Sympathy for De Selby – Parts One & Two

I

That no true Paddy would ever cut a tree into a rectangle has long been one of the axioms by which pegamequemegusta has led its increasingly obtuse life. The Paddy is after all a raggle-taggle creature, his talk garrulous and brimming like the vowels of his native tongue. Moreover, millennia of rain have left his edges poorly-defined. Living so exposed to the elements, traditionally the Paddy had no need for precision time-keeping tools such as those fashioned by the valley-dwelling Swiss. So it was we looked with some dismay a few years back when under the guise of modernising reforms, Dublin’s O’Connell Street saw its fine London Plane trees removed.

The tree, of course, was not native to the island, having its roots in 17th century Spain. Yet after a 100 year residence, it’s fair to say the trees had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. So it was sad to see these sturdy friends of ours hacked down and replaced by puny, inescapably French specimens. The natives had been robust yet wavy, the geometry of their cylindrical trunks offset by a delightfully asymmetric dispersion of branches. They were well able to take a storm. The colonisers, on the other hand, were straight from the pristine Jardin de Luxembourg. They took the form of rectangles and looked shakier than a frigateful of General Hoche’s wastrels. Pegamequemegusta stared aghast at the manicured Parisian abominations, shorn like effete poodles. The Sons of Róisín had made a very poor investment indeed. The Paddies had bought into the idea that Nature not only had been overcome but was also ripe for humiliation. Pegamequemegusta saw it was time to leave. 

II

It was no coincidence, of course, that the fawning Eurofiends in the Corpo had taken their dull inspiration from Paris. They spoke openly of copying the Champs-Élysées. However, it is not just toadiness or the lack of imagination of their employees that led them to this. Nor is it merely the wealth or pervasive quantities of elusive qualities such as class that have made Paris so influential. No, dear naïve, handsome reader, its strength comes from the adoption of geometrical principles. Amazingly, it still appears to be largely unacknowledged even today that these abstract forms are effectively a unique kind of cerebral nosh – brain cocaine we might say, if we were sufficiently recovered for another tilt at David McWilliams’ crown. Rectangles, triangles, – my God – squares! All of these transcendental ideals, not just eternal but eternal and unchanging, evoke the same slathering response in the French intellect as our rocky, moss-stained cliff-base in pegamequemegusta’s poor Paddy mind. 

But why the French? For we would never make so outrageous and unfounded a claim as to suggest that the French people were always thus. No, this is not a characteristic of their race, nor a product of some geographical conditioning unique to the west of the European peninsula. The poor sods had the rule run over them, quite literally. A diabolical pastry chef flattened them with the rolling pin of rationality before using dialectics to mold their minds into predetermined shapes. The genius of it was that it was all under the guise of liberté – just as the McVickers would do with Play-Doh some 150 years later. The infection can be traced to the 17th century and an apparently innocuous flirtation with Aristotelian poetics. Initially it appeared to be benign, and even proved to be a useful tool for getting rid of despots. However, they were already lost; the age of chivalry was gone. The Enlightenment hadn’t brought about any real revolution; ’twas merely a crass exercise in rebranding. The Sun King remained.

The Revolution abolished the traditional provinces in order to institute even greater levels of control. They were replaced by départments to ensure all towns and cities were no more than a day’s horseride from their respective centres of judicial power. In addition, there was a sweeping program of name-changes to destroy regional identity that would make Brian Friel’s worries look  like the hysterical witherings of a man yearning for the time when Snickers was still Marathon. A further aspect of this process was that thenceforth standard French would be imposed ruthlessly by the odious Académie francaise so that everyone would speak the same way. Order, control, homogenisation, the obliteration of all identities deviant from those approved of by a central power. Vive la révolution!

Lest you doubt our assertions here, oh dear francophile reader, barely a few weeks after the Bastille was stormed, the mob had succeeded in having the nobles relinquish their control over the system of weights and measures. In the midst of revolutionary turmoil, Condorcet and his buddies set about decimalising the world in a unified, universal system “for all peoples for all times”. Arbitrary abstractions seeking global, a-historical hegemony. 

It was clear the process had been completed when this mental perversion was extended to the very physiognomy of Paris. Under Napoleon III, the city was redrawn by Baron Haussmann. Perspective, angles, abstract forms brought down from the realm of pure mind; straight from Rome, the Eternal City. Straight avenues are about military parades, about showing power. Whether capital or military, they’re about control. These straight lines also imposed themselves in our consciences – masquerading as rationality when they’re anything but. They’re but ghosts, spectres haunting centuries of classical thought wasted on mind/body dualities. Everything outside or but on the threshold of this fortress of order is irrational, subjective, inconsequential. Such a strong hold does this classical way of thinking exert on the mind that it sees itself as uniquely valid, the only way of approaching truth, despite the fact that the only truth attainable through the method is implied by the original premise. Thus over time, the apparently liberating exercise of rationality becomes, in Foucault’s phrase, the castle of our conscience. 

