Today we bring you a translation of a piece by Ignacio Fusco, of Olé and Don Julio. Pegamequemegusta has translated several interviews of his – with Pipo gorosito, Carles Rexach and Di Stéfano – as he can be quite combative and frequently gets the best out of his subjects. This is not an interview, however, rather Sabella’s interior monologue during the final few minutes of Argentina-Switzerland.
We enjoyed it and agree with it for the most part. Indeed, reports from Argentina’s closed training session today concur with several of the ideas attributed to Sabella here regarding team changes, with Demichelis set to come in for Fede Fernández, besides Basanta for the suspended Rojo. (No indication Palacio will start…). Tomorrow will be a slog, though, so best to kick back with a slick, smart piece of writing in the meantime. We hope to have done it justice. (Spanish readers can find the original here).
Monologue of a despairing manager
Palacio on the left, Basanta behind him, Biglia in next to Mascherano, stick to Mascherano, Lucas! There! Stay there, right? Good. Di María over there, getting back and covering Zabaleta, that’s it, we’re there, we’re almost there, how much is left? Two? How much? One? Come on, vamos, in the bag! In the air they’re not getting a thing, sorted, relax, relax, it’s sorted. I told Palacio: you’re a midfielder who gets forward, not a forward who defends, the world is how you see it, put ’em under pressure ’cause they’ll make a mistake. We need space to play, them on the back foot, attack, attack, attack, head down, dribbling past, these kids are unbelievable, I can’t believe this, four of them go forward and the other two just sit there, they don’t talk to each other, kids, they’re kids, like a bunch of school kids. The ones up front don’t want to get back, no-one is getting back, check out the goal if you don’t believe me: Palacio won the ball, he gave it to Messi, Messi to Di María, goal. We waited and went for them, goal, Now we’re good, sorted, two wingers, four in the middle, they haven’t come near us for about half an hour, stay close to Mascherano, Lucas, please! Close, close, there! How much is left? Three! What do you mean three?! Where the hell’d he get three minutes from? Whistle, ref, it’s over! Corner. Corner. He gave them a corner. A corner, la puta que lo parió. Two years ago we played these lads and we beat them without breaking a sweat: Campagnaro, Fernández and Garay at the back: physical presence, height; Mascherano and el Chapu in the middle: garra, cover, a mean shift; Maxi and Sosa out wide: balance, collaboration; Messi and Agüero up front. Three-one we won. Three goals by Leo, all with space to play in, on the counter. They say he picks my team and today he’s barely had a shot. With me, you get predictable football; football can be predictable. The goalkeeper is going up. Their goalkeeper is going up for a header. I can’t believe this. Garay! The keeper’s going up, Garay! The one is illuminous yellow, you muppet, who do you think! Where’s Campagnaro? What the hell are you doing here, Campagnaro? This is the last move, it has to be, we’ll get Belgium and I’ll organise this lot, once and for all. In the first half they had a chance on the counter because Mascherano got distracted on a corner giving out to the others for taking their sweet time in getting back, the second time… Football gives you time to… Nerves are for the other team to worry about. Rojo is injured, I put Basanta on at left-back, all we need now is for Lavezzi and Higuaín to pick up knocks. Who’s taking it? Rodríguez? Rodríguez takes their corners? Made you made a note of that? How does he take them? Uruguayan. His parents are from Uruguay. Mark the keeper! This goes in and we lose on penos and he had two years and he couldn’t find his starting eleven, they’ll say, Messi was picking the team, he tried five at the back but he didn’t have the clout to stick with it, he brought Agüero and Higuaín even though they were crocked and brought no back-up number 9, why they’ll ask me. A bicycle kick by the keeper: holy shitballs. The rebound, the rebound! We’re Argentina, we don’t have to worry about the opposing team: pull the other one. Get out, Romero! Post. It hit the post. How much left? It hit the post. Dzemaili. Dzemaili was it? I told them, I told them, Dzemaili goes out wide, he finds space, he gets round the back. Who was marking him?! Campagnaro, what are you doing on the bench? These kids will be the death of me. The best world cup ever. The best world cup ever, Jaysus, Mary and Joseph. It’s over! It’s over! Now I’m going to tell the press about Palacio. What a fourth man in the middle can do. Get your rival on the back foot. Hang back. In the second half we played better, we were balanced. I’ll tell them that, too: balance, we were balanced. After everything we went through here, they’ll let me change things. El pueblo has to learn. Foresight, foresight. Even better if we get Belgium, they like to play it around more. One more match and I’m in the record books. Twenty days ago I was fifty-nine years old. Today I turned eighty-three.
