Maradona Interview 24/6/’10 – Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

Olé: You speak about the players’ potential. And people say Argentina is a great team thanks to them alone. Does that make you feel proud or under-appreciated?

M: Proud. I’d love to be the last person to kiss the Cup as the players would have won it. Let’s get that clear. I just want to be one more happy, jersey-wearing Argentinian.

Olé: In any case, can you perceive a respect for Maradona the manager that wasn’t there before?

M: I never believed what some people were saying about me. I knew what I was capable of, what I could do. And since I didn’t believe them in the first place, it’s not such a massive leap now from what they were saying about me during the qualifiers. I’ve always been the same and I knew this moment was going to arrive [yawn], that I was going to have the Mascherano I have now and not the Mascherano who had half his head in Madrid and half in Barcelona. I knew I was going to have this Messi, this Tevez…

Olé: Are you enjoying the World Cup as much as you imagined you would?

M: No, I knew it was going to be like this. For a while now i’ve been saying it to anyone who wanted to listen. We had a ten day training camp to work out certain matters, to figure out what the team would be. If that work hadn’t manifested itself on the pitch afterwards, we wouldn’t have had much to say for ourselves, but thankfully we had plenty of chances in the three games we’ve played so far. So we’re fully justified in enjoying the moment right now and can look forward with great optimism.

Friday nights in out-patients, who said I lied to her?

Oh, who said I’d lied? – because I never, I never

Who said I’d lied ? – because I never

Pegamequemegusta has spent the last two weeks feverishly trying to think up reasons as to why the hell we’d get out of bed when there’s a tv, a bucket and a scratching post in the room. However, today’s promise of a juicy interview with Diego Maradona in today’s Olé saw us blinking and shuffling our way down the street to the local newspaper stand.

As always with Maradona there are some good lines, some silly exaggerations and some glimpses of that sublime, strategic, footballing intellect that conjured up assists like Burruchaga’s third in ’86 as well as a couple of hints of the manic media whore, subdued these days, but always lurking beneath the surface.Some of the interview appeared in the Guardian earlier today but we reckon it’s shoddy enough to leave so much out so we’ve undertaken to bring you the whole thing. Also our translation is different in several parts: if you don’t like it or have anything else to say, pegáme que me gusta.

  • Olé: Is Messi ready to be the Maradona of 1986 or should we be thinking of Maradona in ’82?

  • Maradona: Messi’s broken the mold. Enough with the comparisons. He’s proved he’s fit to wear the crown.

  • Olé: Lionel said he’s playing as he is now thanks to you.
  • M: I appreciate the comment but Lío’s where he is because he wants to be there. He looks happy, content. He’s having a good time; he wants to play. For all those who said that Messi didn’t sing the anthem, that he looked unhappy… Well, who likes losing? And we were losing games in the qualifiers. Now everything’s changed and we all take pride in making Messi happy. Even his teammates. You know, you see him around the place these days and he’s cracking jokes with Pastore, with Garcé, with lads he’d never bumped into in his whole bleedin life. Or he speaks to Verón. I spy on all of them. La Bruja [Verón] is a football intellectual: he knows a lot more about football than Lío does but they have long conversations and the chiseller talks back, you know. It’s nice to be a part of those chats.

  • Olé: You were worried about Messi and you went to Barcelona. Is that where the transformation started? Besides his position, what changed?

  • M: It never occurred to me to play Messi in one fixed position. I want him close to the ball. When he gets it there’s always the possibility of a counter attack, of keeping the ball, of creating a chance or putting another player through on goal. He hasn’t been able to score yet but don’t forget that I only showed up in the quarter finals in Mexico ’86. When he gets it we’ll all go running to embrace him.

  • Olé: Did he tell you where he felt most comfortable on the pitch?