III

In Argentina, too, there were many who would have the trees cut into rectangles. President Domingo F. Sarmiento, in particular, championed the idea that a chronic lack of form was responsible for the barbaric character of its people. He begins his 1845 book Facundo with a lament that no scientist had thus far been able to measure, with “barometre, compass and octant”, the sprawling Argentine Republic. Subtitled Civilisation and Barbarism, Sarmiento argues that only an influx of European culture, of European order, can save the land from its native wildness. Now this attitude is immediately familiar to us from many other tales of colonialism, the Paddy included. Yet what really grabs pegamequemegusta’s attention in his analysis is that he attributes this wildness to geography. The bleak expanse of the pampas, he claims, is to blame for the formless mess that is the national psyche. The lack of mountains and fortifiable strong points in the Pampas, according to Sarmiento, “has imprinted upon the Argentine character a certain stoic resignation to violent death […] and perhaps this may explain, in part, the indifference with which death is given and received.” This “sea on land” results in a dispersed populace which is impossible to govern and which, shock horror, is not inclined to construct follies or develop culture as there is no-one to show it off to! Instead, the habitants of the Pampas, the gauchos, are “happy in their poverty”, in their barbarism. Sarmiento tuts along with Walter Scott that their main past-time is knife-fighting and racing horses “til they burst”.

How sorely do they need the octant, the compass; how essential is it to run the rule over them so that civilisation can impose some soothing form on the chaos! In 1868 Sarmiento received a medal for having introduced wicker to Argentina, but he was after something far more solid. As president, he had the width and breadth of the land pinned down with telegraph poles (“to bring peace to the Republic”) and he established the first telegraphic communication with Europe. He also oversaw the first census of the nation. The beast was being tied down, now it had to be civilised, educated – in the ways of the West, claro. Hence Sarmiento’s insistence on the extension of Argentina’s schools network, the murder machine.

Another key aspect of Sarmiento’s attempt to tame Argentina in the name of science and progress was the genocide of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the land.  One of the surprising things you notice when you travel around the provincia de Buenos Aires, which is bigger than France incidentally, is the amount of towns whose names reflect the languages of the long since dominated indians, such as Mar de Ajó (guajhó ti meaning a swamp or marsh in the tongue of the original inhabitants). Far more abundant, however, are those named after colonels and generals or with military names, such as Las Armas. These come from the campaigns, contemporaneous with the extermination of the natives of North America, led by Sarmiento’s army.

“For the savages of America I have an overwhelming and irrepressible repugnance. These indians are no more than disgusting wretches, every one of whom I would have hung without a second’s thought. [….] Incapable of progress, their elimination will be providential and useful, sublime and grand. Not even the youngest must be spared, for even he is already consumed by the instinctive hatred of the civilised man.”

To this end, Sarmiento conscripted gauchos into the armed forces, in order to take out another enemy of progress. “The only human quality they have,” said Sarmiento of the now celebrated gaucho, “is the blood that flows in their veins.”

The gauchos also had a voice, however, one that expressed quite a different view of the rolling pampas. Like all weak-minded ideologues, spiritual cowards with a neurotic obsession with certainty, Sarmiento was distressed by the ungovernability of the pampas, the country’s sprawling id. The gauchos had embraced it, however, made it their home, accepted its hardships, rode free across the wilds unencumbered by barbarous rationality. José Hernández’s Martín Fierro relates the end of the gaucho way of life as progress steams across the land. Unlike the legend of John Henry, however, technology is not the enemy here, rather agents of the City:

The enduring popularity of Martín Fierro is testament to the fact that Sarmiento’s attempt to digitise the minds of the pueblo was not entirely successful. However, to this day the play of opposing forces implied in the subtitle of Facundo, Civilisation & Barbarism, remains part of the nation’s discourse. The idea that Argentina is but a distorted mirror image of Europe, its crack-addict cousin, and that it must strive to copy the motherland, is firmly embedded. It has become one of those tropes, commonplaces, a reflex in the national psyche. Despite the fondness for Martín Fierro’s andanzas, in the minds of many ‘Europe’ remains a synonym for progress, efficiency, modernity. Europe is good. When the new stadium in La Plata was inaugurated in advance of the Copa América this year, the commentator’s spoke of how European it was, how modern, as if it was another triumph by the Argentines over themselves. In a similar vein, despite being quite nationalistic in many respects, Argentines are never slow to run their country down, saying ‘Ah only in Argentina, eh?’, when usually they aren’t unique at all in their failings. Affording too much respect to the backward West is an unfortunate aspect of Sarmiento’s legacy.

IV

One might ascribe this attitude on the part of the South Americans to purely economic and historical factors. However, pegamequemegusta contends that it is ideological, that it has its roots in Sarmiento. Football provides plenty of examples of this. Brazil, for one thing, don’t seem to suffer from the same inferiority complex the Argentines do. Instead they have mística ganadora, as the vague but lovely phrase has it.

