Messi is Ours

It is a declaration of love for the wee man from Rosario, touchingly bashful at times (“i’d be uncomfortable overstepping the mark…”) while at others it veritably flushes with ardent reverence. It betrays a burning need for consummation, which comes through in metaphysical statements that suggest don Julio has been digging into his John Donne: “He plays as he is therefore he is as he plays.” Such demands could prove awkward for the object of his affections, we feel. And how surprising – by all accounts Mrs Grondona is a thoroughly respectable woman, a loyal companion and a fervent Catholic to boot, yet we never suspected her husband was a man of such romantic intensity, such burning passion, a man not content to smell the flower but one who must possess it, ravish it: “Messi is Ours.”

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Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro
per la pietà del suo factore i rai,
quando i’ fui preso, et non me ne guardai,
ché i be’ vostr’occhi, donna, mi legaro

A look, a wordless gesture, a walk in the park hand in glove with birdsong, promise and tranquility; an act of devotion, selfless sacrifice, unflinching trust in moments of greatest vulnerability, companionship, self-fulfilment; romance, slavering desire to possess the other, to place them on the burning pyre of your own lust, to annihilate them, strip down to your undies and shoot them with an arrow, make their heart your own in a bloody act of cannibalism – the love scale has space a-plenty for every noddy to carve his notch. Just where you would choose to start cutting for a declaration like don Julio Grondona’s latest ode to Messi (brought to our attention by @ArgentinaFW), however, pegamequemegusta will leave up to you, dear cherub, dear reader.

This month’s AFA Revista is dedicated to the still unravish’d bride of quietness’s latest Ballon d’or triumph and, in particular, the reaction of the world’s media. It’s not a bad little magazine; in any case it’s deliciously produced, very glossy altogether as well as being bilingual. Here, however, we bring you our own rendition of the AFA’s eternal president’s editorial.

It is a declaration of love for the wee man from Rosario, touchingly bashful at times (“i’d be uncomfortable overstepping the mark…”) while at others it veritably flushes with ardent reverence. It betrays a burning need for consummation, which comes through in metaphysical statements that suggest don Julio has been digging into his John Donne: “He plays as he is therefore he is as he plays.” Such demands could ultimately prove awkward for the object of his affections, we feel. And how surprising they are. By all accounts Mrs Grondona is a thoroughly respectable woman, a loyal companion and a fervent Catholic to boot. Yet we never suspected her husband was a man of such romantic intensity, such simmering passion, a man not content to smell the flower but one who must possess it, ravish it, pound into a paste and use it to flavour a thick, steaming bowl of lovesoup to be snarfled down grunting and spoonless: “Messi is Ours.”

Enjoy, pegamequemegusta.

I almost never speak about players’ performances. I may have commented on one or two particular showings from the national team as a whole, but never have I commented on the players as individuals. It’s not my place to do so and i’d be uncomfortable overstepping the mark set by my obligations and responsibilities. However, in Messi’s case it’s different. Not just because he has just won the Ballon d’or awarded by FIFA for the third consecutive time – unquestionably the most sought after prize by all élite players – but because of everything he represents.

On the pitch Messi is just as he is in real life: generous to others, modest with regard to himself and he can always be relied on by those around him. He plays how he is therefore he is as he plays. Moreover, he’s always thinking of the Selección Argentina, of which he is captain. Every time he receives an award like this, in the few words he speaks he always mentions Barcelona, his country and his national team. What’s more, he expresses his hope to reach the highest achievements with the celeste y blanco.

In this issue of the AFA magazine, you will see how the world’s media covered Messi after winning, once again, FIFA’s Ballon d’or. And the truth is I feel a wholesome pride in having been around to witness his coming of age as a football player, in having acted on time to make sure he wore our dear national jersey, and in being by his side as well as with his teammates, the management team and those in charge of Argentine football as we look to all pull together to make their dream – and Messi’s – come true.

From Argentina I send congratulations and our best wishes.

Yes, Messi is ours.

