La Nuestra y La Cosa Nostra

Some say it’s Grondona’s way of pleasing all his constituents: saving the grand and upgrading the lowly in order to secure four more years at the head of the Family. This line is backed up somewhat by the fact that the definitive date for the approval of the scheme was set for October 18th, the day of elections at the AFA. Others, however, insist the measures came down straight from the Casa Rosada. The AFA’s own spokesman, Cherquis Bialo, who on Monday night was dispatched to bring us the news that poor Checho had been stabbed in the back and thrown to the dogs, was of the latter persuasion. He stated quite frankly that the state pays the money for Fútbol para todos and they pay for the best: “If River hadn’t gone down, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” It seems ol’ Cherquis was enjoying his moment in the spotlight a bit too much, however, and had overstepped his remit. His boldness did not go down at all well at AFA headquarters. Today Humbertito Grondona even questioned the (soon-to-be former?) spokesman’s sobriety. One thin-moustachioed committee member holding a tommy-gun was overheard reprimanding him:

I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.

Nevertheless, help was on the way. Defending the AFA as the sole makey-upper of the plan, Quilmes president and Argieball bigwig José Luis Meiszner complained that people are always asking the AFA to sort out Argieball but when they do try something innovative all they get is bitchiness. Why now? they asked him. Why not now? he replied. Because it subverts the rules! they cried. Meiszner was unperturbed, however. He appealed to the great democracy that is the AFA, failing to mention that the initial plan for the megatournament was approved by the Executive Committee 22-4 following just half an hour of ‘debate’. Ah yes, the delegates present had just ten minutes to consult the proposal. Democracy? More like a shotgun wedding. Four clubs abstained, later citing the lack of time to consider what was certainly a real noodle-scratcher. The rest just said ‘Yes, Godfather.’

Pegamequememgusta chuckled mirthlessly as we listened to Nicolás Russo, the president of Lanús, one of the better-run outfits in recent years, explain on the wireless how he voted yes but that 99% of the clubs were against the plan. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the backlash he saw himself (and the other 86% that voted in favour) engulfed in. Sure ’twas just more japes down at the AFA, like. In any case, he hastened to explain, he had got the impression that don Julio had not had much room for manoeuvre: “He was called into the Casa Rosada and told to implement it immediately.” The Don was but a meek little schoolboy taking dictation from a stern latin master in a swishing soutane.

Leave the gun, take the cannoli

Font of ideas, of brightness, light and life that we are, pegamequemegusta was thinking recently. Yes, we were, oh dear handsome one. We had an idea for an epic tv show. It would be a satire. It would be both bloody and humourous. It would be serious, bleak and thought-provoking while also containing a fair dollop of rumpy-pumpy. There would be dozens of characters, many of whom would die during the program’s run, for the most part in an extremely violent fashion. Others would start off young and grow older, allowing the producers to pick apart the thorny mess that is adolescence and allow us to perve on the starlets’ growing maturity. The hero, of course, would be what society considers to be the bad guy, such as the leader of a well-known yet secretive Italian-American crime syndicate apparently inspired by Arthur Griffith’s Hungarian monarchical fantasy, say, affording us a light, vicarious sense of rebellion. The program would take a key figure of popular culture and show him in an unfamiliar light as well as striving to analyse the thought-processes of someone we generally consider to be a monster. Indeed, notwithstanding his crude, violent character, the viewer would realise with shame that s/he was cheering him on all the same.

In the midst of thrashing out the plan for what would surely be, after the failed attempt to make a mini-series based on life of la Papisa Juana, our magnum opus, regretfully we had to discard Mar del Plata as a serious candidate for the location of the show. Pegamequemegusta is all about la guita. No, somewhere in the USA, we thought, but the peripheral nature of the show’s themes meant it couldn’t be a major city. New Jersey, perhaps? Yes. And the title? Well, given the Italian angle, along with the epic sweep of the series, it would have to be somewhat poetic. This being a daring challenge to received wisdom, it would have to be something that appeared clichéd but was really delectably tongue-in-cheek, as well as being memorable, timeless, yet less funny each time you heard it. How about the Sopranos, we thought? Aye, it was all falling into place.

Now, as regards those themes, we foresaw a six or seven-series meganarrative culminating ultimately in the greatest theme of all, death. After years of digging through the vicissitudes of life and the endless bargaining to sort out the bickering and the minutiae of the everyday, we’d take it to a new level. References to the tragedy of the human condition would abound. We would delve into the most profound questions of the human spirit, not just ask in parlour-room dialogues but illustrate our existential doubts as to what it’s all about through top class photography and classy, subtle montages. Certain phrases would serve as mnemotechnic triggers, pulling the viewer back and forth through the various episodes, creating an ark and flattering his/her sense of insight. The question of the sincerity of one’s own deepest feelings and one’s place in the world would come about through an analysis of the idea of pity; while the psychical reality of death would be probed as characters wondered over and over if one really hears the bullet before it lodges itself in your brain. The debate would become all the more pressing as more and more characters would disappear in an increasingly brutal bloodbath. It would be awesome. Everyone would love it.