  • M: No, no. I went to tell Messi that no-one told me where I had to play [bangs one fist on top of the other]. So I didn’t have to tell Messi where he had to play. He had to decide to play wherever he wanted [keeps on clapping for emphasis]. And anyway he was already grown up and man enough to have the balls to say ‘this ball is mine, boys, i’m the one who knows best how to sort this out’. I had to do it once and now it’s Messi’s turn.

    Messi's growing up
  • Olé: So the message to Lionel was ‘I’m going to back you but you have to rebel, to be yourself’.

  • M: Things change, you know. The 18-year-old Messi is not the same guy as the Messi who turns 23 today. He’s become more and more mature as that’s how things are; because the world makes such demands on him, because that’s what Barcelona wants, what Argentina wants, what the Arabs want, you know [laughs]. And you’ve got to be prepared, just like Lío is. I love it when he comes to me and says ‘I want to play’, as he did before the Greece match. ‘Go on, go on, go on, let me play’, he says. It’s marvelous. I was going to play him anyway [laughs]. But I want people to know how much Messi wants the ball and how much he loves the jersey.

  • Olé: Is your management style characterised by letting the players get on with it?

  • M: Yes and no – the only players you give free rein to are those capable of doing it. You don’t give Messi the same kind of freedom you give to Bolatti, Jonás or Burdisso. You have to take into consideration who’s able for it. That depends on how I see things on the pitch. And I have to know who gets on well with whom, which players understand each other, who’s up for it. Just as you have to be solid at the back and in the middle and a lightning bolt going forward.

  • Ole: Another difference with Messi these days is the expression on his face, on the pitch and in interviews. He used to speak while looking at the ground but now he goes around with his head held high.

  • M: He’s a man, he’s a man. And it’s beautiful to be by his side at this point in his life; to be able to talk to him – not to give him advice, that’s what his family’s for – but to be around him.

  • Olé: Leo said that he wasn’t himself in the qualifiers. Is it the same for you?

  • M: I’ve got more time now. And if you have time to work, things will get better. Especially with these players. You have room to invent, to let your imagination run for a free kick with Messi and Verón, for example, even though ultimately they work it out for themselves. If there are two in the wall and you’ve got two standing over it: Messi rolls it to Verón, the whole defence goes after him and Messi gets space; and one on one Messi is lethal. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?

  • Olé: You speak about the players’ potential. And people say Argentina is a great team thanks to them alone. Does that make you feel proud or under-appreciated?

  • M: Proud. I’d love to be the last person to kiss the Cup as the players would have won it. Let’s get that clear. I just want to be one more happy, jersey-wearing Argentinian.

  • Olé: In any case, can you perceive a respect for Maradona the manager that wasn’t there before?

  • M: I never believed what some people were saying about me. I knew what I was capable of, what I could do. And since I didn’t believe them in the first place, it’s not such a massive leap now from what they were saying about me during the qualifiers. I’ve always been the same and I knew this moment was going to arrive [yawn], that I was going to have the Mascherano I have now and not the Mascherano who had half his head in Madrid and half in Barcelona. I knew I was going to have this Messi, this Tevez…

  • Olé: Are you enjoying the World Cup as much as you imagined you would?

  • M: No, I knew it was going to be like this. For a while now i’ve been saying it to anyone who wanted to listen. We had a ten day training camp to work out certain matters, to figure out what the team would be. If that work hadn’t manifested itself on the pitch afterwards, we wouldn’t have had much to say for ourselves, but thankfully we had plenty of chances in the three games we’ve played so far. So we’re fully justified in enjoying the moment right now and can look forward with great optimism.

  • Olé: You’re the only manager who goes around kissing your players; you have quite a unique style. The other day an English journalist mentioned it.

  • M: I’ve always been the same. If you want we can train morning, noon and night but if there’s no connection with the players it’s useless. The players write the story. Let no-one be under the impression that there’s some kind of magician behind all this. Here the magic comes from the guys in the shorts and that’s how it’ll be until the last ball is kicked in this world. Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, Menotti, Bilardo, Basile, there are loads of managers who’ve done things in football. But they’ve all done it through their players.