Though perhaps the Brazilians are a case apart in South America, owing to the insanely influential Papal whim that was the Treaty of Tordesillas. Besides all the racial, cultural and economic differences, there is of course supreme pancake of language. Yet it goes beyond the mere tongue they speak, it’s a question of attitude to that tongue. A few years back, for example, the Brazilians decided to build a museum devoted to the Portuguese language. The paltry prosciutto-thin sliver of Iberia where it originated was barely mentioned. ‘Portuguese’ was the language of Brazil, by gum; the land yearning for the return of King Sebastian was little more than an embarrassment, poorly-clad relatives to be suffered out of sight at a back table.  The Spanish-speaking countries of South America, on the other hand, despite all the work gone into integration in recent years, still lack a body to observe and manage the use of ‘Spanish’. The Real Academia Española, as politically motivated and nefarious as its notorious French counterpart, remains the only entity that defines words and proper usage. This is despite the fact that castillian Spanish – insofar as even that exists – is a barely tolerable mush of brow-bespittling balderdash.

Even until the mid-20th century, most Argentine poets still regarded their own way of speaking as somehow not worthy of literature. When César Fernández Moreno finally broke the trend in 1953, the most natural thing in the world needed to be sold as an exaggerated polemic as he titled his (awesome) collection Argentino hasta la muerte, or Argentine ’til I die.

It’s an irredeemably false debate yet Europe weighs upon the country’s discourse like an invisible mass in space causing light to bend, stories to flow into pre-ordained channels. Hence we have the essentially empty Tevez v Messi talk. Carlitos is representative of the pueblo, a loveable rogue, a hardworker, rough round the edges but honest. Messi is a suspiciously perfect stranger, from another planet, a freak as opposed to a manifestation of criollo genius as Maradona was. Or you might hear a more objective-sounding, purely football-related distinction whereby the stocky, powerful deadliness that defines Tevez could be argued to be more typically Argentine than the preternaturally speedy dribbling that characterises Messi’s game. Whichever way you look at it, it’s false. Besides the fact that Messi, after having spent half his life in Barcelona still has a thick Rosarine accent, just this morning [Friday] he stopped his Maserati to pick up an Argentine radio presenter (Andy Kusnetzoff) he recognised on the street for a bit of a chat (with no image-boosting interview); whereas Tevez this week gave us a clear example that he’s suffering from Liam Gallagher syndrome, having become a parody of himself.

Today in Argentina, contrary to what some of the gringo press are wont to say, no serious folk give any credence to this particular manifestation of the ersatz Apollonioan/Dionysian dichotomy. That is the preserve of Robbie Savage types and Mary from Clontarf. Not just because they’ve been worn down by the sheer surge of Messi’s stats and achievements, but because he has changed. We’ve all seen the changes in his game, how he’s added more and more facets to it, even seeming to become hungrier as the years (he’s 24, begob) have gone by, how he’s come out of his shell. He no longer looks quite so geeky, no longer sports the pegamequemegustan autistic gurn he does in the above video.

The revealing thing about it, though is that the question arose at all. All countries have their ghosts, all teams have their rivalries, real and imagined. However, the Johnny Sexton/Ronan O’Gara question has not, so far at least, involved any ruminations on the east/west, Dublin/country, Saxon/Celt, Catholic/Protestant, Parnell/Pearse, Tayto/King, Lidl/Aldi, vehicle/ve-hi-cal derivatives. Over here, though, it would, and as we’ve seen it’s inescapably linked to questions of urban design in Ireland’s capital, so pay attention. We’re not done yet.

V

As you well know, oh dear most handsome of literate folk, Dr. Batistentein’s monstrous misadventure at the Copa America was preceded by a some of the emptiest talk of revolution since Obama sealed his spot on the lucrative after-dinner speech circuit. Checho donned a pair of hot-pants and went tomb spelunking alright, but he couldn’t even find Perón’s hands. He spent all year engaged in acts of such indignity that the dregs of Eurotrash ended up blocking him on twitter. A vague, baseless aspiration to ‘play like Barcelona’ was the manifestation of as weak-willed a Sarmentinism as one is likely to see this side of a resurgent Euro. 

Hence, law of the pendulum notwithstanding, it was no surprise that when Alejandro Sabella took over last month more of a nationalistic bent should be put on things. After all, Sabella had made his name in Argieball relatively recently, coming out from Passarella’s ever-thinning shadow to guide Estudiantes to the Libertadores as well as taking Barcelona to extra-time in the final of the World Club Championship, before ultimately succumbing to, well, Messi. Thus, in theory at least, he should be more au fait with the produce of the local farmer’s market. Why import cucumbers, radishes and militos from abroad when there are plenty of tasty vegetables right here, mercifully free, moreover, of the poisonous additives employed in less fertile foreign lands to tart up their dry, mealy marrows. Sabella could judge ripeness, by smell alone, blindfolded and in the next room, to within a nanosecond. On the tour in Calcutta and Bangladesh, the duplicitous Doc Bilardo tried to pass off a plantain as a banana. His trousers were put on a raft in the Ganges and set alight. 

Yes, there was a new general in town. As was to be expected, Olé was enthusiastic about the coup. Pachorra got the front cover, dressed up to look like one of the country’s founding fathers, the man who had designed the fatherland’s flag (either inspired by the colours of the celestial vault or in homage to the no less celestial vault that is the mother of Jebus), Juan Manuel Belgrano:

Yet let there be no mistake – this is no reactionary, protectionist nationalism (not that there’s much wrong with protectionism, nationalism or being a reactionary…). Rather, it’s about getting the most out of what unites Argentine players, what they have in common, about maximising their sense of belonging, to the group, to their countrymen, to the colours of the flag. Using his lovably Bielsan reading glasses as nothing more than a prop, Sabella mentioned Belgrano as an example of the generosity of spirit that he’ll be looking for in his team: “He gave everything for his country. He was rich but he died poor. [….] He put the common good ahead of individual gain.” 