Plus, it would be the perfect way to raise funds for our real project, one we’ve dreamed of for years. It’s about a young Danish prince who has to avenge his father’s death after his lusty mother marries his uncle, who turns out to be the murderer! What’s that, dear handsome reader? It’s been done? They both have? Man, this is the greatest setback we’ve suffered since our autobiography was rejected for being too hackneyed. 

But no fear, we will bear no rancour, dear handsome friend. Instead, let us embrace clichés and repetition to the last syllable of this no doubt already recorded ‘time’. A fine case we have before us to get this, ahem, new project off the ground – the mooted merging of the top two divisions of Argieball into a super-dooper 38 team megaleague. And what better way to lay down our rouge-besmattered principles than with a stale mafia hook to discuss the latest goings-on at the execrable AFA.

Yes, for while watching a fictional mob boss screw make-believe people over may be thoroughly enjoyable, having to live with the real consequences of the AFA’s delinquency and, dammit, their downright disregard for decency, is most depressing. Last Thursday, news came riding over the waves towards our cave to the effect that reforms were afoot to expand Argieball’s first division to 40 teams. A guffaw and a gaspy draw on our hookah later and the matter was forgotten. ‘Twould never happen. We went back to sculpting our Biglia statue whilst meditating on the magnificent obliviousness of Diego Lugano’s psychoface. On Monday night, however, with the Copa América all wrapped up, as we awaited definitive confirmation that el Checho had been caught sleeping with the fishes, it became increasingly clear it had not been a joke.

From August 2012, the top two tiers of Argieball would be fused into one mega championship with 38 teams. The details were as yet unclear but it effectively meant River Plate’s ignominious stay in the second division could last no more than one year and the only thing they would have to do to get back up into the big time was avoid getting relegated to the third division. Likewise for the other big names currently languishing there, such as the destitute Rosario Central and Huracán, along with long-dormant but one-time power-houses such as Ferro and Chacarita. From August next year, the slate would be wiped clean. No matter how badly run the club, no matter how inveterately corrupt or stupid or criminally conchudic the people in charge, those who flog players, waste money, collude with organised crime masquerading as common hooligans, etc., they were being held out the real possibility of a new period of calm. The system of averages that determined relegation would be gone, hence so would the danger of any more of the biggest teams (such as Boca, Racing, San Lorenzo, all with a dangerously low promedio) falling into the lower divisions, at least for a few more years. Yippe-kay-yay, a new day. It didn’t matter if you’d been a good citizen, paid your taxes, kept players, kept faith in a manager, invested soundly, played good ball and punched above your weight to gain long-sought after-success. That’s a chump’s game. The mob were in charge now.

Then again, the mob had always been in charge, hadn’t they? Or at least since it had become clear just how much money there was to be made and taken out of the game. Yet, strangely enough, although don Julio has run the AFA as his own personal fiefdom for some time now, he has hardly taken a very active interest in the actual running of local football. He’s not a hands-on despot, he’s not wont to be on the front line busily directing operations from a train carriage. He’s more guilty of nonfeasance than malfeasance for the most part. His manual is less the Art of War than it is the Tao Te Ching – he rules without ruling. River and Rosario Central, among others, are perfect examples of how the AFA have let clubs be ransacked by dastardly miscreants. While an evil genius, Grondona is arguably a rather dull man, and his laissez-faire attitude is one of the principal reasons for his incredible longevity in the AFA throne: he has not looked to use his position as a springboard to greater things as a politician would (former Boca president and Buenos Aires mayor/would-be presidential candidate Macri, for example). Of course he has sought to extend and cement his power over his underlings, the clubs, but he has remained curiously impassive regarding what actually goes on in society and the football he ostensibly oversees. In short, to believe don Julio cares about football is like presuming the mafia care about the environment because they’re involved in waste management.

As the hours went by and we began to get more details concerning the new competition, this lack of concern for the well-being, the credibility of the game was ever more apparent. There would be two parallel championships of 19 teams (how the seeding would be done remained unclear…). After 18 rounds, plus two weekends devoted to the traditional derbies (such as River-Boca, Racing-Independiente, etc.), the top five teams between the two ‘divisions’ and the other best nine teams in the overall standings would qualify for the Zona campeonato, while the other nineteen teams would battle it out to determine the four sides to be relegated. The plan sought to ensure all the shiniest elements of Argieball would remain, the big teams and their clásicos, while fatally undermining any sense of meritocracy or fair play. It would need to be sold by a hypnotist whose likes haven’t been seen since the trilby-less Svengali, or come accompanied by a case of mass amnesia in order to have any validity at all. In addition, in order to create this monster, the upcoming season, due to start next week, would effectively exist in a coma since there would be no promotion or relegation. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration, but conceivably clubs could just decide to do without paying professionals for the year and send out youth players… All these measures provoked an instinctive rejection on the part of the fans for they, unlike the AFA, know deep down that, despite all the nonsense and conniving we’re used to (in all leagues in all countries), fundamentally football needs transparency. Even the whiff of illegitimacy is deeply unsettling, like Zane Lowe being crowned la Marianne. And the megatorneo is most definitely a bastard child.