Security! Magellan, Drake & the AFA

Magellan, though, ah Magellan. As a youth we’d draw our grubby finger across the beautiful, though distorted mess of the Mercater world map. Invariably we’d end up at the Strait of Magellan. We still don’t know why; we’ve yet to venture there. It exercised a sense of wonder on us matched only by the awesome phenomenon that is an eleven o’clock dusk in Dublin. Of course we were schooled in the feats of Magellan, his empirical demonstration, by proxy, of the globe’s theoretically palpable rotundity; his obscene death, riddled with arrows, run through with spears knee-deep in the breakers of his very own Saipan. Only later did we look into Magellan. We learned that he personally ordered that some 1,200 bells, mirrors and trinkets be brought along, notwithstanding the clear space restrictions even with five ships, convinced as he was that whomsoever or whatever they would meet on the journey into the unknown, shiny stuff was bound to go down a storm. So it was that whilst waiting out the winter way down south in San Julián, in the yet unbaptised Argentina, that Magellan’s men managed to capture some simple giants with big feet (‘patagones’). Crude but effective, they distracted the friendly giants before slapping some irons on their legs, in cool civilised fashion.

A lot of philosophical faff is spoken about exploration, the final frontier and all that. Oh it’s all very well when some French poet says it, plonger au fond du gouffre, we lap that stuff up, too. Most of the time, though, such witherings are not much more than cowardice-baiting self-flagellation. Going where no man has gone before, a mere quest for minerals; travel broadening the mind no further than knowledge of the price of a coca cola from Ayres Rock to Macchu Picchu. Pegamequemegusta never got those North or South Pole guys, either, like lonely husbands locked in a windowless shed in winter searching for wet wipes in the dark; their wives must have been unbearable. Nor do we have much esteem for those moustachioed gents in ten-gallon sombreros carved from ivory, trotting around Africa discovering the longest-inhabited regions of the Earth. No, enough of these inconsequential failures, ignorant masochists for the most part. There’s another kind of explorer, though, whose deeds we can delight in even in the face of his cynically imperialist designs, the kind of person who when they set off had people on the quay muttering thanks to Jesus; we prefer the rogue. 

Our favourite explorers are those who clearly didn’t have any illusions about what they were doing, either because they were completely taking the piss, didn’t even consider themselves explorers or never intended on coming back. Hence, the high regard we hold for Magellan, and, somewhat begrudgingly, Sir Francis Drake. The only reason to like the latter is because he was such an absolute joker – a Queen-sponsored pirate who circumnavigated the globe stealing wine and gold from the Spanish wherever they went, just to fuck with their heads. Like the CIA, but just one bloke and a ship. Other than that, he was about as appealing as a year of wife-beaters and flip-flops. 

Magellan, though, ah Magellan. As a youth we’d draw our grubby finger across the beautiful, though distorted mess of the Mercater world map. Invariably we’d end up at the Strait of Magellan. We still don’t know why; we’ve yet to venture there. It exercised a sense of wonder on us matched only by the awesome phenomenon that is an eleven o’clock dusk in Dublin. Of course we were schooled in the feats of Magellan, his empirical demonstration, by proxy, of the globe’s theoretically palpable rotundity; his obscene death, riddled with arrows, run through with spears knee-deep in the breakers of his very own Saipan.  Only later did we look into Magellan. We learned that he personally ordered that some 1,200 bells, mirrors and trinkets be brought along, notwithstanding the clear space restrictions even with five ships, convinced as he was that whomsoever or whatever they would meet on the journey into the unknown, shiny stuff was bound to go down a storm. So it was that whilst waiting out the winter way down south in San Julián, in the yet unbaptised Argentina, that Magellan’s men managed to capture some simple giants with big feet (‘patagones’). Crude but effective, they distracted the friendly giants with jingling before slapping some irons on their legs, like a credit card company at Christmas.

The giants would later die of starvation on the prolonged crossing of the cruel, listless Pacific (which ol’ Fernando also named, of course – he had a gift for unimaginative names that actually sounded very cool, viz. Montevideo, ‘I see a mountain’ (?)), and Magellan himself would follow soon after. However, Magallanes knew he had succeeded already. He had earned the right to be a prick. Such a reckless invasion was not hubris, it was a death wish. He was disinterested enough in the fatherland to set off under a foreign flag in the first place (he was Portuguese but served the Hapsburg Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, Carlos I of Spain). His return to Europe offered little more than politicking his way round the Emperor’s Court for the rest of his days, where some indiscretion or other would probably see him wind up like the giants, in chains, anyway.

