The Homecoming

“People say we only play for money but i’ll tell you, Mario, that’s not how it is. I love this jersey. I love it for my country, for my family. I couldn’t give a crap about the money – that I can make in Europe or wherever. The players always show up to put on the jersey. Anything else is a lie, you can believe me.”

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Ah yes, May every four years is a special time; the return of the country’s illustrious departed sons, those who make the people proud and represent the nation in all its glory, those who despite their absence prove that Argentine genius and, more importantly, balls, are alive and well even if they can’t ply their trade in the fatherland. If they can’t what? Oh dear, it seems we’ve touched a nerve… Of course they could play here but there’s better money on offer elsewhere. Yes. Well, you know, that’s how things work these days… and they do very well there so why would we complain?  I suppose they don’t do so well with the national team, no… Ah, could you spare a cigarette? Thank you. Well it’s probably just a question of tactics, of the manager, of luck, you know, don’t get in a strop about it. Just enjoy the homecoming.

Like those Yanks in Irish or English plays from the 60s onwards who get fleeced and/or murdered, however, the return to the patria can be uncomfortable. To pegamequemegusta’s flawed mind, there are many reasons for this, answers for which are undoubtedly best sought elsewhere. Among those we feel qualified to advance, however, there’s the question of money, which is double-edged: a rift valley-sized chip on the shoulder of many Argentines with regard to the good life of those who triumph in Europe, and, consequently, a suspicion that the players don’t give their all when they are obliged to come back to the homeland. They forget about us, they’re comfortable while we struggle, they’re more worried about getting injured than giving their all, it’s not like the good old days.

No, it’s not. When they won in 1978 all but two of the 22-man squad were playing for Argentine clubs; in ’86 fourteen were doing so; in Italia ’90, eight; in USA ’94 ten (with three goalkeepers making up the Argieball bunch); in France ’98, six (2 keepers); in 2002, two; in Germany 2006, three (two keepers). Besides telling us that Argentine goalkeepers don’t seem to appeal to European teams, these sickeningly nerdy stats tell us that despite the Bertie-like false affluence of Menem’s (touch your left testicle, it’s bad luck even to name him) Argentina in the 90s, there has been a gradual distancing of the national team from the pueblo.

This has been given a further dimension in the past year or so with Maradona’s insistence on playing friendlies with the Selección local, a local team for local people, against rent-a-teams (not even their first teams) like Ghana, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Haiti. The idea is that the Europeans, unlike those still plying their trade in Argentina – those who haven’t forgotten their ways – are too decadent to battle n scrap; thus their undoubted skill must be counterbalanced by the balls of the locals, who will die for the shirt, etc. This nonsense – they wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t bring in the bunts – has been made all the palatable by an ingenious stroke of pure populism, sorry, Peronism (for more see the article on next year’s Copa América), which claims to bring the football to the people. And it does. There’s no arguing with it; but it also has the side effect of reinforcing this sense of distance from the national team.

The greatest example of this trend is the greatest footballer in the world, Lionel Messi. Out of all the players he has had to put up with the most crap over the last year and a half. You know an opinion is widespread when you hear your ma-in-law spouting it (on football, of course), and the consensus is that, in Oscar Ruggeri’s words, “Messi is sad when he plays for la Selección”. There is the ‘perfection’ theory advanced by Ignacio Fusco in an interview brought to you by pegamequemegusta a few months ago:

  • Among the many reasons that prevents the Argentine public from taking to Messi is, I suspect, his perfection. Diego’s sins, Ronaldo’s ego, the humble background of a Tevez or an Adriano, they make the fans see the player as one of their own. While Leo is so quiet, so flawless.

This ties in to a fair extent with a larger “war for the soul of the country” as one of you handsome readers put it (Che, Gardel, Diego vs Borges, Cortázar, Messi). Really, though, at the bottom of all this are the straight out accusations of being Catalan, not Argentine. Whether the ignorant rants of truly terrible people on daytime TV or insidious sniping disguised as good-natured ribbing from two-faced sports dailies (not helped by the Spanish, who suggest he thought of playing for them), the attacks began with the tug-of-war over his participation in the Beijing Olympics and reached a nadir after the defeat to Paraguay when Olé said he “sulked like a kid who dreams of being a tennis player but who’s dad insists he plays football”. That father was complaining just last month that “in Argentina we treat Messi badly”. For his part, Messi fils was on CNN en Español on Thursday night and spoke as genially as always: “I hope it’s our World Cup. Even though we had a tough time getting there we could surprise a few people.” And: “People are entitled to their opinions, I respect that. It doesn’t get to me. I’m the first guy who wants to do well for Argentina. I know it’s a great opportunity and i’m going to try and do my best.” What a dreamboat.