Of course, Sabella also quoted JFK that day, but the Sarmentine paradox required a narrative swing toward the criollo. The general mock-up of the new manager was just a handy editorial twist. It begs the question, however, of what lessons one might draw from the life and career of Manuel Belgrano. After all, his name is probably familiar to you, dear exemplar of handsome savviness, as that of the ship torpedoed by the English during the Malvinas conflict, or the team that sank River down to the murky depths of la B Nacional a few months back. Hmm.

Well, Belgrano doesn’t seem to have been a particularly great general. While certainly a leader, he was more of an Enlightenment figure, an economist, than, say, San Martín, whose audacious crossing of the Andes did more to consolidate the new state than anything Belgrano had ever done. However, many of his campaigns were notable for how outnumbered he was, for his persistence in the face of defeats and his continually being summoned back to Buenos Aires to stand trial for the same – the equivalent in the football world these days of having Julio Grondona mutter darkly about the jersey losing its prestige. All this took its toll and his death, at the age of 50, went largely unnoticed. Indeed, he had to sell his clock and carriage to his doctor just to pay for his treatment in the last few months of his life. His last words reflected this not-so-triumphant state of affairs: Ay patria mía. Only in retrospect was he fully appreciated, a massive state funeral being held the following year; while in 1902 his remains were exhumed and placed in a mausoleum. Controversy still dogged the poor man, however, as some of his teeth were stolen and given away as presents. Except for the fact that Belgrano now adorns the ten peso-note, none of this bodes particularly well for Sabella, you’ll agree, dear most handsome and singular of readers.

VI

Yea, there are several other complicating factors that look set to hinder the new manager’s tenure. Competent, fruit-savvy football man though he may be, how to resolve the old Orangeries roast chestnut of the lack of resources in key positions is hoarier than the most loose-moralled of winter morns. Having a knowledge and an appreciation of the talents on offer in Argieball is most welcome; it should lead to a more serious renovation of the playing staff than that undertaken by the twitprick who previously occupied the post, especially at full-back, where Clemente, Papa and Pillúd are all arguably the equal of Zabaleta.

Successive Argentina managers have flirted with the idea of using players from the local competition, however, without ever seeking to go steady. Before his moment of clarity in South Africa, Maradona called up many Argieballers but never gave them an extended run in the team. Indeed, in the infamous Shawshank Redemption game against Perú in the Monumental (October 2009), he took off a debutant at half time. Likewise, Batista made a few media-friendly nominations for his friendlies, calling up el Burrito Martínez for the Portugal friendly, for example: after flying across the Atlantic he got 15mins, won the penalty that won them the game (Messi)… and was never heard from again, despite being the best player for the best team in the country. Of all the managers over the last five years, however, it was arguably el Coco Basile who put most faith in the demos, b-sides and bootlegs of Argieball’s raucous chorus. Against Bielsa’s Chile in Santiago in 2008, he started Colón’s Cristian Ledesma, while his three substitutions (el Cata Díaz, Bergessio, Pepe Sand) were also prominent proponents of Argieball’s unique Innisfree-paced skill and violence. They lost 1-0, the first time Argentina had lost to Chile since the popularisation of slacks. An act of desperation, a cry for help – my God, it featured Diego mufa Milito! – el Coco resigned immediately after the game.

Arguably, the local league’s stock was slightly higher at that point. After all, Román’s Boca had won the Libertadores in great style the previous year, Maxi Moralez and el Kun Agüero’s band of pibes had picked up the under-20 World Cup (in which Higuaín refused to play) without adding a furrow to their youthful brows, while the Olympics win had given further reason for faith in the health of the national competition.

Roll on four years and you hear Racing manager Diego Simeone, recently returned from an unremarkable stint with Catania in Serie A, openly disparaging the competition: everything here is backward; the ‘fans’ are too small-minded to let the visionary managers unfurl their dreams; the football is tighter than the lovechild of Joey Tight Lips and Iain Paisley; the clubs chop and change like E-Honda in his ill-fated biopic of Alcibiades, A Fistful of Drachmas (2012). Plus, River are in la B, a psychological twister that, while it doesn’t change the material fact of the good work done by other clubs such as Godoy Cruz, Lanús, Racing (?), it most certainly sows a sense of crisis and unreality as the shadow world coexists (in the tv schedules at least) with the real one. Indeed, when the AFA notoriously planned to merge Primera and la B, the murky cave with the sunlit world above, the project was only abandoned after it aroused the ire of football fans and hardline Platonists everywhere. That there should be a considerable gulf in class between the two divisions did not appear to be a concern. Although well-overdue, the resulting – increasingly open – disaffection with Grondona, another result of Riber’s descent to the land of spectres, has served to undermine confidence in the local league even further. 