That has not stopped everyone and their long lost sister’s prize nanny goat opining over the last few days as to who the father is, though. Some say it’s Grondona’s way of pleasing all his constituents: saving the grand and upgrading the lowly in order to secure four more years at the head of the Family. This line is backed up somewhat by the fact that the definitive date for the approval of the scheme was set for October 18th, the day of elections at the AFA. Others, however, insist the measures came down straight from the Casa Rosada. The AFA’s own spokesman, Cherquis Bialo, who on Monday night was dispatched to bring us the news that poor Checho had been stabbed in the back and thrown to the dogs, was of the latter persuasion. He stated quite frankly that the state pays the money for Fútbol para todos and they pay for the best: “If River hadn’t gone down, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” It seems ol’ Cherquis was enjoying his moment in the spotlight a bit too much, however, and had overstepped his remit. His boldness did not go down at all well at AFA headquarters. Today Humbertito Grondona even questioned the (soon-to-be former?) spokesman’s sobriety. One thin-moustachioed committee member holding a tommy-gun was overheard reprimanding him: 

I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.

Nevertheless, help was on the way. Defending the AFA as the sole makey-upper of the plan, Quilmes president and Argieball bigwig José Luis Meiszner complained that people are always asking the AFA to sort out Argieball but when they do try something innovative all they get is bitchiness. Why now? they asked him. Why not now? he replied. Because it subverts the rules! they cried. Meiszner was unperturbed, however. He appealed to the great democracy that is the AFA, failing to mention that the initial plan for the megatournament was approved by the Executive Committee 22-4 following just half an hour of ‘debate’. Ah yes, the delegates present had just ten minutes to consult the proposal. Democracy? More like a shotgun wedding. Four clubs abstained, later citing the lack of time to consider what was certainly a real noodle-scratcher. The rest just said ‘Yes, Godfather.’

Pegamequememgusta chuckled mirthlessly as we listened to Nicolás Russo, the president of Lanús, one of the better-run outfits in recent years, explain on the wireless how he voted yes but that 99% of the clubs were against the plan. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the backlash he saw himself (and the other 86% that voted in favour) engulfed in. Sure ’twas just more japes down at the AFA, like. In any case, he hastened to explain, he had got the impression that don Julio had not had much room for manoeuvre: “He was called into the Casa Rosada and told to implement it immediately.” The Don was but a meek little schoolboy taking dictation from a stern latin master in a swishing soutane.

According to La Nación and a thousand other media outlets part of the Clarín media monopoly at war with the government and who also stand to lose the rights to broadcast the second division matches (don’t you just love politics, my dear handsome fellow – you’re so pretty when you’re weary), the nasty government was abusing its power, taking advantage of the unholy FPT to intervene in football. With the presidential elections also in October, Cristina wanted to deliver the final death blow to TyC while shoring up a few more votes in the provinces by ‘federalising’ football, sending big teams like Boca, River, Racing, etc. all around the country, where most of their fans live (?). On the one hand, this seemed logical enough, following the unprecedented nature of the truly federal Copa América. However, in reality, thundered the snorts of thousands, this year’s Primera was already going to be the most federal in years, following the promotion of teams from Santa Fe, Córdoba and San Juan. And they had got there on merit! The system worked! And now their hard work was going to be spat on by an ignorant, meddling government. FIFA sanctions were called for. People were very upset. Surely there’d just be too many games anyway to have them on television at all, unless some brand new free-to-air national tv station was launched just for this. Or would this lead to the re-privatisation of Argieball again?! Even Victor Hugo, a champion of Fútbol para todos, remarked: “It’s not that easy to put together a package with such disparate elements and yet there be absolutely no-one happy about it.”

The truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle, we’re tempted to conclude in a thoroughly undergraduate fashion. Several things are beyond doubt: the idea that the AFA is a democracy is a farcical one and should not be entertained; the AFA have not made this decision for the good of Argieball; the question of reform would not have been raised if River hadn’t been relegated; the government are obviously taking advantage of football as part of a noble yet treacherous drive to reform the country’s media, and they’re no saints either. Pegamequemegusta refuses to believe, however, that this, or any other government for that matter, has the time or inclination to draw up such a proposal. In this respect, the idea that the megatournament was imposed on the AFA is ludicrous. Far more likely, and perfectly in tune with Cristina’s rhetoric in recent times, is that a somewhat naïve wish was communicated to the effect that the league be made more federal. The rehabilitation of River of course would make any such product much more valuable, but was by no means the overriding concern of either the government or the AFA. Don Julio, we posit, saw an opportunity. Well, he mumbled, you know that would take a lot more money. How much exactly? Well, you can’t just kick teams out of the first division… We’d need to bring in more teams… Perhaps double the money? Double it is. 

The figure being bandied about at the moment, denied of course by all AFA men, is AR$1,300m pesos (about US$300m). Double the money to dole out, ay. And they talk about democracy, federalisation, football. If don Julio was in the house-building business, he’d be ringing up the papier-maché suppliers as we speak. He doesn’t give a hoot about the integrity of the tournament. River certainly haven’t asked for this. Passarella released a statement this evening saying they had got themselves into this mess and they would get themselves out – playing football. Having undergone the ultimate humiliation so recently, they finally seem to have recovered a modicum of propriety, or at least some self-respect, and a humble Passarella is clearly something to be cherished.