– Bah, the team we wanted to win, didn’t. Argentina went out with a whimper. So much enthusiasm, so much blather, and then poof, it all falls apart. I didn’t like it one little bit. Not a jot.
– Now it all seems so clear. But many people were shocked by the 0-4 against Germany.
– Sure we hadn’t shown we were a proper team, what are you on about? How far are you going to get without something to prop up all the quality we had in attack? No-where, no, no, no. Three or four small lads played up front, all those lads, they played a bit, but the rest, the rest are guys you wouldn’t… you wouldn’t… Look: you can’t have everyone doing their own thing. We Argentines are the biggest bullshitters in the world. We’ve always been like this. We can’t get enough of being right smart-arses. We, we, we – no, sir, we poppycock! The time for me me me is over. The thing is we’ve had good players plenty of times, good groups, a good team spirit, and we’ve even put together some good teams. But then we go on hailing victories [that haven’t happened yet], we’ve cheered so many victories, but look at us now. In my day there was a school, an idea, a style – a style that was also a great show! Now even that’s gone. Argentine football is constantly up for sale, the players spread out all over the world. They sell everything they can get their hands on, they’re going to end up bollock naked: our football is going to end up bollock naked. We won’t even have any players. That’s where we’re at. And the farce goes on.
Pegamequemegusta’s been silent for a few days now, days that have been spent licking our wounds like a particularly assiduous cat after an aborted open-air vivisection down at the tar pits, days spent feebly fending off ham-carrying neighbours eager to steal the glaze from our tear-filled eyes, days like any other, then. We tried to take out our rage on poor unsuspecting day editors of reputable newspapers with many a missive featuring the words ‘shoddy’ and ‘outlandish’. Yet they weren’t interested in what we should name our children.
At least we had the World Cup for one week more. Yet even that was ultimately disappointing. Uruguay would’ve given Spain a better game, we bellowed in yet another missive. This time it was to the RFEF insisting Spain abandon the dull, defensive European Championships to take place in yet another sprawling, poverty-stricken sub-continent in favour of the Copa América next year, which will be in, er, Argentina. Only there will they get a real balompié challenge and the Street Fighter 2 background people kind of atmosphere a real football tournament needs. Plus, Japan will be there! Pegamequemegusta will keep you up to date on this campaign.
In the meantime, we have not been the only ones trying to make spurious links between Spain and Argentina. Today we bring you another interview from Olé‘s irrepressible Ignacio Fusco (the original interview was in Sunday’s Olé as part of their preview of the final, but we just found it). No matter who he talks to, no matter how apparently anodyne the matter, his interviews are always fleghmy and bespittled. Usually Nacho is the irascible one, but today Don Alfredo Di Stéfano is the one who betrays a crankiness of spirit that makes Kaká look like Karol Wojtyła.
Señor Fusco appears to be intent on outdoing Cruyff’s attempt to claim all the credit for Spain’s win for himself by sending his Paulian tentacles even further back in time to the 1950s. Despite the fact that Argentina either didn’t participate or went out in the first round, the fact that Don Di Stéfano originated here seems to be enough to launch a claim in this War of the Spanish Success[ion]. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go into why they didn’t participate [political wranglings involving Perón himself], why Di Stéfano led such a peripatetic career or why, having won 6/10 Copa Américas between 1945 and 1959, Argentina could still be thrashed 1-3 and 1-6 against West Germany and Hungary in the group stage in Sweden 1958. [The kind of story a good blog would pounce on as if it were a tasty mussel, given its parallels to the present, where they’ve won 5 under-20 WCs in the last 15 years without getting past the quarters finals of the real thing. Hmm, we may look into this].