La Plata, after the World Club Championship defeat of Estudiantes

Though you're close to me we seem so far apart / Maybe given time you'll have a change of heart / If it takes forever girl then I'm prepared to wait / The day you give your love to me won't be a day too late

Not all have been so congenial, however. As the players come back in dribs and drabs it has been interesting to note that there doesn’t seem to be any media restrictions of any kind in place and so these demigods, these ambassadors, these footballers have been speaking their minds. All the accusations and sniping that goes on while they’re away – or they think goes on, at least – seem to take on added venom in direct proportion to the distance of the player. And a couple of guys who spoke yesterday used the opportunity to set the record straight: they were Javier Mascherano and Carlitos Tevez.

Argentina’s captain spoke first and attacked statements made in various places about Maradona’s squad: “As a player it annoys me when you hear certain players being disparaged. In some quarters they’re cutting players but there’s 30 of us all in the same boat and the manager will decide who makes the final squad.” And as he dismissed the allegations of conspiracy that Alfito Basile had levelled at Maradona last weekend (“Sure four days before we had given everything [for Coco] with the Uruguayans biting our ankles off”), he took the opportunity to reaffirm the lengths the players go to to bring happiness to the people: “We travel enormous distances, we do our best, we don’t come here just to waste our time… always with the best possible attitude.”

Tevez with Román when he was a guttersnipe-cum-ballboy in the Bombonera

The filter-less Tevez, as usual, had more to offer, however. He turned up speaking on Pergolini’s show on Rock & Pop and started off speaking about the fact that he knew he had to fight for his place in the team since Argentina have such great players. Before long, however, he was complaining about the hypocrisy of people who lay into la Selección now but come looking for a hug when things go well: “A lot of people who criticise the team do it out of spite. They don’t say ‘Ah well the things aren’t going as we planned but let’s find a solution’, they don’t have the class for that. They just start throwing shit around, attacking the team.” This is because, Tevez says, many people make a living out of Argentina: “La Selección is a business.” For the players it isn’t, however: “People say we only play for money but i’ll tell you, Mario, that’s not how it is. I love this jersey. I love it for my country, for my family. I couldn’t give a crap about the money – that I can make in Europe or wherever. The players always show up to put on the jersey. Anything else is a lie, you can believe me.”

Ah, Carlitos, this is why we love you. Yet I can’t help notice that even you, el jugador del pueblo, the greatest people’s champ since Rocky, seem strangely out of touch. After all, it’s not true that there has been massive criticism of Argentina over the last while. People are too nationalistic for that. Of course there has been much complaining but considering the hole the team dug itself into in the incredibly poor qualification campaign, people had every right to voice what was in the end mild enough criticism. An indication of this is that you, despite being sent off twice in two games, scoring very, very little and taking a holiday instead of playing against Brazil away, are still by far the most loved player.

He was more on the mark, however, when he attacked the powers that be in Argieball: “The standard of football isn’t great. It’s been poor for a while now actually. The people in charge of the clubs think more about money than in the football. They’re not doing things as they should and in a few years things are going to be even worse than they are now.”

Pegamequemegusta doubts that Carlitos was this politically conscious all those years ago when he won the peoples’ hearts. He’s matured, he’s changed, he has inevitably become more estranged from the day-to-day to the extent that he comes back now with the standard criticisms of anyone who lives abroad for a long time. Yet while some will be seen as weak or ‘foreign’, any criticism offered taken as proof of a lingering resentment in their heart at the ramshackle homeland, others will never change in the eyes of the people, no matter what; they will always have a sweet homecoming.

Messi in colloquy with a true Argentine

There doesn’t seem to be any restrictions of any kind in place and so these demigods, these ambassadors, these footballers have been speaking their minds.

Shock as Extremely Talented Footballer with Years at the Top of the Game and Beloved by Millions Puts Pegamequemegusta to Shame

“We should never have been playing there in the first place. The police had warned that there was going to be trouble. People stick their noses in where they’re not needed [….] We were playing in an atmosphere that was ready to explode. Presidents from other clubs butt in to change the decision of a body that had already said there’d be incidents.”

