“I’m happy [Maradona]‘s manager, but I warn you, if you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.”

This time, more conscious of his position now and trying to maintain some kind of dignity (is that magnificent beard an attempt at portraying a more statesmanlike image?) Diego tried to play politics; while Humbertito had the freedom to snap at him with absolute impunity and even put him down with a vertitable frase maradoniana: “He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [….] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.”

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If you get a young kid, make him think he’s the greatest guy in the world, throw money and power at him along with a fawning press, don’t be surprised if he ends up running his mouth from time to time or giving the odd hysterical, incoherent foul-mouthed tirade. No, for once on pegamequemegusta we’re not talking about Diego. We’re talking about the capo of Argieball, the man who calls the shots, Humberto Grondona.

"Humbertito throws lighter fluid on the flames" - Olé

Humbertito, as he is affectionately known, is the son of AFA President, Julio Grondona. His pappy Julio, who has been President for 32 years now, is a don in every sense of the word and so Humbertito has been given many toys to play around with over the years, teams to manage, referees’ phone numbers, committee chairs, and even the women’s football team.

Today he sounded off against (well, he could hardly be far) Maradona. In the aftermath of the bizarre Haiti ‘friendly’ on Wednesday night, el Diego used his post match comments to launch a personal attack on Julio Grondona. Of such little interest was the game itself, Diego spoke pitch-side about how he felt shafted by Julio Grondona over the cancellation of another friendly that was to take place at the end of the month in Dubai. After the team’s send-off in Buenos Aires on the 24th May, the idea was to bring everything – beef included – for the World Cup and stop off in Dubai along the way. “It’s a joke,” he said. Why? It would have been a good opportunity to play meaningful opposition? Acclimatise? ‘Try out’ more players? Rest? It was never explained. Yet what did annoy Maradona was the fact, repeated several times, that he had done the AFA President a personal favour by granting permission for 40 ‘guests’ to travel with the squad. Diego didn’t want to but it was a personal favour. “I did Grondona a favour. Now he should do me one.”

This goes to the heart of the matter: just as the match had nothing to do with football – being a farce and a vanity project for some oil barons down in Patagonia dressed up as a charity game when in reality, as the commentators revealed during the game shortly before a rocket blew up in Palermo’s face, just 2% of the gate receipts will be going towards disaster relief in Haiti – this quarrel has little to do with Dubai. It’s pure political posturing.

While Maradona has one list to define before next week, that of the squad, it is still not certain whether his beloved Oscar Ruggeri will be part of the management team in South Africa. Although everything points to a no, pegamequemegusta has reason to believe that the matter is not entirely dead, or if it is dead the matter is still kicking up a fuss like some childish vampire.

El Cabezón Ruggeri - a man's man, no chewing gum for him

Without retelling the whole sorry tale, unlike the choice cuts that will be accompanying the squad to South Africa, there’s plenty of bad beef between Maradona and Ruggeri on the one side, and the Grondona family on the other. Despite everyone having taken a pop at the Don at some point over the last 32 years, Ruggeri seems to be small enough fry for a grudge to stick. Maradona wants him in his management team, though. In February he said if Ruggeri couldn’t go to the World Cup then Humberto couldn’t either. Humberto Grondona has hit back several times, the most recent being in El Gráfico yesterday, where he called Ruggeri a tarado (a fine word some of you may recall Tevez using to describe beloved ex team-mate, the Neviller).

Meanwhile, pegamequemegusta already brought to you the hilarious exchange between Ruggeri and the AFA over the club directors and their “well-earned trip” to South Africa. There’s not a long way from that mini-scandal to Diego’s premeditated and insistent comments about how he had gone to such lengths to mollify Grondona by “making an exception” in the case of the 40 or so officials who were to travel with the team to Dubai. That the comments were premeditated is obvious first for the faux-causual manner in which he pronounced them pitch-side last night, and secondly, because he said the same thing the day before the match!  Pegamequemegusta had not deemed them worthy of comment – he also went on his usual rant about how now, just like in ’86, “there wasn’t one journalist in Argentina who wasn’t beating Bilardo with a stick” – but with Humberto’s retort today all the pieces came together.

“I’m happy [Maradona]’s manager, but I warn you, don’t touch my father. He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [….] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you,” he stormed in a teacup on Radio La Red.

Whatever about Un traje para Diego, this beard has to stay

Despite Maradona’s persecution complex – he sees bloodthirsty hounds where puppies play – pegamequemegusta can’t think of any instance where someone spoke to Maradona like that. And especially not since he’s become manager. Even at the bleakest moment of the qualifying campaign, fear of failure merely meant less categorical cheerleading. No, no-one talks of ‘crushing’ Maradona… except perhaps the next president of the AFA. Humbertito, it seems, has called Maradona’s bluff. His last play to get Ruggeri on the plane seems to have failed – and ended in another unedifying episode in a long run of unedifying episodes, another conflagration, another feebly coded slagging match. This time, more conscious of his position now and trying to maintain some kind of dignity (is that magnificent beard an attempt at portraying a more statesmanlike image?) Diego tried to play politics; while Humbertito had the freedom to snap at him with absolute impunity and even put him down with a veritable frase maradoniana: “He gets bitten by a mosquito and he thinks it’s Grondona’s fault. [….] If you even go near my dad, i’ll bloody well crush you.” It’s not for nothing this family have been in charge for more than 30 years.

It’s got to hurt. Any move now could only jeopardise further his preparations for the World Cup so hopefully Maradona will take it on his august chin on wait for another day to take his revenge.

In the meantime, there’s only a few days to go til the initial 30 man squad is named. Pegamequemegusta will be back with all the piping hot tips and lukewarm tea, or is that the other way around?

Don Julio Grondona

Tintin, Argentina and the Land of Black Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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