  • Olé: What marks you out from those managers?

  • M: That i’m here at just the right time, and with a group of players that have come together to bring a little happiness to the people. I’m the lucky hoor who’s got all of them at the same time. Maybe other managers are missing one or two, or someone got lost along the way. Thanks be to God my group is intact and and they’re all fit. What else could I ask for?

  • Olé: The players are the ones who get the result, obviously, but there are managers who contrive to total their Ferrari. Do you feel you’re in the best possible state to avoid crashing it?

  • M: Maybe. I matured like a Formula 1 car ’cause the World Cup requires you to make quick decisions. All the same, this has been a long process. I knew that once we got it into their heads just what the Argentina jersey means, what a World Cup is, we knew things were going to work out. Just as I was saying about Messi earlier…

  • Olé: Have you seen anyone that’s come close to him?
  • M: In this world Cup I haven’t seen anyone who even approaches even one-third of Messi’s performances so far. Maybe tomorrow they’ll say i’m arrogant, but I haven’t seen anyone that’s been 30% of Tevez either. When Carlitos plays, it’s bloody moving, you know. I love my team. The favourite everyone was banging on about, with Xavi and Iniesta, lost 1-0 to Switzerland. And it’s not as if they didn’t have the ball. I’m going to steal the line el Negro Enrique used: if the goals were at the side of the pitch instead of at either end, Spain would’ve won 10-1, you know. And it’s true. They keep the ball, keep the ball, keep the ball, but when the hell are we going to attack? When I said we didn’t deserve to lose against Spain [2-0 in a friendly last year], they fell around the place laughing in Buenos Aires because they had the ball the whole match. Di María nearly tore them a new one on more than one occasion – if he had we would’ve pulled away and good night.

  • Olé: Do you say Argentina aren’t favourites in order to avoid triumphalism at home?

  • M: You’ve got to let others be the favourites and let them knock their heads together. We go from game to game. Next up, Mexico, in the last 16.

  • Ole: Who works out the free-kicks on the blackboard?
  • M: Me, Mancu and el Negro [Enrique]. We watch games and come up with ideas. Although it’s usually me who comes up with most of them [laughs]. My ideas are the most outlandish. Heinze’s goal against Nigeria came about because we saw that they liked to hold on to their opponents. So I said ‘Alright lads, if these guys think they’re so bloody strong, i’m going to put a couple of strong lads along the six yard box and they’re not going to be able to get out. I’m going to put three human barriers [lit. ‘walls’]: Samuel, Demichelis, Tevez; and the dark lads won’t be able to get out. We’ll stick el Gringo [Heinze] on the penalty spot and he’ll tear the net in two.’ We did it in training and our own defenders couldn’t handle it, they couldn’t get out [of the six yard box]. I knew we’d break the deadlock that way. That’s why when we scored I wasn’t shouting ‘Goooal’, I was saying ‘It worked! The move worked!’

  • Olé: As a player you distinguished yourself by having a particularly strategic mind. When did you make the leap from player to manager?

  • M: The thing is you have to cross that river of questions and sort them out at home, think the whole team through; forget the critics and think about what the possibilities are with this group of players. I spent the whole time watching players. That’s why it was so difficult to narrow it down to the final squad.

  • Olé: Who has influenced you most as a manager [lit. ‘Who have you taken most from?’]

  • M: I like Mourinho a lot. Apart from how [well] he treated me. We talked for hours about football. He’s the kind of bloke you’d love to have on your night-stand just to ask him things. I have his phone number so I might ring him yet [laughs].

  • Olé: Would you really ring him up during a World Cup?

  • M: Yeah, if I had a doubt about something, i’d give him a call.

  • Olé: But you wouldn’t copy his tactics from the second leg against Barça.

  • M: Nooooooo, definitely not. But grand, that’s what he needed to get the result. He won the Champion’s League, again. Think about it: we’d look like a right pair of eejits if we came out and said that. ‘Ah, those eejits say they wouldn’t do the same thing.’ He’d just say: ‘What do I care?’