Yesterday pegamequemegusta was rejoicing in the unfettered mischief of the Chacarita fans, while at the same time railing against the stupidity and corruption of the justice system and, to a lesser extent, Boca’s own hooligans (what else are they going to do?). Despite record levels of interest in the fledgling page yesterday, such a glaring contradiction – even if it was noticed – was not commented upon. So it falls to pegamequemegusta itself to retract the silly headline – if not correct it. Elder statesman Verón’s comments on the matter today were quite interesting; while the thought that all these different groups of hooligans will have to share territory in South Africa is enough to bring tears to even the most battle-worn Polakwanean policeman.

La Paternal/Diego Armando Maradona, rickety home to Argentinos Juniors

Chacarita-Estudiantes, besides being a clash between the probable champions and an already relegated team, was also notable for the fact that both teams’ stadiums are currently being renovated/rebuilt. Chacarita have been playing all their home games in Argentinos’ ground. However, there were serious disturbances after their last ‘home’ game against fellow relegation fodder, Atlético de Tucumán, and with the probable champions coming to town it was decided it would be best for all concerned if this game were played in Vélez. Such common sense was the cause of outrage in the offices of Independiente and Argentinos Juniors themselves, who reckoned this could constitute some kind of advantage to their rivals, or at least be more comfortable than the rickety Diego Armando Maradona. After all, apart from their stadium’s name coming from football’s greatest oddball, Argentinos Juniors were originally named Mártires de Chicago after the eight anarchists hanged in the Haymarket Riots of 1806. Common sense never had a chance. Independiente and Argentinos took their noble cause to the sages down at the AFA, who decreed that the game should go ahead after all in La Paternal, Argentinos Junior’s ground. As Diego Morini says in an excellent article in La Nación, “Yeah, exactly, they weren’t even capable of kicking Chacarita out of a ground they don’t even own…”

Verón, who pegamequemegusta has come to love far more off the pitch than on it, revealed today that one did not have to have access to a the internet and a taste for useless trivia to know that there was trouble in store on Sunday:

“We should never have been playing there in the first place. The police had warned that there was going to be trouble. People stick their noses in where they’re not needed [….] We were playing in an atmosphere that was ready to explode. Presidents from other clubs butt in to change the decision of a body that had already said there’d be incidents. Our families go to the matches, too, we have to think about that, too,” reported Olé.

Whatever about the last part, pegamequemegusta was stung by the following: “From the start you could see things were rough. We ensured the Estudiantes fans were kept well apart. Luckily things didn’t get any worse. But this is all about which group thinks it’s toughest. The Estudiantes boys didn’t have a nice time today. Until someone dies we won’t see the end of this shit.”

Firemen struggle with the Chacarita barras

Pegamequemegusta stands by the assertion that the stuff with the hose was hilarious but must admit that the whole affair is a depressing farce. Indeed, the only bone to pick with Verón’s comments is that plenty of people have already died. The lobbying by Independiente and Argentinos was downright disgraceful – they insisted that a match be played in unsafe conditions purely for the slight chance that Estudiantes (playing against a team that had already been relegated, remember!) might slip up. Even worse, however, is the AFA for granting their feeble-minded request. As Verón says, it’s not a question of what exactly happened on Sunday; it’s about what’s right, how things should be done and how even when all the proper procedures are in place common sense can still be overturned.

One even wonders whether the barra brava weren’t trying to get the game suspended on purpose. Pegamequemegusta would never contemplate such a dastardly contrivance as paying the hooligans of another team to have a match suspended, thus leaving the team with no free time with an extra match to play. No such thought would never cross our royal mind.

Old Juan Sebastián was moved to a bout of philosophy this evening, however, and began to consider his future. “I’d love to be on the other side of things, to seat down and discuss things, to be in charge of a club, to have the power to make these decisions. We can certainly do better than this.” You certainly can. The handsome among you, the loyal pegamequemegusta followers will no doubt recall that this has been a heartfelt wish for some time (not least as it would remove him from Argentina’s midfield, ojó). Unlike becoming managers, if ex players, really successful, respected  people, people who aren’t bloody pawns or loopers, people like Passarella and Verón can get power at large clubs like River and Estudiantes, they really can use democracy to effect change. Unlike Riquelme, who is usually right but is far too morose and obstinate for his own good, these guys have the stature to stand up to anybody and would not let themselves be led the sorry dance Román has the last few days. Pegamequemegusta would like to see this, not more farcical scenes in the stands.

Sorry, Seba. Pegáme, que me gusta, che.

Get this man a suit

Bronca para todos – Chacarita, the Best Fans in the World?