Nonetheless, spurious credit-hunting aside, it’s a good read. Di Stéfano’s fuse is shorter than Howard Webb’s… fingernails and he goes on an almighty rant. We don’t think he’s 100% right about that either but we do feel a certain affinity with the cynical wallowings of grouchy ex-pats. The translation, as always, is ours. Let us know what you think – pegame, que me gusta.
An idol and an adopted son of Spain, who today will play their first ever WC final, Don Alfredo Di Stéfano laments the state of our Selección: they didn’t keep the ball, it’s not a proper team, there’s not even a recognisable style anymore. Once again, he says, we were arrogant, and the best football has been played by Spain: “But today they have to win, eh.” Cheers, old fellow.
The story starts in Chamartín. In the north of Madrid on the night of the 23rd September 1953, Spain is getting ready to take its first steps. Few things are as inevitable as an inheritance, as being what others have been: to learn, plagiarise, continue. That day Alfredo di Stéfano makes his debut with Real Madrid. He’s fat, slow, irksome: it’s been nine months since he last played. Despite his goal, French side Nancy win 4-2 in a friendly that laid the basis of the current story, the continuing past, today’s final. Don Alfredo was Xavi, he was Iniesta, he was Cesc: the Motherland’s stars spring from his branch.
“These days they talk about midfielders. Rogelio Dominguez, a lovely fellow, once said to me: ‘Alfredo, you are an all-over-the-fielder!’ What can I say, I liked defending. I’d drop back and they’d say: ‘What are you doing here? Get back up front!’ laughs the maestro, the man who came up with this kind of football, ‘the Founder of the modern game’, according to Platini. The crack, who more than 50 years ago played the way Spain do now, patient, pleasure dripping slow.
What did you make of the World Cup, Alfredo? Did you watch much of it?
Why the hell wouldn’t I have watched it? It’s my job, don’t you know, I have to watch it!
What did you make of it?
Bah, the team we wanted to win, didn’t. Argentina went out with a whimper. So much enthusiasm, so much blather, and then poof, it all falls apart. I didn’t like it one little bit. Not a jot.
Now it all seems so clear. But many people were shocked by the 0-4 against Germany.
Sure we hadn’t shown we were a proper team, what are you on about? How far are you going to get without something to prop up all the quality we had in attack? No-where, no, no, no. Three or four small lads played up front, all those lads, they played a bit, but the rest, the rest are guys you wouldn’t… you wouldn’t… Look: you can’t have everyone doing their own thing. We Argentines are the biggest bullshitters in the world. We’ve always been like this. We can’t get enough of being right smart-arses. We, we, we – no, sir, we poppycock! The time for me me me is over. The thing is we’ve had good players plenty of times, good groups, a good team spirit, and we’ve even put together some good teams. But then we go on hailing victories [that haven’t happened yet], we’ve cheered so many victories, but look at us now. In my day there was a school, an idea, a style – a style that was also a great show! Now even that’s gone. Argentine football is constantly up for sale, the players spread out all over the world. They sell everything they can get their hands on, they’re going to end up bollock naked: our football is going to end up bollock naked. We won’t even have any players. That’s where we’re at. And the farce goes on.
We don’t even have our own style anymore?
We had one, we had one; but not for years now, not for a long time.
How long ago?
When we were admired. The world copied our style of play, and look at the depths we’ve sunk to now, a real nadir. If there were some kind of continuity at least, a style to cradle all these 18 year olds for when after they’re sold, for those who rushed onto the market before they’ve been able to become cracks… but we don’t even have that.