VII

Nevertheless, for his first competitive game in charge of Argentina for what are shaping up to be some trouser-bulging World Cup qualifiers, Sabella has picked an Argieballer, el Chapu Braña, to start in centre midfield. Having been sent off against Uruguay last July, Mascherano is suspended for the opener against Chile, but of all the players to accompany Banega in the middle, Braña had never even occurred to us. Pegamequemegusta was eager to see Gago get another chance, as he was one of the few who really performed at the Copa América, when no-one (and especially not us) believed in him. Lucho González, who played in the Venezuela friendly last month, also seemed a likely candidate. They’re both cast from a rather different mold of player, of course, but we’re sick of this Makelele Role nonsense. Alex Ferguson has never payed it much heed. Besides, even if Sabella wanted to insist on someone from the local league, or even just someone playing in South America, he had other options: The Man From Lanús, Diego Valeri (25), has been schmoozing his way through games as part of Argentina’s most sensible midfield for a while now; while Bolatti (26), who went to the World Cup last year and currently appears to be doing well with Internacional in Brazil, would have been a relatively safe choice; even Yacob (24), captain of Racing and la Selección local, wouldn’t have been as odd a choice as Braña, who at 32 is hardly one for the future. 

No, Braña’s call-up is a leather jacket call-up, it’s a punch-up and a battered sausage, it’s the safety of an episode of Friends and a wife-sized bag of Chewits. It’s not a bet for the future; it’s a search for loyalty. El Chapu and Sabella won some important titles together at Estudiantes, including the Libertadores, and the new manager must feel he possesses that generosity of spirit for the patria he reckons so crucial to be successful in these qualifiers. Hence the inclusion of other ex-Estudiantes players in the likely line-up for tomorrow’s game: Sicily’s finest unplugger of hairy clogs, Mariano Andújar, for the injured Romero, and bearded devil worshipper now torturing small animals with Metalist, José Sosa. It’s not political, it’s not nationalistic, it’s just pragmatic.

This was a recurring theme in his press conference on Thursday night. Simplicity is the key. Sabella made pegamequemegusta feel all warm inside last night with his defence of 4-4-2 as the most sensible formation midst a general dismissal of frilly-shirts, cravats and wearing your pyjamas to the supermarket. Nonetheless, he refused to play the numbers game, insisting a formation is nothing without the commitment of the players that make it up. “Systems are defined by the players themselves. Once the ball is moving, it’s the players’ individual characteristics that determine the dynamics of a game.”

In that spirit, thankfully, he has resisted the temptation to shoehorn strikers into wide positions or play Messi as the number 10 behind a platoon of headless chickens. He spoke at length about cohesiveness, about forging strong bonds within the group. Over and over again he referred to pertenencia, belonging; he spoke about building a ‘monolith’ – a fitting image when you consider some of Argentina’s performances over the last five years have closely resembled a group of apes flinging excrement at each other.  

Unlike Checho, who apparently thought he could will movement and incisiveness into being, while letting the defence take care of itself, Sabella almost seems to be building his side from the back. His talk has been mercilessly free of Batistensteinian demagogy regarding  a passing game, which is nice of course but impossible without organisation, without pressure, without teamwork, without sacrifice. This all sounds lovely, and we think it’s the right approach. Over the last few years, however, few things have dented togetherness, added to confusion and sapped confidence than the continual chopping and changing in the squad and the team. While selecting Braña for this game might be a pragmatic move, pegamequemegusta isn’t sure that it will do the team much good in the long-term. The South American qualifiers go on for two years, of course, but as we’ve we’ve seen time and time again, short-term club form is largely irrelevant when it comes to international football. Hopefully, Sabella will heed his own advice regarding cohesiveness and belonging and stick to a settled squad of 25-30 players for the entire campaign. 

VIII

When Argentina-Chile kicks off tonight, pegamequemegusta hopes to see a rejection of Sarmentine Civilisation in favour of an enlightened barbarism. Contrary to what one may think, Argentina has long been pursued by the debilitating ghosts of rationality, held back by a vain logomachy inimical to the spirit of the pueblo.

Whereas in Dublin this alienating process was but a frivolous footnote to the house binge, in Argentina it is much more firmly ensconced. Why, in Sabella’s La Plata last July as we stood sucking pebbles peering at a map, we knew something was up but couldn’t quite put our crutch on it. The map was simultaneously mesmerising and terrifying. Then, a passing sobbing into a cone-shaped begging bowl mistook us for a tourist seeking directions. ‘Stay within the triangle,’ he wailed. To our horror, we noticed that the city, far from the tolerable grid so delectably broken up by the untamable Atlantic down in Mardel, consisted of a the kind of fantasy a geometrist would only confide to a priest after slapping a padlock on the confessional – Eternal lines thwarting the transient, precarious present; the State reinforcing the authority of the timeless, asserting your reality is but a secondary phenomenon, a shadow, a vulgar joke lacking the sophistication of an able-bodied rectangle. 

Thus far, however, Sabella has threatened to revert this sorry tale of violence on the minds of the pueblo, lost in its own land, colonised by a perfidious philosophy. For induction, as Poincaré, one of that merry band of sensible Frenchmen, says, is only the affirmation of a property of the mind itself; intuition is the instrument of invention. We’re promised an end to order-induced anxiety, angst and confusion precluded by a refusal to define. The pueblo, and la Selección, might finally have found someone who’ll wield his shears sparingly, delight in asymmetry without adhering to any demented European blueprint. And wins the odd football match.