No, he knew it was pointless; the point was the risk, but not just risk in the sense of ideals or dreams, always likely to change. Rather, consigning himself to nothingness opened a space for him to live, to live ruthlessly, with disdain in his heart. Also in the winter of 1520 in San Julián, he had brutally put down a mutiny from the uppity Spanish unhappy to be serving under his Portuguese command. Some members of the party were marooned while several of the captains were hung, drawn and quartered on the coast for their insolence.

More than fifty years later, Francis Drake, el pirata par excellence, would find their rotten bones still hanging from the gibbets on the desolate shoreline. Indeed, they undoubtedly inspired the execution of one his own crew members, the gentleman Thomas Doughty. Drake, quite brilliantly in our opinion, accused him of being a traitor and a ‘sorcerer’. This did not go down well with all on board, leading Drake, who was also given to abrogating to himself the power to issue impromptu excommunications, to retort: “I have not… to do with you crafty lawyars, neythar care I for the lawe, but I know what I wyll do.”

They say Drake’s decision to behead Doughty was one of the defining moments in naval history as it established the captain of a ship as the absolute ruler in his sphere of influence, a floating dictator. That surprised us at first but it got our brain cogs chugging like a sweaty man in a beer-drinking contest in a steam train museum.

It’s all about security, you see. We’ll sacrifice almost anything in order to be safe. The threat of random violence is too terrifying. We’d rather nine none-too-guilty men go to prison than face the daunting prospect of self-preservation, or even be bothered at the bus-stop. Anything that happens to us, be it illness, crime or an accident, is by definition ‘unfair’ – someone must pay. Fair enough, all those things are horrible, but eliminating contingency costs. Fear and the prized principle of recompense, not any conspiracy, will lead to the abolition of man, in C. S. Lewis’ phrase. 

Now we’ve accused the AFA of many things over the years, but we never suspected they would be one of the organisations to advance this creeping dystopia. If anything, the antics of Grondona’s brave band of knights are more akin to the bluster of an Arthurian quest, with Verón as Lancelot, and Cristina the Lady in the Lake, or perhaps Guinevere. Yesterday, however, they unveiled plans for a new ticketing system to be applied in Argieball that includes some nigh-on draconian (not the pirate) measures.

Now this will directly affect you, dear northern one, as little as it affects Atlantic-bound, Primera-free pegamequemegusta. Yet you will no doubt agree, once the apple  is removed from your gob, that it’s curious to see a notoriously sluggish institution characterised by neglect suddenly wake up and take action –  under zero pressure to do so, no less. That the plan is rather misguided is less surprising, but its scale and ambition cannot be faulted.

The current system is much the same as anywhere else, in theory at least. Each clubs’ members, their socios, have first refusal. After that, anyone can buy tickets from booths at the ground, or from touts. Tourists tend to go on school tour-type jaunts, escorted to and from the game, and get royally gouged for the privilege (though they now have the option of going with these jocular fellows). 

The AFA, however, have decided that this system has to change. With next to no fanfare, the plan was announced on their website on Wednesday under the catchy title el Padrón nacional de aficionados, the National Supporters’ Register. From this December, supporters of first division teams (plus Riber, oddly enough) will be able to register their details with their respective clubs – you have to be aligned to some club, it seems – in order to be able to attend Argieball games and Argentina matches (though the system will be implemented later, of course). Once they’ve given their names and their DNI (national identity card) complete with photo and fingerprints, they’ll get an ‘non-transferable’ card with a magnetic strip that can be used to get tickets from ATM machines and other means of e-sales. Paper tickets will become defunct. Upon arrival at the stadium, the supporter will pass through a police checkpoint to make sure they are entering at the correct gate and their card will be inspected. Finally, at the turnstile their fingerprints will be scanned to ensure they are the person who bought the ticket. 