Staying with the good news, we can finally reveal that about an hour after that River statement this evening it was announced that plans to reform the 2012-13 tournament were to be put on hold, with a decision to be taken before the end of the year. The extent of the public backlash was not referred to in the communiqué, which mentioned only that more time was needed to consider further proposals. They may well just be playing for time, though, so we consider it important to clear up exactly what’s been going on these past few days: what’s happened here has been foolish and shockingly jejune on the part of the government, but it’s not evil nor has it sought to bend the AFA to its will. In Román Iucht‘s phrase, it’s opportunistic rather than opportune. However, the real opportunist here is Grondona, who once again has taken advantage of Cristina’s crusade against Clarín to cash in. If they end up handing over the money, besides the inherent waste, it will be the second time they’ve bolstered the cancer eating away at Argieball in the name of returning it to the people. In the week that began sleepily enough with the orchestrated dismissal of the hapless Checho, we’ll have another multi-million dollar deal signed that, as Juan-Pablo Varsky points out, “does nothing to strengthen the clubs or aid player development”. Once again there will be no checks on the flow of cash, no body to oversee the administration of funds either at the AFA or the clubs, no real insistence on any project to get back to the glory days of la nuestra, the distinctive style of ball-playing that developed around the Río de la Plata bred from the genius of the criollo character, at a time when, as now, far from wallowing in self-pity, even if Argieball was poor, it still had dignity, before la nuestra was consumed by la cosa nostra.

Listen to us, we sound all nostalgic. But who cares? A revolution based on novelty is far more likely to be unsubstantial than one based on a return to basic principles. It’s all been done before.

Batista, Messi & the Popul Vuh Part III

The initial blitzkrieg, though, was a move on the monopoly’s cash cow, TyC, the cable sports channel. In August 2009 the start of the Clausura was delayed as the players’ union demanded that outstanding wages be paid. The clubs put on the poor mouth and started muttering things about the rains being late and the crops failing; their mothers were all sick and needed medicine; badgers had stolen their favourite cheque-signing pen. Their accounting procedures, of course, were impeccable, so there was nothing to look into there. Yet they could hardly be accused of having held on to too many players over the years – the trafficking of promising young talent . major leagues such as Portugal, Greece, Belgium and the Ukraine having continued unabated. So where had the money gone?

Well, it was clear the TV deal with the evil monopoly wasn’t paying enough! Cristina and Nestor Kirchner and erstwhile foe don Julio sat down together and tore up the existing agreement. Gone was the pernicious entity that had been ruining Argeieball by denying it the precious funds needed for it to keep up the fantastic work it had been doing; discarded the ludicrous idea that people should have to pay to see the most popular games on TV (TyC had been showing the clashes between the ‘smaller’ teams and other largely unappealing Friday night clashes on free-to-air telly). Now every match would be on tv and people wouldn’t have to wait for the brilliant Fútbol de Primera (the Argentine Match of the Day, on Sunday nights) to see the goals. Said la Presidenta:

They kidknapped our goals until Sunday, just as they kidnapped 30,000 of us.

Oh, pero oh dear. Sorry, Cristina, you know pegamequemegusta loathes the idea of reducing all your work to one extremely poor choice of words, but such a crass, inept, pathetic analogy, linking a football highlights programme to the abduction, torture and murder of 30,000 people some 30 years before, is Absolute Zero in terms of political credibility. Despite all the good work done by the Kirchners, especially the late Nestor Kirchner, in the field of human rights and facing up to the past, lines like that disclose the opportunism in an otherwise noble enterprise, the cheap while-we’re-at-it-why-don’t-we-carve-ourselves-and-our-mates-out-a-little-fiefdom side to righting the wrongs of the past. It was billed as the democratisation of football, the end of the dictatorship, again. Fútbol para todos, football for everyone! A socialist paradise of nationalised football. Anything that costs money is evil, after all, even in a land where money’s ability to decline in value would shock even Joleon Lescott, oho.

In order to sort out the clubs’ balance sheets, the government would now be paying two or three times more what the tightwad TyC had begrudgingly tossed the poor, starving clubs. The money for this would be no problem: the government had already earmarked some $400m for advertising, which, rather happily for us, in castellano translates as propaganda. There would be no silly ads or anything during the matches, just extended messages to the grateful people about what a good job the government are doing and how did you know Clarín actually eats babies and uses the pieces of skin that come out in their excrement to print newspapers, honest.

Part III

“Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an unseamed bed,
Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty.”

Ah yes, Marca. For you see all these lies, this wanton hypocrisy and puerile belly-scratching masquerading as journalism (“Checho, when you travel around the world can you feel the respect people have for you as a World Cup winner?” Yeuch), they remind pegamquemegusta of the Marca-Sport divide in Spain. No sane person would actually take any of that stuff seriously, would they? It’s a mere caress of one’s amour propre, a gentle stroking of the ego, a happy reinforcing of those little prejudices that make us who we are. No-one really wants to see Cristiano Ronaldo in his underpants but there he is and he plays for us, yey! As for those lousy Catalans, they’ve got all the referees on their side, etc.