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Sympathy for De Selby – Part One

I

That no true Paddy would ever cut a tree into a rectangle has long been one of the axioms by which pegamequemegusta has led its increasingly obtuse life. The Paddy is after all a raggle-taggle creature, his talk garrulous and brimming like the vowels of his native tongue. Moreover, millennia of rain have left his edges poorly-defined. Living so exposed to the elements, traditionally the Paddy had no need for precision time-keeping tools such as those fashioned by the valley-dwelling Swiss. So it was we looked with some dismay a few years back when under the guise of modernising reforms, Dublin’s O’Connell Street saw its fine London Plane trees removed.

The tree, of course, was not native to the island, having its roots in 17th century Spain. Yet after a 100 year residence, it’s fair to say the trees had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. So it was sad to see these sturdy friends of ours hacked down and replaced by puny, inescapably French specimens. The natives had been robust yet wavy, the geometry of their cylindrical trunks offset by a delightfully asymmetric dispersion of branches. They were well able to take a storm. The colonisers, on the other hand, were straight from the pristine Jardin de Luxembourg. They took the form of rectangles and looked shakier than a frigateful of General Hoche’s wastrels. Pegamequemegusta stared aghast at the manicured Parisian abominations, shorn like effete poodles. The Sons of Róisín had made a very poor investment indeed. The Paddies had bought into the idea that Nature not only had been overcome but was also ripe for humiliation. Pegamequemegusta saw it was time to leave.

I

That no true Paddy would ever cut a tree into a rectangle has long been one of the axioms by which pegamequemegusta has led its increasingly obtuse life. The Paddy is after all a raggle-taggle creature, his talk garrulous and brimming like the vowels of his native tongue. Moreover, millennia of rain have left his edges poorly-defined. Living so exposed to the elements, traditionally the Paddy had no need for precision time-keeping tools such as those fashioned by the valley-dwelling Swiss. So it was we looked with some dismay a few years back when under the guise of modernising reforms, Dublin’s O’Connell Street saw its fine London Plane trees removed.

The tree, of course, was not native to the island, having its roots in 17th century Spain. Yet after a 100 year residence, it’s fair to say the trees had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. So it was sad to see these sturdy friends of ours hacked down and replaced by puny, inescapably French specimens. The natives had been robust yet wavy, the geometry of their cylindrical trunks offset by a delightfully asymmetric dispersion of branches. They were well able to take a storm. The colonisers, on the other hand, were straight from the pristine Jardin de Luxembourg. They took the form of rectangles and looked shakier than a frigateful of General Hoche’s wastrels. Pegamequemegusta stared aghast at the manicured Parisian abominations, shorn like effete poodles. The Sons of Róisín had made a very poor investment indeed. The Paddies had bought into the idea that Nature not only had been overcome but was also ripe for humiliation. Pegamequemegusta saw it was time to leave. 

II

It was no coincidence, of course, that the nouveau-mortos in the Corpo had taken their dull inspiration from Paris. They spoke openly of copying the Champs-Élysées. However, it is not just toadiness or the lack of imagination of their employees that led them to this. Nor is it merely the wealth or pervasive quantities of elusive qualities such as class that have made Paris so influential. No, dear naïve, handsome reader, its strength comes from the adoption of geometrical principles. Amazingly, it still appears to be largely unacknowledged even today that these abstract forms are effectively a unique kind of cerebral nosh – brain cocaine we might say, if we were sufficiently recovered for another tilt at David McWilliams’ crown. Rectangles, triangles, – my God – squares! All of these transcendental ideals, not just eternal but eternal and unchanging, evoke the same slathering response in the French intellect as our rocky, moss-stained cliff-base in pegamequemegusta’s poor Paddy mind. 

But why the French? For we would never make so outrageous and unfounded a claim as to suggest that the French people were always thus. No, this is not a characteristic of their race, nor a product of some geographical conditioning unique to the west of the European peninsula. The poor sods had the rule run over them, quite literally. A diabolical pastry chef flattened them with the rolling pin of rationality before using dialectics to mold their minds into predetermined shapes. The genius of it was that it was all under the guise of liberté – just as the McVickers would do with Play-Doh some 150 years later. The infection can be traced to the 17th century and an apparently innocuous flirtation with Aristotelian poetics. Initially it appeared to be benign, and even proved to be a useful tool for getting rid of despots. However, they were already lost; the age of chivalry was gone. The Enlightenment hadn’t brought about any real revolution; ’twas merely a crass exercise in rebranding. The Sun King remained. 

The Revolution abolished the traditional provinces in order to institute even greater levels of control. They were replaced by départments to ensure all towns and cities were no more than a day’s horseride from their respective centres of judicial powercloser. In addition, there was a sweeping program of name-changes to destroy regional identity that would make Brian Friel’s worries look like the hysterical witherings of a man yearning for the time when Snickers was still Marathon. A further aspect of this process was that thenceforth standard French would be imposed ruthlessly by the odious Académie francaise so that everyone would speak the same way. Order, control, homogenisation, the obliteration of all identities deviant from those approved of by a central power. The French colonised themselves. 