The man in charge of the commission to roll out the project, Fernando Casalla, stated that the idea is to “increase control and commercial exploitation of matchdays by eliminating the resale of tickets”. Moreover, the sale of tickets will  be federalised, available to all, as it will no longer be restricted to the stadium itself. Argiestadia will boast the finest gate technology in the world. The future will be bright and clean; order will be imposed. This, while it was not mentioned explicitly, will no doubt go down a treat with FIFA in the event of a serious candidature for the 2030 World Cup; likewise with whatever deal they’ve struck with credit card companies to have the supporters’ cards work in the ATMs. A juicy one, no doubt. (The banks here, distressingly enough for our barter-friendly soul, have grown in stature even in just the last few months since a law was passed guaranteeing everyone the right to a bank account, with many companies opening accounts in their employees’ names, boosting coffers considerably and grabbing them a whole new customer base that was somewhat isolated up to now – get your free credit card!).

That’s not all, though, In the meantime, according to Casalla, there will be health and safety benefits since the new system will make it much harder for undesirables to get into the ground. There already exists a blacklist of hooligans for whom clubs reserve a special right to refuse admission. From now on, they won’t even be able to purchase a ticket, and even if they appear at the turnstile in some crafty disguise their fingerprints will give them away. In this way, administration costs will be reduced and crowd safety increased. Filthy, grubby paper money will be done away with, credit-rich families will flock to the games, Coca-Cola-brand picnic baskets in hand, happy and secure, to cheer on their heroes.

It all sounds delightful, of course, but it’s too happy, it’s too clean; it hasn’t got enough snarl to it. It wilfully ignores the real state of things. Instead it conceives of the barras as mere cheeky chappies who’ll jive off with their paddy caps in their hands once they’re foiled by the beeping turnstile. (Goshdarnit, exclaim the ragamuffins, hey, who’s up for stickball?). This is , we argue, somewhat unlikely. Besides, it ignores the profoundly corrupt, twisted and symbiotic relationship between the clubs and the hooligans, who were never true patrons in the first place.

After all, the only real problem with the current system is that tickets tend to fall into the hands of the barras, free, of course, who then sell them on for their own gain. This sucks money out of the clubs, making them weaker as it makes the barras stronger. There’s no mention of cleaning up the clubs, investigations into corruption or even a window-dressing ‘wish’ to do the same. There’s no talk of sanctions for clubs who collude with the parasitic mafias who feast on them in the name of flag-waving love. Violence can be controlled by repression, cheap, faceless, machine-led repression, with no contemplation of the causes, no measures to stifle the activities of the mafias who extort money from every hotdog vendor and car-parker within a ten-block radius of the ground on matchday, earning tens of thousands of dollars per game. That the pie is so enticing explains the constant murders and battles for control of each club’s barra brava – not some schoolground tiff, as suggested recently on a ‘proper’ blog.

So the plan contains plenty of positives, especially considering it’s from the AFA. It’s pleasantly surprising to see the AFA take action on something, anything. Remember, the last time we heard from them was when they came up with the credibility-sapping 38-team tournament. Furthermore, the dystopian elements largely stem from the national identity database, which, while we don’t like it much, already exists so there’s not much point complaining about it. Likewise commercial control over consumer information is hardly anything new.

The problem is that it’s an answer to a question nobody asked. It doesn’t solve any of the real problems we outlined above. It also begs the question just what kind of football these well-documented fans are going to be watching. Perhaps the AFA should do something about sorting out the clubs’ budgets, the flogging off of young players, refereeing, the state of the grounds, policing, etc.

It’s also curious that the plan is so anodyne. Unlike the government, which has a fine eye for catchphrases and infectious marketing campaigns, the AFA is severely limited when it comes to PR. They could have named it something ‘grand’ like Operación hincha or positioned themselves, however falsely, as the custodians of the game, with something ‘dynamic’ like Somos la popu! (Reclaim the terraces!). The fact that they didn’t exposes the purely financial motivations at play here, the continuing lack of concern for the game, a profound disdain for the genius and pageantry that make Argieball so special off the field.

Put a machine in charge of something, however, and people see progress, safety. It makes them feel oddly superior no matter how much of their birthright they have to give up for the privilege. Make that transaction easier, sanitise it all, stick a recognisable brand on it, reassurance, no jostling, the policeman’s there to help you, listen to the jingling of the bell, see how shiny it is, sit down, consume, risk has been abolished, the sorcerers are in the stocks, turned to dust with a well-timed blow from an umbrella.