  • Olé: With regard to styles, when did you change from the idea of the four centre backs to this more attacking team?

  • M: I had the idea knocking round my head for a good while but I didn’t have the players available to do it. Some were tired, the other had his own problems, some wanted to leave the clubs they were at… There were a good few obstacles that were quite serious. But when I got them together, free of all their mental baggage, I told them: ‘Go forward, you know how’. It’s not all about defending.

  • Olé: In that respect the team is quite similar to the ’94 team, as regards keeping the ball so the opposition doesn’t have it.

  • M: I repeat that premiss every single day: if we have the ball, they don’t. And this team is much more capable of keeping the ball than any other team in the world, they’re all so comfortable. They all know how to play. You see Demichelis bringing the ball out from the back and you say to yourself ‘If I play him as a striker he’s capable of turning a few defenders.’ You look at Jonás and you say ‘Check out this gangly-lookin’ rake’, but he gets to the byline and cuts the ball back.

  • Olé: Is there any team in particular you’d like to come up against?

  • M: Nooooooooooooooo, we’ll take them as they come. There’s no team in particular we’d prefer to meet.

  • Olé: Earlier you mentioned Spain.
  • M: If we have them on the edge of a cliff we’re going to push them over. In a World Cup there are no second chances. But it’s the same for them, eh: if they have us at the edge of a cliff, they’ll push us off too. They’re hardly going to stretch out a hand to bring you back up. They’re going to step on your fingers so you fall. That’s just how it is.

  • Olé: What would you give to be world champion?

  • M: An arm. I’d give an arm for that trophy.
  • Olé: You know it’s pretty cold these days to go running naked round the Obelisco. Did you think it through?

  • M: Yeah, it is, but I never said when exactly I was going to do it [laughs].

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.

Balls, balls, balls – Maradona, Demichelis, Pope Joan & the Death of Metrosexuality

What on earth is going on at this World Cup? Capello is being told what to do by EBJT, Vicente ‘I am the Walrus’ Del Bosque looks like he’d starve to death on a fish farm and Maradona, until recently the worst manager in the world since Stan’s reign of terror, feels comfortable enough to make a mid-game hommage to Marcelo Lippi circa 2006. Of course the circumstances were different; it wasn’t a semi-final and it was Korea, not Germany playing at home. Still, the plums on the man would make a jam worthy of gracing Zidane’s toast.

What is going on at this World Cup? Pegamequemegusta has the low-down: it’s been a crushing victory for old-fashioned John Wayne-style machismo that has seen fey, effeminate, metrosexual, glib, glasses-wearing nonces trounced over and over again : Sven, Lippi, Capello and Domenech have been spanked with such violence there’s not enough arse cream in the world to get them back into a normal seating position. By who? By real men, by rugged [probably] sexist South Americans such as Maradona, Bielsa, Martino, Tabarez, Aguirre & Co.

Beckham sits awkwardly in an impeccable suit on the English bench for no reason whatsoever. Is it because he’s so universally loved by the players that his mere presence, his faultless career and legendary oratorial ability will be able to coax a performance out of the inhibited millionaires? Who knows… What we do know is that on the Argentina bench we have a real man, an old-school man who was never meant to wear a suit, a man who, indeed, looks desperately uncomfortable doing so; a man who triumphed in spite of his physique, not because of it; a man, in short, with balls so potent they make Chuck Norris look like a pale, emasculated blogger.

Forasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls, from which many evils may arise, which God forbid, we command and forbid on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in future. – Edward II, Royal proclamation, banning football from the streets of London.

The latest acquisition to pegamequemegusta’s unrivalled collection of antiques, you will be pleased to know, oh dear handsome readers, is a 9th century chair, a sedia stercoraria. Desist from beating your children and/or yourselves for a few moments and let me tell you its story, for apart from being loin-burningly spicy, it’s the rusty hinge on which this whole post turns.