In Argentina, however, this divide is not confined to a few consciously flag-waving sports papers; a similar fault line runs down the middle of the country’s entire media apparatus pretty much. On the one hand you have Clarín, the BSkyB-style media monopoly who do everything they can to foment paranoia and undermine the Kirchner government; while on the other hand you have state TV and Página 12, which has some fnie writers but is as smug as Barcelona. Supporters of the president decry the evil monopoly and back her moves to expropriate as much of Clarín‘s power base as possible, while their more than a little disingenuous adversaries style themselves as freedom fighters. the only ‘independent media’ in the land in the face of this disgraceful, illegal government onslaught, which they assert is a flagrant abuse of power. The K activists claim they’re debunking the lies of the powerful and protecting the pueblo from a vicious, pernicious organisation that established its current dominance through collusion with the dictatorship of the late 1970s (when Grondona took over, too, ahem). One could assert with just as much justification, however, that the Kirchner drive to dismantle Grupo Clarín is less motivated by a desire to protect the people than it is a replay of the Dissolution of the Monasteries: in the event that a program such as the revoking of the license to Clarín‘s ISP arm, Fibertel, succeeds, it is to be expected that the new contracts will go to parties, shall we say, sympathetic to the current administration.

While the Fibertel case remains open (surprisingly, the courts blocked it for being insane), this war has been going on for some time now. Parts of the Clarín apparatus which bring in money but in no way are used for any campaigning purposes, their cash cows, were taken out first; football and the internet. It’s been a brilliant campaign, slyly managed, stage-managed and time-managed; the gaps in the assault filled in with popular, ‘forward-looking’ measures such as the Bicentennial, celebrated six years early and complete with a few extra ‘once off’ holidays, and the Gay Marriage Bill. This last measure also provided ample opportunity to knock the Catholic Church, another surprisingly powerful old foe certainly guilty of collusion in the 1970s, which was threatened with massive cuts to the state grants to the [private] schools under their sway.

The initial blitzkrieg, though, was a move on the monopoly’s cash cow, TyC, the cable sports channel. In August 2009 the start of the Clausura was delayed as the players’ union demanded that outstanding wages be paid. The clubs put on the poor mouth and started muttering things about the rains being late and the crops failing; their mothers were all sick and needed medicine; badgers had stolen their favourite cheque-signing pen. Their accounting procedures, of course, were impeccable, so there was nothing to look into there. Yet they could hardly be accused of having held on to too many players over the years – the trafficking of promising young talent . major leagues such as Portugal, Greece, Belgium and the Ukraine having continued unabated. So where had the money gone?

Well, it was clear the TV deal with the evil monopoly wasn’t paying enough! Cristina and Nestor Kirchner and erstwhile foe don Julio sat down together and tore up the existing agreement. Gone was the pernicious entity that had been ruining Argieball by denying it the precious funds needed for it to keep up the fantastic work it had been doing; discarded the ludicrous idea that people should have to pay to see the most popular games on TV (TyC had been showing the clashes between the ‘smaller’ teams and other largely unappealing Friday night clashes on free-to-air telly). Now every match would be on tv and people wouldn’t have to wait for the brilliant Fútbol de Primera (the now defunct Argentine Match of the Day, on Sunday nights) to see the goals. Said la Presidenta:

They kidknapped our goals until Sunday, just as they kidnapped 30,000 of us.

Oh, pero oh dear. Sorry, Cristina, you know pegamequemegusta loathes the idea of reducing all your work to one extremely poor choice of words, but such a crass, inept, pathetic analogy, linking a football highlights programme to the abduction, torture and murder of 30,000 people some 30 years before, is Absolute Zero in terms of political credibility. Despite all the good work done by the Kirchners, especially the late Nestor Kirchner, in the field of human rights and facing up to the past, lines like that disclose the opportunism in an otherwise noble enterprise, the cheap while-we’re-at-it-why-don’t-we-carve-ourselves-and-our-mates-out-a-little-fiefdom side to righting the wrongs of the past. It was billed as the democratisation of football, the end of the dictatorship, again. Fútbol para todos, football for everyone! A socialist paradise of nationalised football. Anything that costs money is evil, after all, even in a land where money’s ability to decline in value would shock even Joleon Lescott, oho.

In order to sort out the clubs’ balance sheets, the government would now be paying two or three times more what the tightwad TyC had begrudgingly tossed the poor, starving clubs. The money for this would be no problem: the government had already earmarked some $400m for advertising, which, rather happily for us, in castellano translates as propaganda. There would be no silly ads or anything during the matches, just extended messages to the grateful people about what a good job the government are doing and how did you know Clarín actually eats babies and uses the pieces of skin that come out in their excrement to print newspapers, honest.

Dear, handsome readers, you won’t have forgotten that don Julio Grondona, the president of the AFA for the last 30 odd years and Argieball’s very own festering brain tumour, the canker on its breast, its debilitating leprosy, is a Clarín man. How the Kirchners sat down with him to sign that deal still leads pegamequemegusta to scream obscenities at street lamps when the moon is waxing thin. There was no crisis, it was all engineered to force the moment to a resolution; but even granted there had been a crisis, the universe was there to be squeezed into a ball and rolled towards the overwhelming question. The harping on about the bank crisis and the global recession that went on at the time actually offers an interesting parallel. If some clubs really were going to the wall, as even we saw in the balls-up over the bank guarantees, the person who saves them always gains some control over the wonky but important institutions whose shirt tails they are clinging on to e’en as they head over the cliff. You take the thorn out of the lion’s paw and he grants you a wish, no?