Railways & Chili Peppers

More than that, though, it also throws some light on what players go through when they move abroad. Argentina’s tradition of mismanaging its own riches, sending them abroad and somehow ending up empty-handed, if it’s under threat politically, is very much alive and well in don Julio Grondona’s sphere of influence. The players leave early and haphazardly, even against their wishes. They are not just going to the big leagues either: more and more they move to leagues that heretofore were worse than the Argentine league. Odd; everyone loses. One could dismiss this as just ‘weird’ China stuff, as Pupi would no doubt say, but we suspect that Salmerón’s experiences are not unique. For even the biggest clubs in the wealthiest leagues still seem remarkably careless when it comes to – whatever about their transfer ‘policy’ – helping players acclimatise. You make a sandwich, someone buys it off you, the money magically disappears and you see the bastard leave it in the sun, the mayonnaise curdling, the ham turning green, the lettuce brown and the bread harder than a coal-shoveller.

With a steep nose hammer on a four-foot switch channel,
John Henry raised it back till it touched his heels,
then the spike went through the cross-tie and it split it half in two –
35 cents a day for driving steel,
(He said sweat boy, sweat, you owe me two more swings)
I was born for driving steel.

Two things that get pegamequemegusta all warm inside are football and railways. We’re pretty sure most of the world’s ‘problems’ could be resolved with a return to that most human of technologies, the tooting power of steam. Today’s story joins these two brackets like a buck-tailed rivet. 

Argentine rail network superimposed on a map of a disfunctional peninsula in the northern hemisphere

For a quick glance at a map of Argentina’s infrastructure – what home is without one – will reveal the how the country was designed to be pillaged. Little or no thought was given to moving goods around the country, within its various cities and provinces. Instead, the railways, built for the most part by the two scaldiest imperial powers of the age, Britain and France, ensured that the riches of the land could make it quickly up to Buenos Aires, and thence to the bellies of the rich abroad. The laden ships leaving port would meet the poor of those same countries coming the other way. A quick buck, short-termism, always looking abroad for answers, no real faith in the land or people, confusion, despots, exploitative capitalism, a mess.

Moreover, the legacy of this private, capital-driven policy is that a third of the population of this vast country live in greater Buenos Aires. The cramped conditions exacerbate poverty and leave the people there with little else to do but shout and bludgeon each other over the head, if the news is to be believed. It also makes it delightfully vibrant and, arguably, contributes to its enormous cultural pedigree. On the whole, though, it’s excessive and unnecessary.

The problem was the radial design of the network, of course; the railways themselves were good. Work was plentiful and hands spread out across the land. Football was one of the few things the railway actually brought to the country rather than out of it. The network’s stations and workshops saw the birth of many a club and lent itself to the formation of various leagues in the years before the AFA was founded. Very few of these clubs remain.

One notable institution, however, Ferrocarril Oeste (literally ‘western railway’), is still in existence, albeit in the shadow world of la B gnashing their teeth alongside Riber Plei. One of their former players, Luis el Pupi Salmerón, had an interview in Olé last week (Spanish here). A non-too-easy-on-the-eye, journeyman of a second division striker if ever there was one, el Pupi ended up plying his trade in China. We bring you the interview basically because we thought it was funny.

More than that, though, it also throws some light on what players go through when they move abroad. Argentina’s tradition of mismanaging its own riches, sending them abroad and somehow ending up empty-handed, if it’s under threat politically, is very much alive and well in don Julio Grondona’s sphere of influence. The players leave early and haphazardly, even against their wishes. They are not just going to the big leagues either: more and more they move to leagues that heretofore were worse than the Argentine league. Odd; everyone loses. You make a sandwich, someone buys it off you, the money magically disappears and then to your horror you see the bastard leave it in the sun, the mayonnaise curdling, the ham turning green, the lettuce brown and the bread harder than a diamond-eyed coal-shoveller.

One could dismiss this as just ‘weird’ China stuff, as Pupi would no doubt say,  but we suspect that Salmerón’s experiences are not unique. For even the biggest clubs in the wealthiest leagues still seem remarkably careless when it comes to – whatever about their transfer ‘policy’ – helping players acclimatise. Some just get on with it, of course, and sure aren’t they played enough. Yet these random transfers can really mess up a player’s career, the chronic lack of stability making him a journeyman and depriving him of the chance for growth. He’ll probably be mis-used, misteated, forgotten, a puppy on the sixth of January (viz. Stracqualursi). Obviously, the clubs themselves lose out, too, wasting assets… One need look no further than Carlitos Tevez, whose career has been haunted by Boca’s selling him into the neon clutches of Kia Joorabchian.  