Before the papacy became a retirement home for failed footballers and deluded cranks, it was an institution that prized learning higher than it could toss a cactus. This thirst for knowledge had its downsides, however, for such was their philosophic zeal that circa 855 they overlooked their dearly held misogyny and the crucial fact that the brilliant, erudite, and not at all suspiciously smooth-faced papal secretary, Johannes Anglicus, was in fact a woman when they made her Pope. She took the name Benedict III or John VIII, but she is commonly referred to as the Popess Joan, or as the much more lyrical Spanish has it, Juana la Papisa. All went well for a few years as the deception went unnoticed.

Popess Tarot Card

However, unlike our own times, where the vow of chastity is scrupulously observed and the words ‘scandal’ and ‘church’ are less likely to be seen walking hand in hand than Ray-Ray Domenech and Jebus, in those days no-one even batted an eye when the Gillette-baiting Pontiff’s belly began to swell and his mornings were punctuated by bouts of vomiting. “The Pope is just hungry for God, yea,” was the official line, after some were perturbed by a clearly ravenous Holy Father noisily wolfing down some roast chicken in the pulpit.

Just as with pegamequemegusta’s short-lived career as a surgeon, however, the lie couldn’t go on forever. One day as Juana took part in a procession from St Peter’s to the Lateran Palace, she went into labour in front of the faithful Christians who had come out to see the Swollen Father. Matters came to a head quite literally as the Popess gave birth in a side street near the Coliseum. Replaying the incident seven million times on Sky News was not necessary: the outraged crowd stoned Juana and her ambassador lover on the spot.

The heretofore sleepy Vatican officials sprang into life and resolved that such a farce would never occur again. Records were altered and over the centuries the story was gradually dismissed as anti-Papist satire. First it was attributed to the dogs in Constantinople, jealous of Roman power, and later on unholy Protestants were blamed for propagating the fiction.

The most significant innovation, all the same, was the creation of a new rite that all new Popes would have to to sit and pass in order to avoid such a frail, deceitful creature ascending to the seat of Saint Peter ever again. A new chair was designed, the infamous ‘pierced chair’. In appearance it resembles a commode yet as Peter Stanford says in his unfortunately titled, The Legend of Pope Joan, the reclining design of the throne means that “any practical bodily movement” would be severely impeded. Despite its name, which literally translates as ‘dung chair, the antique that has recently come into pegamequemegusta’s possession was not intended for defecatory convenience.

Rather, it formed the centre piece of the new ritual whereby all new Popes would have their nether regions examined by a young cardinal. He would pass his hands up through the front of the throne to grope the Pope’s testicles. Upon locating the dangling proof of the candidate’s divine right to explain the ways of God to man, the young man would exclaim Duos habet et bene pendentes – or ‘He’s got two and they hang well!’South Africa and the ‘Dung Chair’

Of course when it comes to football, the sedia stercoraria has, as far as we know, never been used. If it had, there would have been no chance of that England team taking the field yesterday. The American, Cameroonian and Danish players, on the contrary, would have required a cardinal/FIFA official with enormous hands in order to be able to cup their enormous appendages.

In general, though, in football we content ourselves with determining the gonadular capacity of a team by their commitment, their tackling and their persistence, whether it be by pressing towards goal and/or withstanding attacks when the other team roars like a squirrel with its nuts in a vice. In fact, unlike the Pontiff, we tend to demand that all teams’ balls are continually on show – whether we want them to win or not.

The first few days of this World Cup looked like like scissors day in a harem. In tune with the much-tweeted metrosexuality of our times, many teams seemed to have deliberately castrated themselves, playing an insipid excuse for counter-attacking football but without, of course, the payoff of a notable improvement in their singing voices or a worryless crack at their master’s missus. Argentina were the only team who looked even remotely capable of overcoming the wave of erectile dysfunction that seemed to be sweeping the continent, but even they were firing blanks.