Were you happy with Maradona?
Sure Maradona didn’t play!
It would’ve been no bad thing to have had the ’86 Diego…
What of it: he’s not a player anymore. If he were, things might be different.
And as a coach?
I don’t know, I don’t know… Look: the players are the ones who win, and buenas noches.
It’s been one long night for Don Alfredo, one long, unforgettable night: in spite of having turned out for Argentina, Colombia and Spain, he never did play in a World Cup. He could have gone to Brazil in 1950, but Argentina didn’t go owing to strained diplomatic relations. “And Colombia didn’t go either,” recalls la Saeta Rubia [the Golden Arrow]. It sounds like a joke: “Switzerland ’54 came along when I was in bureaucratic limbo; and for Sweden ’58 I finally had Spanish citizenship but la Furia failed to qualify,” recounts the honorary president of Real Madrid. Then comes Chile in 1962: the Argentine Helenio Herrera includes him in the squad. Now’s the time, he’s ready, finally he’ll play in a World Cup, “but I got injured in a friendly against an Austrian team just before we travelled. I was so anxious to play that at night in the hotel i’d put a lamp on my right knee so as to keep the muscle warm.”
Politics, paperwork, injuries, it sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But I never lost any sleep over it, you know. At that time I wanted to play in a World Cup so that my parents could see me out there. That’s all.
And to think that this Spain team, Don Alfredo, plays just as you did: passing, keeping the ball moving.
But if you don’t move, if you don’t ask for the ball, if you don’t get free of your marker, tell me, how am I supposed to give you the ball? It would be flat football, lifeless and just plain bad. Spain play like Barcelona. It’s not about such and such a player: it’s about everyone coming together to form a team, that’s the secret. That’s how you win a championship.
How do you see things turning out today?
Spain have been the best team at the World Cup. The Dutch can play a bit but they’re not great. We’ll see.
Have la Furia already earned their place in history or do they need to something else to seal it?
[Silence] Do they have to what?
No, no; these things have to be finished off. Spain have to win. Since when is winning the same as losing? Spain have tried to play a certain way and it’s worked out well. Let’s hope they win. It’s us who haven’t been doing things right for a long time. Let’s take it piano piano, nice and slow, and try to build a team.
“Diego was more intuitive, pure inspiration, whereas Lionel – perhaps due to having been brought up on such a mechanical style of football – has learned to choose his moments. Lionel has a better understanding of when to put the finishing touch to a move.”
This interview with Barcelona legend Carles Rexach comes from Sunday’s Olé. Rexach, who was with the club for 44 years, had a glittering career and was central to Cruyff’s revolution there before going on to have a great influence on the generation of youth players currently stamping on the big greasy face of the football world.
The interview was conducted by the ever irascible Ignacio Fusco, who’s dogged, laconic style of journalism does so much to antagonise readers and interviewees alike. Happily, as with the Pipo Gorosito interview back in March, Rexach is too much of a gent to be ruffled by the jerk.
The girls’ got the same look on her face that Messi must have given her more than once: his mouth half open, flummoxed, the eternal gesture of someone who’s just arrived in another city, another world. The girl’s name is Cynthia, Cynthia Arellano, she was a classmate of Leo in primary school. The report is on the program Informe Robinson, on the Spanish Canal Plus. Cynthia speaks, smiling now, but still nonplussed: “Once I asked him, with all the people in the ground shouting, how it felt to play in front of 80,000 people, how he was able to do the things he does. I don’t know – he said – it’s not me who does it.”
Who is it, then? Who are you?