We though it was interesting and strangely charming anyway. Enjoy. Pegáme, que me gusta.

  • So, what’s the story with China?

  • In terms of football, it was grand, I scored a few goals and all but it was weird. When I left here it was roasting and when I got there it was freezing. I was all over the place, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. You know, they were all speakin’ Chinese, for jaysus’ sake…

  • Well, yeah…

  • Ha ha, yeah, but I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I had to use sign language, like a caveman. It was a mess. Besides, I don’t speak a word of English, you know?

  • Very frustrating.

  • You don’t know the half of it. I actually could have learned English, but I gave up after two classes… Then when I was in Shanghai, without a breeze, unable to even ask for some salt in a supermarket, I realised what an eejit i’d been.

  • I can only imagine what your trips to the supermarket must have been like…

  • Oh man, yeah. To find out which one was the tomato sauce I had to buy about ten different tins, but they were all bleedin chili peppers, hot bloody chili peppers. It was a joke… First i’d have to bite whatever i’d bought to find out what it was. And if I didn’t like it i’d have to throw it out. This one time I thought i’d bought some ham but it turned out to be some caramel yoke.

  • So what did you eat, then?

  • Ah any old thing. Later on I learned how to get certain types of meat. They eat a lot of fish, a lot of rice, a lot of duck. Later on I brought some stuff over from Argentina, like maté. I gave a couple of the Chinese lads some maté to try out. One of them liked it and he’d always come into my room going ‘maté! maté!’ I became good friends with that little budgie; he was the number ten.

  • Were you able to communicate with one another?

  • Whenever he’d come into the room, me and the other Argentine lad, Facu Pérez Castro, would speak to him through Google Translate. That was a real life-saver…

  • You didn’t have a translator?

  • Yeah, yeah, but he was some 20 year-old kid who didn’t have a clue about football. Let’s say we were working on tactics or something. He’d say something like: ‘The cone is your enemy, then kick the gate’, christ. He’d get me into trouble sometimes with the manager ’cause i’d say something and god knows what this lad was passing on. All of a sudden the gaffer’s voice would be getting angrier and angrier and I didn’t have a clue what was going on! That kid really wasn’t on out side: at one point when we’d lost a few games in a row, we were training and me and Facu realised the Chinese lads were taking the piss out us and the translator was pretending nothing was going on. ‘Facu, they’re bleedin laughin’ at us’, I was sayin’…


  • What about the people?

  • The people were grand. I didn’t get recognised much on the street but after the match they’d all come over to congratulate you or just say hello. ‘Popi, Popi’, they’d say to me, instead of ‘Pupi’. Every match was a full house. Once we were winning 2-0 and they came back to 2-2, and in the last minute I scored the winner. Everyone went mental and ran over to hug me: the players, the coaches, the water boys. I was thinking: ‘Why such a fuss, che?’ Only then I found out it was a derby! The translator told me, ha.

  • And what’s the deal with football in China?

  • It’s actually much better than I thought it would be. They’re plowing in the money.

  • You’re back now, then. Where do you see yourself in 2012?

  • I don’t know. When you finish your first asado with the fam, you say ‘no way am I leaving here’. I showed I could play in China and score goals there. So if they want me back there, they’re going to have to pay me what I asked for, considerably more. Otherwise i’d prefer to stay here. Not necessarily in primera as I know that things didn’t really work out for me with Banfield, but maybe in la B. If it’s in Buenos Aires, sweet, and if it’s Ferro, even better.

  • Have you been watching the games?

  • While I was in China I was always reading stuff about Ferro and Argieball, i’d check Olé everyday. I remember staying up ’til five in the morning to see River-Belgrano. The next day we had training and we were absolutely knackered. All the Chinese lads were saying they couldn’t believe that River had gone down.

  • All in all, then, what do you make of your stay in China?

  • It was tough because of all the things I was telling you about. Now they seem funny but at the time, man, I was going mental. Luckily, though, I learned a lot about another culture and actually became closer to my family.