As predicted by pegamequemegusta, it was only with the arrival of Bielsa’s hueveones that teams remembered they too had all their bits intact and needn’t sit at home crying on Saturday nights just cause they’d missed Hale-Bopp. It’s safe to say that attack-attack-attack was in Maradona’s plans as soon as he got the group together in Baires last month and realised what Kurt Russel-like, bone-munching monsters he had at his disposal up front. For the rest of the teams, however, we insist that  although in these parts it is the English who are commonly referred to as pirates, it was only with the cutlass-wielding Chileans setting up camp in the Honduran half that this World Cup got under way. Of course they only won one-nil and might well go out on goal difference as a result, but the insurgency’s flame had been lit.

The Spaniards, oh the irony, the colonial oppressors whose viceroyalty was overthrown by many of the Central and South American countries 200 sun revolutions ago this year, were in action too soon after the Chile game to realise the course history was taking. Like a lisping collective of Eoin MacNeills, they failed to recognise a revolution was underway. Spain are apparently so good now that they don’t even need to win. They were rightly punished for playing two more or less holding midfielders and playing fourty yards from the opponent’s goal.

The men from the Banda Oriental, on the other hand, duly lined up with three goal-hungry beasts up front and trounced a shell-shocked South Africa 3-0. Paraguay adopted a similar approach this morning and denied Slovakia so much as a kick of the ball. Even teams like Greece, the USA, Cameroon and whose seabags had but recently been filled, started throwing themselves forward as if Ares, the “many-faced monster” himself, were mastering the field. ¡Viva la revolución!

In all the discussions (good one here) so far on why the Central and South American teams have been leading the revolution, many reasons have been put forth. Some say it has to do with better technique, better teamwork, better managers, that they’re used to playing at altitude, that they’re more used to travelling, that their qualifying is more competitive, etc. Pegamequemegusta isn’t qualified to answer the altitude question but none of the others are too convincing. Maradona himself put forward the last reason today but to me it’s irrelevant. The fact that Argentina qualified at all after not winning for a year and then losing four out of five games in row wasn’t an advertisement for sumptuous yet brutally attritional football. Rather, it just exposed how awfully inconsistent and tactically naive they were, as all the teams that did qualify, with the exception of Paraguay, were trounced by Brazil at home: Argentina lost 3-1 in Rosario, Chile 3-0 in Santiago and Uruguay 4-0 in Montevideo. The only serious argument is that upon arrival in South Africa, these teams imbibed a Bilardonic tonic that facilitated the growth of a Godzilla-like pair… of… balls.

A bit of an aside/a sideswipe without using the word ‘balls’

Going back to our attack on defensive football, we’d like to point out it’s not that we’re just slavish unsophisticated goal-worshippers. This being one of the most pretentious blogs on the net, we would never accept such a charge. For example, we totally reject an article by the usually awesome Terry Eagleton that was in the Guardian the other day. He embarrassed himself with a naive piece speaking about how football was thwarting socialist revolution by taking the place of nationalism and religion, etc.as the opiate of the people:

Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium. Most car mechanics and shop assistants feel shut out by high culture; but once a week they bear witness to displays of sublime artistry by men for whom the word genius is sometimes no mere hype. Like a jazz band or drama company, football blends dazzling individual talent with selfless teamwork, thus solving a problem over which sociologists have long agonised.

Besides the fact that football is basically just another feather in telly’s bow rather than an extension of its power or, God forbid, a replacement for it, he forgot that most football is awful. Most of us who while away our lives consuming it, “even those of us for whom Rimbaud is a cinematic strongman”, consider most football to be pretty rubbish. While we never had the good fortune to be a crackhead, pegamequemgusta nevertheless reckons that the highs and lows of a full-on drug addiction come nothing close to the dull murmuring that is the lot of your average football ‘fan’. Maybe you disagree, but we’re pretty satisfied with a minimum flash of the teams’ ball sacks now and again. (No, not like this, you filthy bugger).