Lest you doubt our assertions here, oh dear francophile reader, barely a few weeks after the Bastille was stormed, the mob had succeeded in having the nobles relinquish their control over the system of weights and measures. In the midst of revolutionary turmoil, Condorcet and his buddies set about decimalising the world in a unified, universal system “for all peoples for all times”. Arbitrary abstractions seeking global, a-historical hegemony. 

It was clear the process had been completed when this mental perversion was extended to the very physiognomy of Paris. Under Napoleon III, the city was redrawn by Baron Haussmann. Perspective, angles, abstract forms brought down from the realm of pure mind; straight from Rome, the Eternal City. Straight avenues are about military parades, about showing power. Whether capital or military, they’re about control. These straight lines also imposed themselves in our consciences – masquerading as rationality when they’re anything but. They’re but ghosts, spectres haunting centuries of classical thought wasted on mind/body dualities. Everything outside or but on the threshold of this fortress of order is irrational, subjective, inconsequential. Such a strong hold does this classical way of thinking exert on the mind that it sees itself as uniquely valid, the only way of approaching truth, despite the fact that the only truth attainable through the method is implied by the original premise. Thus over time, the apparently liberating exercise of rationality becomes, in Foucault’s phrase, the castle of our conscience. 

III

In Argentina, too, there were many who would have the trees cut into rectangles. President Domingo F. Sarmiento, in particular, championed the idea that a chronic lack of form was responsible for the barbaric character of its people. He begins his 1845 book Facundo with a lament that no scientist had thus far been able to measure, with “barometre, compass and octant”, the sprawling Argentine Republic. Subtitled Civilisation and Barbarism, Sarmiento argues that only an influx of European culture, of European order, can save the land from its native wildness.

Now this attitude is immediately familiar to us from many other tales of colonialism, the Paddy included. Yet what really grabs pegamequemegusta’s attention in his analysis is that he attributes this wildness to geography. The bleak expanse of the pampas, he claims, is to blame for the formless mess that is the national psyche. The lack of mountains and fortifiable strong points in the Pampas, according to Sarmiento, “has imprinted upon the Argentine character a certain stoic resignation to violent death […] and perhaps this may explain, in part, the indifference with which death is given and received.” This “sea on land” results in a dispersed populace which is impossible to govern and which, shock horror, is not inclined to construct follies or develop culture as there is no-one to show it off to! Instead, the habitants of the Pampas, the gauchos, are “happy in their poverty”, in their barbarism. Sarmiento tuts along with Walter Scott that their main past-time is knife-fighting and racing horses “til they burst”.

How sorely do they need the octant, the compass; how essential is it to run the rule over them so that civilisation can impose some soothing form on the chaos! In 1868 Sarmiento received a medal for having introduced wicker to Argentina, but he was after something far more solid. As president, he had the width and breadth of the land pinned down with telegraph poles (“to bring peace to the Republic”) and he established the first telegraphic communication with Europe. He also oversaw the first census of the nation. The beast was being tied down, now it had to be civilised, educated – in the ways of the West, claro. Hence Sarmiento’s insistence on the extension of Argentina’s schools network, the murder machine.

Another key aspect of Sarmiento’s attempt to tame Argentina in the name of science and progress was the genocide of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the land.  One of the surprising things you notice when you travel around the provincia de Buenos Aires, which is bigger than France incidentally, is the amount of towns whose names reflect the languages of the long since dominated indians, such as Mar de Ajó (guajhó ti meaning a swamp or marsh in the tongue of the original inhabitants). Far more abundant, however, are those named after colonels and generals or with military names, such as Las Armas. These come from the campaigns, contemporaneous with the extermination of the natives of North America, led by Sarmiento’s army.

“For the savages of America I have an overwhelming and irrepressible repugnance. These indians are no more than disgusting wretches, every one of whom I would have hung without a second’s thought. [….] Incapable of progress, their elimination will be providential and useful, sublime and grand. Not even the youngest must be spared, for even he is already consumed by the instinctive hatred of the civilised man.”

To this end, Sarmiento conscripted gauchos into the armed forces, in order to take out another enemy of progress. “The only human quality they have,” said Sarmiento of the now celebrated gaucho, “is the blood that flows in their veins.”