Here, though, the new deal that was Fútbol para todos just cemented the old goings-on; there was no audit, no investigation into how the clubs were hemorrhaging so much money, how a team like Boca could sell at least US$50m worth of players in a year (Gago and Banega) and still be struggling for cash; no reform of the AFA; not even a sideward glance at the fact that the hooligan violence is motivated precisely because there’s so much money to be creamed off of the clubs they claim to love; no questioning of the very common practice for groups of third-party investors to own the players therefore meaning the clubs’ hold on a player is weakened even in the rare case they actually considered his development ahead of a quick injection of cash and in the case that they sell him they don’t even get most of the money; no mention of the rife match-fixing, the shoddy refereeing, allegations that players have to pay to get their place, the run-down state of many of the stadiums (which certainly keeps some people away, not likely to be helped indeed by the provision of free games on telly, indeed), the farcical manager-go-round, the short tournaments, the complicated relegation and Libertadores qualification system, both of which are due to and contribute to the Argieball’s myopia. None of those things were focused on. It was the dictatorship’s fault, che.

Oh but football’s just a tool to bring down Clarín, who are keeping the AFA as they are through Olé. It’s sick, twisted, incestuous, corrupt nonsense. It’s in this context that our rage against the cheerleading for Batista arises.: the whole rotten edifice is glossed over with platitudes from a wooden man about ‘playing like Spain’. The Gods’ latest creation is definitive, there will be no revolution, though he football will be televised, yey.

The Popul Vuh says of the Wu-Tang-style destruction of the Wooden Men:

There came a resin of rain from the sky.

There came the one named Gouger of Faces: he gouged out their eyeballs.

There cane Sudden Bloodletter: he snapped off their heads.

There came Crunching Jaguar: he ate their flesh.

There came Tearing Jaguar: he tore them open.

They were pounded down to the bones and tendons, smashed and pulverised

even to the bone. Their faces were smashed because they were incompetent before

their mother and father, the Heart of the Sky, named Hurricane. The earth was blackened

because of this: the black rainstorm began, rain all day, and rain all night. Into their houses

came the animals, small and big. Their faces were crushed by things of wood and stone.

Everything spoke:their water jars, their tortilla griddles, their plates, their cooking pots,

their dogs, their grinding stone, each and everything crushed their faces. Their dogs and

turkeys told them:

You caused us pain, you ate us, but now it is you whom we shall eat.”

Bicentennial Man – Diego Presidente

The media may tell you that it was a glorious mix of pride and humility in their finest forms, patriotism at its purest, that she was overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being Argentinian. Pegamequemegusta can reveal, however, that her tears were due to having to warm up for the real man of the hour, Diego Maradona.

Diego with la Presidenta in his lamentable beardless period

Argentina está de fiesta. The country is awash with the sort of fervid nationalism not seen since… last month, when the commemoration of the Malvinas conflict led outburst of flag-waving that would make your average American look like a limp-wristed, yellow-bellied communist. Tuesday the 25th of May will be the 200th anniversary of the Revolución de mayo and such is the importance of the party that Cristina has declared Monday 24th a bank holiday, too, thus creating an extended nay super weekend of music, dancing, endless parades, flag-waving, theatre (the Colón reopens tonight) and football – the send-off for la Selección is on Monday night against Canada – for the country’s bicentennial.

Cristina chokes up

The celebrations, which will go on til Wednesday morning, were opened earlier in the evening by la Presidenta, who choked up and was seen to have tears in her eyes as she spoke: “God willed that I should be President during the Bicentennial but i’d like to thank everyone for all their hard work in the lead-up to the 25th and afterwards, too, as the Patria is constructed by and for everyone.” The media may tell you that it was a glorious mix of pride and humility in their finest forms, patriotism at its purest, that she was overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being Argentinian. Pegamequemegusta can reveal, however, that her tears were due to having to warm up for the real man of the hour, Diego Maradona.

Though he told Niembro in that interview last week when he was a player his every departure from his homeland was marked by salty discharges from his eyes, pegamequemegusta reckons Maradona would be happy to get to South Africa as soon as possible. He was on tv last night in yet another interview, an ego massage chirpier than an afternoon at Ian Holloway’s house, to be feted in the greatest fete since the Marley Grange bake sale of 1991 (when all but three walnutty cakes were sold), but he looked tired. Diego was across town doing what he does best – talking. So much so, indeed that by the time he appeared on Canal 13 last night he was quite out of breath. for the first while. María Laura Santillán y Santo Biasatti got him feeling comfortable, however, with a good ego massage. Argentinian Pride, ‘the jersey’ and Maradona being a legend came up quite frequently. Indeed, the occasion even prompted him to make one of his old socialist comments: “No, María, we’re not under any pressure. The guy who goes out looking for work for 14 hours a day to try and provide for his family, he’s under pressure.” Vamos, Diego, the presidency won’t be too far off if you nail this one, we thought.

La Presidenta proves she and Diego could well exchange posts without missing a beat

Yet pegamequemegusta felt we had heard that one before… My God, could it be that such is the pressure to talk these days that Diego might run out of charm. What kind of a world would it be if we had to listen to Maradona everyday? The World Cup will certainly be his biggest test yet: can he stay interesting? This later interview was just a Richard & Judy affair, however, a fluffing exercise where he was asked such probing questions as what he planned to pack for the World Cup: “Well i’m not going to pack much stuff ’cause the important thing is what we bring back.” Yet our fears were allayed – Diego was all talked out. He had spent the day holding court before the assembled media, and many was the pearl his most regal of beards did proffer.

