ‘technical area’ and he kicked it at Asad, hitting him in the back. As well as the genuinely ape-like mimes that accompany the ensuing fracas, thanks to the microphones on the touchline – and everywhere else – every word of their harpy-ish banter was caught on tape.

The match is nearly over but due to the need to show every single match on TV (Fútbol para todos) so as to not allow football succumb to the elitism of the market, it’s still only half three on a Monday afternoon. Therefore, the commentators are disgusted and repeatedly beg for the unedifying spectacle to end. Nonetheless, the producer continues to broadcast the sound:

Caruso: “You fat fuck, you fat fucking junkie.”

El Turco: “Yeah yeah yeah, you even beg your players for money, you cheap cunt.”

Caruso: “Go fuck yourself, you cokehead [makes coke-scooping gesture].”

El Turco: “Fuck you [makes money gestures].”

Etc.

While all the forums pegamequemegusta has had its minions read and summarise have been fiercely critical of Caruso in all this, no-one either knows or wants to say if there really is anything behind it. Some posters have been scoffing at the idea of Caruso calling someone else a ‘cokehead’, given the role Maradona played in him getting his first job in Primera. Nonetheless, he says he’s going to bring Asad to court to clear his name of the ‘accusations’ that he asked his players for money: “He’s going to have to prove that. He’s going to have to find some player of mine to back him up. And he’s got a load to choose from ’cause i’ve managed a lot.” This seems to be the root cause of poor old Caruso’s ire. Having recently been booted off the irksome village bike that is Racing, he now finds himself back at a small club being routed by someone who, despite boasting a much more successful footballing career than he – having been voted player of the tournament in the Copa Intercontinental in 1994, where Vélez beat a sexy Milan team – is a rookie in management terms: “Who the hell is he anyway? He’s a fucking illiterate, that’s what he is [….] He’s just starting as a manager, I don’t know who he thinks he is. All these young managers think they’re God’s bleedin gift,” he said the following day, once he’d cooled down.

If you’re looking for any cultural insights in all this, you might be interested to know that neither manager was sent from the dugout.

Palermo vs Riquelme

That same afternoon, Boca, fresh from the bimonthly colonic irrigation instigated by means of a manager change, also had an afternoon to set tongues a-wagging. Firstly, and perhaps most remarkably, they won for once, beating Arsenal 4-0 in the Bombonera (their first win in four, second in ten). Secondly, Riquelme and Palermo played well, the former setting up the latter for his 219th and 220th goals in a Boca shirt. With those goals el Loco had surpassed the record held by Roberto Cherro since the 1940s and become Boca’s all time leading goalscorer. This day had been heralded with enough fanfare to match that for Pelé’s thousandth, and in similar fashion it was served to Palermo on a plate by Román, who clearly could have scored himself if he’d wanted. However, watch what happens after he gives the assist (on the first goal):

Palermo has always been a more strightforward type of figure than the moody Riquelme, the Zangief to his Guile, if I may, and you can almost see his heart break as Riquelme runs away pointedly refusing to celebrate with him, turning what should be one of the greatest moments of his career into an embarrassing farce. Although Juan Román is always welcome here near the back of the car wash where pegamequemegusta spends most of its time, what he does here is downright evil.

While he may have been wise to not mention the incident at all, Palermo allowed himself to be drawn on the matter during the week as he attended several press briefings throughout the week organised to celebrate his consolidation as an a living legend: “Let’s be clear, we’re not friends, we have no relationship, the only thing we have in common is that we wear the same jersey and that both of us, as senior players, are obliged to help Boca get out of this situation. [….] Before in the dressing room it was difficult; now it’s changed – it actually is how they say.”

Unlike the previous scuffle, theories abound as to the wherefores of this dispute. Principally, however, it comes down to a couple of things: wage differences between the two (Riquelme is playing for free), control over the group, their contrasting relations with the media (JR little or nothing; Martín, always ready) and, moreover, both Palermo and Riquelme’s contracts are up this summer and it is not clear whether either or both will be renewed. Meanwhile, the man touted as Boca’s next manager is another club legend currently plying his trade with Columbus Crew in the MSL, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Palermo, who’s good buddies with Guille, would not be ill-disposed to the idea; while Román, who did not want either Basile or Alves to go, has stated publicly that he would not be at all happy with the idea of a former teammate “telling me what to do”. (More on this here, for Spanish readers, though there are as many dodgy statements as good ones). Again, it has to be said that Román looks like the moe childish but the real fault is with the inertia and incompetence of the Boca board under Ameal, who pointedly failed to nip the crisis in the bud, have rowed back and forth on several issues, undermining their own authority and repeatedly firing managers, thus creating a power vacuum in a dressing room even tenser than when JT refuses to sing at next years Man City X-mas party.

He stands where it is steep,
oh I guess he thinks that he’s the very first one,
his hand upon his leather belt now
like it was the wheel of some big ocean liner.
And she will learn to touch herself so well
as all the sails burn down like paper.
And he has lit the chain
of his famous cigarillo.
Ah, they’ll never, they’ll never ever reach the moon,
at least not the one that we’re after;
it’s floating broken on the open sea, look out there, my friends,
and it carries no survivors.
But lets leave these lovers wondering
why they cannot have each other,
and let’s sing another song, boys,
this one has grown old and bitter.

Bonilla vs Fuertes

"The Black Hole" - Olé's charming take on Boca's defence

And that wasn’t all at Boca this week: there was an even more bizarre story involving their centre back, Bonilla, and el Bicho Esteban Fuertes, of Colón. In a match played last Wednesday, Boca were 3-0 down when their Colombian centre back launched a two-footed lunge on man of the match, Fuertes. It was a horrendous challenge and Bonilla rightly got a straight red, however, today the story reappeared as the defender broke down during an interview on TyC Sports, claiming that he had been racially abused, by two players: “You black bastard, go back to Africa you fuckin chump!” Upon hearing about this story, I had my doubts. After all, Bonilla was the aggressor, had played horribly and may have been looking for an excuse. Moreover, despite being reprehensible, casual racism is extremely common here; in fact, anyone with skin that is in any way dark is referred to as negro, often affectionately – as with me, a bottle-white Paddy! Yet when you watch the video, despite his insistence that it was hardly even a foul, I think you can only side with Bonilla. He speaks convincingly about only having come to this country to work and how he couldn’t understand it since “we’re all South Americans”. The Colón players deny the allegations. Bonilla says he did not mention the incident to the disciplinary committee but that he has now as  “I just want to see the rules of the game upheld.” In the media there has been nothing along the lines of Aragones/Henry, but at least the story was publicised to some extent.

And finally, to round off this week of fiery bigmouthery and spleen-bursting bitterness, Lanús were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores tonight after drawing 0-0 at home with Universidad de Perú. As fine representatives of Argieball, they did not go down without a fight.

She said, I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.