Highlights packages, general marketing hype and the possibility to see many of the world’s best players all together in one team add to this idea that football is all about stars and purse-emptying gangs of galácticos. Yet while we don’t wish to trot out the tired old underdog theme, if you support a team like Ireland or Racing, a team that has little or no chance of ever winning anything worthwhile, or like a lost table leg you don’t support anyone at all, you’ll probably agree that the one indispensable element, the one thing that makes the never-ending circus even remotely bearable, is balls.

Goals are often overrated, excitement, too. Skill is great whenever it appears, but balls are the totemic centre piece of the gathering. All the other shit has about as much to do with football as Budweiser has to do with beer, or Michael Jackson’s nose does Off the Wall.

Maradona’s balls

One man who’s sworn by his own balls more times than pegamequemegusta has been politely asked to leave Burger King, is el Diego. Having committed every possible error in his first year and half in charge, it now appears the novice manager can do nothing wrong. Exuding a lucidity that would make Euclid blush, Maradona has got precious little wrong thus far.

Fine, playing Jonás at right back has not led to Hiroshimic tweet clouds of praise. In fact, it hasn’t even benefitted the attack much. It’s not like having a slightly dodgy Dani Alves or Roberto Carlos there: at least you can count on them to rip open the opposing team’s left flank as if they were hiding a big jar of jam next to their left kidney. But Jonás’s spidey sense has been so off kilter that it looks like he’s even lost confidence to get forward. Pegamequemegusta can’t remember one goal or decent chance for Argentina created by a marauding Peter Parker.

Jonás’s suspension for the final group game against Greece means he’ll be replaced by Otamendi, in a return to the flat back four. One of the many aspects of Maradona’s world cup reign that has earned him gushing praise has been his man management. Unlike the qualifiers, he has chosen to give his players the benefit of the doubt rather than hauling them off and never calling them up again (step forward Enzo Perez, Dátolo and a dude ranch full of defenders) a [la] Capello. It takes big balls to make a virtue out of stubbornness, and it clearly worked on the players, too: Higuaín, Tevez and Di María all had much improved performances against South Korea.

The proverbial horse's bollocks

Tevez’s performance, in particular, was so barnstorming even the police cavalry horses averted their eyes discretely. Now we’ve always known this about Tevez, but as he freely admitted in the months before this World Cup, he had lost his place in the first eleven on merit. Maradona needed a big pair of brass ones to put him back in, and that faith is now being repayed.

For that very reason, nonetheless, pegamequemegusta was positively apoplectic when Carlitos was taken off with 15 minutes to go. It was during Korea’s best spell of the game. More than a spell, indeed, it came after a 25 minute period which had seen three reckless Argentina defenders booked. Yet Maradona, who before arriving in South Africa had never been distinguished as a particularly attack-minded coach, rejected the idea of putting on a holding midfielder or a proper right back. Instead he gave el Kun Agüero his World Cup debut in order to push for a third. The expression on our face at that moment was not akun to happiness. And yet within a minute he’d laid one on for Messi, who in turn smacked one off the post, allowing Higuaín to score his second. What golden nuggets he has.

What the balls is going on at this World Cup?

What on earth is going on at this World Cup? Capello is being told what to do by EBJT, Vicente ‘I am the Walrus’ Del Bosque looks like he’d starve to death on a fish farm and Maradona, until recently the worst manager in the world since Stan’s reign of terror, feels comfortable enough to make a mid-game homage to Marcelo Lippi circa 2006. Of course the circumstances were different; it wasn’t a semi-final and it was Korea, not Germany playing at home. Still, the plums on the man would make a jam worthy of gracing Zidane’s toast.

Time's up, you dandies

What is going on at this World Cup? Pegamequemegusta has the low-down: it’s been a crushing victory for old-fashioned John Wayne-style machismo that has seen fey, effeminate, metrosexual, glib, glasses-wearing nonces trounced over and over again:  Sven, Lippi, Capello and Domenech have been spanked with such violence there’s not enough arse cream in the world to get them back into a normal sitting position. By who? By real men, by rugged [probably] sexist South Americans such as Maradona, Bielsa, Martino, Tabarez, Aguirre & Co.