On Messi

The first topic of the day was, inevitably, Messi. Maradona has been thoroughly chuffed with Lio since his foulmouthed, indeed, Diego-like outburst last week upon his coronation with Barcelona last week: “Visca el Barca! Visca Catalunya! And long live Argen-fuckin-tina!” It seems as if all the media harpying has ultimately served to piss Messi off enough to make the greatest player in the world feel he still has plenty to prove. Hence he showed up a few days early this week for training in Ezeiza and Maradona been licking his chops all week. The manager has no doubts but that his star man is enchufado: “If he’s on the same wavelength as Mascherano, Heinze, Verón, and if we can get across our message, then I think he’ll be 100% at the World Cup.” About marking: “They’re going to mark him to death, deffo, but we’ll have him trained mentally. Physically there’s nothing more to do, Barcelona already did that work, but we’ll give him mental training, make sure he’s got the intensity you need for a World Cup. Everyone’s going to seek him out and he’s going to have to deal with it.”

  • Is he going to be the number 10?
  • Yes, he’s going to be the number 10.

“Every time I see him I love him more and more. In the first training session I was saying to the lads, ‘Jaysus, how does he do that?’ It’s a pleasure to watch Messi kill a ball. I was wondering how he can have such a level of perfection. And el Negro Manrique turns to me and goes ‘You’re asking how he does it, you dosser?!’ You know, I played with great players, I saw others play; I was blown away once watching Ronaldinho train, but this kid… he’s gone one better.”

  • You can’t think of any comparison?
  • Nah, nah, I can’t, but he’s got an incredible future ahead of him.
  • Would you’ve liked to have played alongside him?
  • The one-twos we’d have played! You drool watching him.

On the starting 11

As regards the rest of the team, however, although Maradona has been repeating for months now that he knows what his team will be, that the Germany test was confirmation of his plan after (improvised) success in Montevideo, he rejected any suggestion that it was set in stone: “Everyday I see [on the telly] that you set out the team, you switch one player for another, that there’ll be four centre backs… But i’m bringin Clemente who can play on at right or left-back. So you needn’t swallow so easily all that stuff about four centre backs.”

  • But you confirmed it on the radio…
  • Yeah, but since then you talk to me so much about four centre backs that you’d think it was a crime, as if I was a bloody Italian!

Nonetheless, he went on to say that the four centre backs plan was true to a point but he did have other options at full back. Likewise, despite lamenting ESPN’s scheduling which often excludes Palermo games, in midfield he’s sure that the “sassy” Pastore can do a job when called upon, while on the wings, polyfunctional players such as Maxi and Jonás ensure a plethora of options. Whether these options would really constitute a Plan B as opposed to being mere inferior versions of the starting eleven remains to be seen, however. For his part, Maradona says “We’ve done all our homework and have no doubt but that whoever plays will do the job we set out for him.”

On the squad

Of the squad, the man whose call-up this week has caused so many twisted eyebrows most of the pundits on the telly have looked like they just came from a Ming the Merciless convention, Ariel Garcé, Maradona was quick to defend himself:

“If you lot are surprised by Garcé being called up, you didn’t see any of Colón’s games. You probably don’t even know where Santa Fe is! […] When I called him up [for the Haiti friendly] he convinced me: I observed him in the dressing room, in training. [….] And he’s not here on holidays, i’ll have you know. Whoever thinks they’re here just to make up the numbers is wrong. Garcé’ll be one of my options.” He went on to express his sorrow at having to only pick 23 players saying “It was a real pain in the balls” to leave out players like Lavezzi.

Just as Garcé managed to convince Diego through his gait and his excellent posture, the manager assured the press that he will be watching the players every minute of the day, “how interested they are in training, how they speak to each other, how many times they go to the bathroom before each game… I’ll be watching them in the dressing room, in the hotel. Still, I don’t think the jersey will be any problem for this group of players.”

Verón, Maxi, Messi, Tevez, Maradona & Mascherano in Ezeiza this afternoon

What he does with the trouser-darkening array of forwards he has at his disposal, if not a simple decision by any means, does seem easier to anticipate, however. Despite Milito’s Caniggia-like prowess in today’s Champo League final, Maradona has been reserved as to what plans, if any, he has for Inter’s deadly striker. Perhaps it’s just because he hasn’t showed up yet or maybe he was only obliged to included him by dint of his prolificacy. In any case, he has had words for Higuaín and Tevez:

“I was asking him today if Real had given him a ten year contract extension yet and he says to me ‘they haven’t rang me yet’. Just like that, you know. So I said, ‘Relax, buddy, you’ve done what you had to do: score 250 goals. Now just get your old man to go and get as much money out of them as possible, or get them to sell you for 70 million quid.

“Then you’ve got Carlitos, who gives his all in every training session [really?] and you say to yourself: ‘God, how am I going to leave him out?’ […] Leaving Carlitos out is tough.”