“Many times they’ve asked me how he does it, and I think the best answer is this: not even he knows. Seriously: not even him,” says a smiling Carles Rexach, the manager with whom Messi made his debut in Barcelona, in a chat with Olé. A player in the World Cup in 1978, league champion with Barcelona in ’73/’74 but no longer working with the club, Rexach gave Messi his first ten minutes, as a replacement for Deco, in a 1-0 victory over Espanyol on the 16th October 2004 [not true – it was Rijkaard]. “I remember that people were telling me back then ‘This kid isn’t all that special, man; he’s looks like a 5-a-side player (jugador de futbolín).’ And I said to them: “Alright, do me a favour: every player you find that you reckon is a like this guy, a 5-a-side player, bring them all to me.’ Messi’s special: even if you haven’t got the slightest clue about football, you get Messi. There are some players you have to know really well in order to sign them. With Messi, no: even the blind can tell you how good he is.”
So he’s a 5-a-side player…
In the youth team they said he used to dribble a lot. He hogs the ball, they used to say.
Yeah, of course, but that’s how he is; let’s hope he keeps on dribblin and dribblin away; all the better, I used to say, as in football there aren’t even that many really skilful players. Even when he’d just arrived in Barcelona. Lionel was a great player, he was – but only when he had the ball. In the last few years, and it was inevitable, he’s come round to the idea that football is a collective game. Messi used to play on his own, and look at him now: five moves in a row he only touches the ball once, then finally, all of a sudden, he does his own thing. And i’ll tell you something else: Barça could even be boring without Lionel.
Definitely. You see Barça play and they make it look easy, pam pam pam, but the breakthrough comes when Messi gets the ball. Without a guy like him, Barça mightn’t win as much. I’m not sure if i’m making myself clear: not even Maradona was as great an interpreter of the collective game as Messi is.
Could you explain that further?
Let’s see, let’s see [long silence]. Diego was more intuitive, pure inspiration, whereas Lionel – perhaps due to having been brought up on such a mechanical style of football – has learned to choose his moments. Lionel has a better understanding of when to put the finishing touch to a move.
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.
Yeah, it’s true, but look at it this way: look at Puyol, he keeps his mouth shut. Take Valdés, the best Spanish goalkeeper and he doesn’t get called up, nothing. Xavi never opens his mouth either. The environment he’s in helps him maintain that tranquility. I have a great relationship with Messi and the most i’ve ever heard him say is “alright, yeah, no, okay and nah”. You’d do well to have anyone in your life like that. Besides, listen to this: neither Ronaldinho nor Ronaldo were able to take playing here so well and for so long. For that you need Leo’s calm.
Speaking of pressure: now it might seem irrelevant, but was it not a bit too much for a 16-year-old to take on the responsibility of supporting his family, and in another country?
Yeah, but the club strove for him to forget about that. They sought to find work for his father so the boy could forget about that pressure. You guys speak about his character, and Lionel suffered a great deal when his parents would go back to Argentina, when we still had to prove that his family worked here and that until that was sorted he couldn’t play, when the days were long and grey, when his teammates cried because they were alone and homesick… Look: I wouldn’t let my son go to Argentina at 13 years of age. It must be very difficult, but sure people just think about long-term success.
Why do people get so annoyed, then, when people say that Lionel is Catalan, Carles, if he grew up and got used to living over there? Isn’t it logical that he should feel a greater affinity with his adopted city?
Argentina’s problem with Messi is that he’s not anyone’s patrimony. At best, if he had come through the ranks of Boca, today there’d be lots of pro-Messi people, which of course, there aren’t. Having been formed over here, then, you consider him a foreigner. It’s ridiculous, but that’s how it is, and it may well affect him, his country, everyone. Messi does get nervous when he tries to imitate himself.
You lot mustn’t believe what you’re seeing when you watch Maradona’s team.
On the contrary to all those teams where they’d get the ball and it was a bloody chore to get it back off them, this Argentina team lives off its opponents’ scraps. And it’s strange, too, how few chances they create. All the less, football matches are decided in the box and Maradona has great players in both. Some people say Messi will only be a great player if he wins a World Cup, and it’s true that he’s still very young; he could even win two. And the day he wins the second, man, it will be a shame, as by then he’ll be 30 and he won’t have much time left. Let’s enjoy it: life is too short to speed it up any further.