Beckham sits awkwardly in an impeccable suit on the English bench for no reason whatsoever. Is it because he’s so universally loved by the players that his mere presence, his faultless career and legendary oratorical  ability will be able to coax a performance out of the inhibited millionaires? Who knows… What we do know is that on the Argentina bench we have a real man, who has no problem motivating his players or making them as comfortable as possible in order to allow them to display their mostly unquestioned talent; an old-school man who was never meant to wear a suit, a man who, indeed, looks desperately  uncomfortable doing so; a man who triumphed in spite of his physique, not because of it; a man, in short, with balls so potent they make Chuck Norris look like a pale, emasculated blogger.

Man love

All this is terrible new for feminists, of course. If the Central and South American teams continue to do well in South Africa, it could set the women’s rights movement back a hundred years. It would be frighteningly wonderful to see Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina in the semi-finals. The amount of groin-clutching and macho fist-pumping would make for a delightful contrast to 2006, when Zizou made his spectacular exit defending a woman’s honour.

Of course, with this much testosterone flying around, an outlet is needed; and not everyone has been convinced. The effusiveness of Maradona’s public displays of affection for his players raised an eyebrow or two before the Korea game. Despite the much-publicised permission to spend quality time with their WAGS, el Diego ensured that his players’ hearts were full of love as they walked out onto the pitch, planting as he did a Tango ad smooch on each of them. When a cheeky BBC journalist brought up the matter in the post-match press conference, the Argentina manager was quick to dismiss all accusations of wimpiness: “I like women ok,” he insisted, with the kind of look on his face one would usually reserve for seeing a duck swallowing an elephant in one gulp:

The Popess’s balls

Balls or no, though, all of this gung-ho, attacking, Randy Savage football will have been as useless as a Jack’s proverbial man tits if Argentina get done by a succession of defensive blunders. The damage was already done in the squad selection: the error in omitting Zanetti is well known (after all, other players were offered chances to redeem themselves) but pegamequemegusta would have loved to have seen Nico Pareja get an opportunity, and Burdisso should have more games under his belt at centre-half. He will play there on Tuesday against Greece, and it will be extremely interesting to see whether Maradona’s balls indicate sticking or switching is the braver move.

If Burdisso plays well, why drop him again? Who cares if Demichelis’s confidence is shook if someone else proves they’re more accomplished? Likewise, although Maradona apparently considers Jonás an untouchable, if Otamendi has a great game at right back,  or, less likely, Clemente on the left, the difficulty of the decision is weighted evenly.

As we discussed last week, Maradona has brought excellent man management to the World Cup where before his reign had been characterised by a shockingly ruthless attitude to his players. As long as he can keep the group together, the World Cup makes the decisions somewhat easier, in theory at least, since anything is justified as long as it achieves the next result.

Martín Demichelis, Argentina's weakest link, is said to put botox in his lips as part of his pre-match ritual. Should he be made to take the exam?

Just like the Papacy, however, pegamequemegusta struggles with the idea of living one’s life by faith alone. Oh yes, we put up a front and quote Kierkegaard with the rest of the boys down the docks, 70,000 fathoms and all that, but really, deep down in our rotten little heart, we wonder, we doubt, we want to know whether the exquisitely produced Demichelis, the pony-tailed, arse-botoxed Tyson of Bavaria is indeed another Papisa Juana. But unless the AFA heed this cry, our latest acquisition, our glorious sedia stercoraria, our dung chair, will remain a mere antique. Maradona’s balls could yet end up but a freak of nature, pleasing aesthetically but practically useless, like Jamie Redknapp, and the feminists and metrosexuals will once more return to dictate the terms of our sorry lives’ favourite spectacle.