Indeed, Tevez today swore that he was going to make Maradona’s decision as difficult as possible: “It’s not gonna be easy for him, not at all. Still, it’s nice, healthy competition with the best of the best, Messi and Higuaín.” For his part, Diego posited the possibility of playing with two strikers at some point and playing Messi a little further back, almost as a classic number 10. It’s a delicious idea but one which hasn’t worked the few times it has been tried, such as in the defeat to Chile in Santiago, which was notable for two things: firstly, it featured a rare start for Diego Milito; and second. it was Coco Basile’s last match. Nonetheless, given Maradona’s belief in the transformative power of the World Cup – a sort of giant holy well from which only Argentines can drink, apparently – even his own twisted logic would permit some tinkering.

On the World Cup

  • What would you consider a good World Cup?
  • Coming first. Bringing back the trophy.
  • Are we favourites? No, ’cause the favourites never win it. Let Spain be favourites,” he replied while grabbing his balls in an apparent effort to ward off evil spirits.

His terrifically Argentine (or terrifically Diegoish.. has pegamequemegusta come to confuse what’s typically Argentine with what’s typical of Diego? Would we be right in doing so?) routine continued with such lines as “It’s not just your head or your skill you need to win a World Cup, even your arse has a part to play.” This might be a the clearest justification yet for calling up Palermo.

He was a tad more reflexive when asked if Argentina would play silky football in South Africa: “We’ll all go out to win and throw all the meat on the grill. But not at any price. As Angelito Cappa says, if you play well you have a greater chance of winning than losing.” He also made a good point about how long the season is and the negative effect on the team’s preparations: “In ’86 we trained together for 70 days. Nowadays, a little later and they’ll stick the Champion’s League final on the 30th. We’re in up to our necks [balls, he said, obviously]. You’ve got less chances to experiment. But i’m not worried about it all. The lads know what I want from them.”

On his sins

In this long interview, where we’d seen both Maradona clown and Maradona maestro, there was even time for Maradona-confessor:

  • What have you learned since you took over?
  • To treat the players better. To respect them more. I had a certain idea of what players were like but I realised from my actions that I was right about some things and completely wrong on others.

  • What changed?
  • Times have changed. Players nowadays are much more professional, they’re smarter. […] They’re more likely to speak up. They’re always asking questions. We weren’t like that: Bilardo would talk for 45 minutes and we would just nod and say ‘yes, boss, yeah, yeah’; he’d be having a go at everyone and the only thing we were thinking was ‘when’s it going to be my turn?’

  • And what mistakes did you make?
  • Noooooo….. Eeehhhhhhhhhhh…… Well of course there were some errors that we tried to sort out straightaway and couldn’t. But with time we straightened them out. When we took over the team, you know, we knew we were on the ropes… And it was tough, you know, everything that went on in the qualifiers… that players don’t play at the same level they can play at in the World Cup… so I made mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes, but, you know, we qualified and now i’m very confident.”

Regular visitors to pegamequemegusta will not be surprised to learn that canchallena gives a lot more details to this part of the interview than Olé does.

On his contract

Nonetheless, the latter does include a rather interesting part left out by canchallena on the details of Maradona’s contract. When asked if he’ll stay on as manager of la Selección “come what may”, he replied that it’s not up to him, that Grondona decides these matters. Grand, but then he went on a Maradonian speech where it’s hard to separate verifiable fact from fatuous verbosity: “I’m not going to stay on where i’m not wanted. I’m not the kind of guy who likes to get paid for nothing. And i’ll tell you something else: I get paid for winning. I don’t get paid if I draw or lose. That’s what my contract says. I get paid for winning. Alright, lads?” Pegamequemegusta was ready to suppose it was mere wing-flapping but he repeated the same thing on the aforementioned interview on Canal 13 later that evening, saying he doesn’t eat if he doesn’t win.” It would certainly explain those friendlies against Haiti, Costa Rica, Ghana’s youths and Jamaica; and that he hasn’t drawn a game so far. It might also explain why Diego’s so anxious to get to South Africa: pay days await. The Bicentennial can stuff its party in a sack.

BA's 23-lane 9 de julio en plena fiesta

On who’s boss

Yet whether the organisers of said party really care about Maradona was thrown into some confusion this evening. Despite the piss-take at the beginning of this post, Maradona’s only real function this celebratory weekend was to lead the team out in the Monumental for the send-off game against Canada on Monday night. That match would have gone ahead bicentennial or no, pegamequemegusta having gone four years ago. However, there is evidence to suggest that the national team is once again being used as the tool of their political masters. The 58,477 tickets available for the friendly apparently sold out in a matter of hours. Not even during the qualifiers did tickets ever go so fast. There were no lines round the block showing massive interest in the game for the tickets vanished via online gougers ticketek. Yet canchallena tell us that sources high in the Presidenta’s office revealed that the tickets have a “special destiny”. That is to say, the Grondona and the AFA seem to have paid back some of their debt to the Kirchners for Fútbol para todos (last year’s nationalising of football by stripping the equivalent of Sky of their deal and putting all matches on free-to-air tv) by handing over all the tickets, which in turn will be doled out to ‘political activists’. More than sympathetic to Cristina’s cause, they will ensure that despite all the fanfare surrounding la Selección, no-one will forget whose party this really is. No-one outdoes la Presidenta, Diego, not even you.

Yes, folks, even pegamequemegusta has been caught up in the fervour.