The Chacarita fans, needless to say, went mental. The ferocity of their lamentations increased further when Estudiantes went ahead three minutes later. Their distress manifested itself in the form of lighters, toilet seats – particularly strange that there would even be such items in a stadium – and even crates of a well-known soft drink being chucked at the linesman within their reach. The match was suspended for seven minutes until the normal level of madness had been restored.

Despite the peace of a gloriously respected 1st of May yesterday, when no matches were played, there was plenty of anger in the stadiums today. Scenes of bare-chested consternation were most prominent at the Chacarita-Estudiantes game and at Independiente-Boca, both involving fans miffed at the inability of their beloved teams to produce the requisite numbers of eggs.

The first expressions of disquiet came in Chacarita-Estudiantes. Now Argieball followers are well-used to matches lasting much longer than an hour and three quarters: matches tend to start late and half-time usually runs to 18 or 20 minutes. A charming tradition in itself, this ‘problem’ has certainly become exacerbated since the advent of Fútbol para todos – the provision of free-to-air football given the absence of advertising. Indeed, longer breaks between the halves allow the Presidency to tell us all a few more times what an outstanding job they’re doing for us. Yet we were forced to wait even longer for the government’s spectacularly shameless propaganda when the match was stopped for seven minutes in the first half. Chacarita, a very poor team who have already been relegated, were winning one-nil against the South American champions, Estudiantes when the ref, Abal, gave a penalty to the visiting team for a handball. It definitely wasn’t a penalty but it was close enough, leading the referee to cast aside any doubts, and the rules, and Boselli put the ball away after sending off the defender for protesting too much. The Chacarita fans, needless to say, went mental. The ferocity of their lamentations increased further when Estudiantes went ahead three minutes later. Their distress manifested itself in the form of lighters, toilet seats – particularly strange that there would even be such items in a stadium – and even crates of a well-known soft drink being chucked at the linesman within their reach. The match was suspended for seven minutes until the normal level of madness had been restored.

The goals

In the second half, they were back at it again, however. This time it was the turn of the barra brava, far from the action down behind the Estudiantes goal. The firemen had apparently been threatening them with the hose for some time when with the genius peculiar to true hooligans, they somehow, in a manoeuvre which will not be remembered for its solidarity but certainly will be for other reasons, managed to get their restless little mits on said firehose, which in the meantime had been switched on in order to quench their passion with a the greatest dousing of their lives, and turn it on the firemen themselves! Their impromptu party in the terrace made Inter’s aquatic adventures at the Nou Camp look like one of those PD party conferences we all miss so much. As a contest the match was all but over and it would have been suspended but since there are only a few rounds left in the league Estudiantes are booked up with their gruelling Libertadores schedule, the referee once again decided to wait it out.; this time for 20 minutes. According to canchallena.com, the Estudiantes fans amused themselves by cheering San Lorenzo’s goal against their championship rivals, Argentinos Juniors. Chacarita, in any case, appear to have decided their best opportunity for self-expression no longer lies on the pitch, and are seeking to say farewell to the first division in unforgettable fashion. Pegamequemegusta salutes you. Check out the look on the linesman’s face when the fans get the hose:

A rather more incendiary act of the day came in Avellaneda where Boca came back from a goal behind to beat Independiente 3-2 in the brand new Libertadores de América. Pegamequemegusta usually is of the opinion that, apart from las Diablitas Rojas, Independiente are about as charismatic and stylish as … pegamequemegusta. Yet their first goal today was as peachy as their comely cheerleaders.

The Independiente fans were in fine vettle and when a dog found its way onto the pitch, a chorus of “Paleeeermo! Paleeeeeeeeeeeerrrmo!” rang out around the ground.

Soon after, though, young Monzón drilled one in from outside the box and a few minutes later Boca were ahead. Palermo got his revenge with a characteristically awkward bacwards header that appeared to come off his neck. So Boca were 2-1 up at half-time (which lasted 23 minutes), and with 3 minutes to go young Mouche scored a screamer of his own to ensure victory (though there was a late late scare when Independiente knocked in a penalty in injury time). He ran to the half way line swinging his jersey around his head before cupping his hands to his hears a lo Riquelme in front of the seething home fans, who had just seen the faint title hopes disappear like toilet seats in La Paternal. He was duly sent off and stood about arguing vehemently with everybody in sight as he waited for the giant colon to be inflated. Bad baby.

There was probably lots of other aggro, too, but pegamequemegusta is quite taken with Claude le Petit at the current moment so we bid you goodbye goodbye goodbye.*

*Whomsoever places that last literary reference gets a free ticket to Chacarita’s last home game of the season.