The gauchos also had a voice, however, one that expressed quite a different view of the rolling pampas. Like all weak-minded ideologues, spiritual cowards with a neurotic obsession with certainty, Sarmiento was distressed by the ungovernability of the pampas, the country’s sprawling id. The gauchos had embraced it, however, made it their home, accepted its hardships, rode free across the wilds unencumbered by barbarous rationality. José Hernández’s Martín Fierro relates the end of the gaucho way of life as progress steams across the land. Unlike the legend of John Henry, however, technology is not the enemy here, rather agents of the City:

The enduring popularity of Martín Fierro is testament to the fact that Sarmiento’s attempt to digitise the minds of the pueblo was not entirely successful. However, to this day the play of opposing forces implied in the subtitle of Facundo, Civilisation & Barbarism, remains part of the nation’s discourse. The idea that Argentina is but a distorted mirror image of Europe, its crack-addict cousin, and that it must strive to copy the motherland, is firmly embedded. It has become one of those tropes, commonplaces, a reflex in the national psyche. Despite the fondness for Martín Fierro’s andanzas, in the minds of many ‘Europe’ remains a synonym for progress, efficiency, modernity. Europe is good. When the new stadium in La Plata was inaugurated in advance of the Copa América this year, the commentator’s spoke of how European it was, how modern, as if it was another triumph by the Argentines over themselves. In a similar vein, despite being quite nationalistic in many respects, Argentines are never slow to run their country down, saying ‘Ah only in Argentina, eh?’, when usually they aren’t unique at all in their failings. Affording too much respect to the backward West is an unfortunate aspect of Sarmiento’s legacy.

IV

One might ascribe this attitude on the part of the South Americans to purely economic and historical factors. However, pegamequemegusta contends that it is ideological, that it has its roots in Sarmiento. Football provides plenty of examples of this. Brazil, for one thing, don’t seem to suffer from the same inferiority complex the Argentines do. Instead they have mística ganadora, as the vague but lovely phrase has it.

Though perhaps the Brazilians are a case apart in South America, owing to the insanely influential Papal whim that was the Treaty of Tordesillas. Besides all the racial, cultural and economic differences, there is of course supreme pancake of language. Yet it goes beyond the mere tongue they speak, it’s a question of attitude to that tongue. A few years back, for example, the Brazilians decided to build a museum devoted to the Portuguese language. The paltry, prosciutto-thin sliver of Iberia where it originated was barely mentioned. ‘Portuguese’ was the language of Brazil, by gum; the land yearning for the return of King Sebastian was little more than an embarrassment, a poorly-clad relative to be suffered out of sight at a back table.  The Spanish-speaking countries of South America, on the other hand, despite all the work gone into integration in recent years, still lack a body to observe and manage the use of ‘Spanish’. The Real Academia Española, as politically motivated and nefarious as its notorious French counterpart, remains the only entity that defines words and proper usage. This is despite the fact that castillian Spanish – insofar as even that exists – is a barely tolerable mush of brow-bespittling balderdash.

Even until the mid-20th century, most Argentine poets still regarded their own way of speaking as somehow not worthy of literature. When César Fernández Moreno finally broke the trend in 1953, the most natural thing in the world needed to be sold as an exaggerated polemic as he titled his (awesome) collection Argentino hasta la muerte, or Argentine ’til I die.

It’s an irredeemably false debate yet Europe weighs upon the country’s discourse like black matter causing light to bend, stories to flow into pre-ordained channels. Hence we have the essentially empty Tevez v Messi talk. Carlitos is representative of the pueblo, a loveable rogue, a hardworker, rough round the edges but honest. Messi is a suspiciously perfect stranger, from another planet, a freak as opposed to a manifestation of criollo genius as Maradona was. Or you might hear a more objective-sounding, purely football-related distinction whereby the stocky, powerful deadliness that defines Tevez could be argued to be more typically Argentine than the preternaturally speedy dribbling that characterises Messi’s game. Whichever way you look at it, it’s false. Besides the fact that Messi, after having spent half his life in Barcelona still has a thick Rosarine accent, just this morning [Friday] he stopped his Maserati to pick up an Argentine radio presenter (Andy Kusnetzoff) he recognised on the street for a bit of a chat (with no image-boosting interview); whereas Tevez this week gave us a clear example that he’s suffering from Liam Gallagher syndrome, having become a parody of himself.

Today in Argentina, contrary to what some of the gringo press are wont to say, no serious folk give any credence to this particular manifestation of the ersatz Apollonioan/Dionysian dichotomy. That is the preserve of Robbie Savage types and Mary from Clontarf. Not just because they’ve been worn down by the sheer surge of Messi’s stats and achievements, but because he has changed. We’ve all seen the changes in his game, how he’s added more and more facets to it, even seeming to become hungrier as the years (he’s 24, begob) have gone by, how he’s come out of his shell. He no longer looks quite so geeky, no longer sports the pegamequemegustan autistic gurn he does in the above video.

The revealing thing about it, though is that the question arose at all. All countries have their ghosts, all teams have their rivalries, real and imagined. However, the Johnny Sexton/Ronan O’Gara question has not, so farat least, involved any ruminations on the east/west, Dublin/country, Saxon/Celt, Catholic/Protestant, Parnell/Pearse, Tayto/King, Lidl/Aldi, vehicle/ve-hi-cal derivatives. Over here, though, it would, and as we’ve seen it’s inescapably linked to questions of urban design in Ireland’s capital, so pay attention. We’re not done yet.

Maradona v Don Gaga – A Coffee-Fuelled Foetor at the AFA

Pegamequemegusta is a soft-bellied creature. Prone to bewildering deflations of the spirit which leave us powerless to control events – despite the initial positive prognosis, despite widespread hopes in the pueblo that we would at least challenge for some level of respectability in this world. Hence no doubt our sympathies with Racing. Hence no doubt our fascination with damn construction and the inevitable flooding of valleys it involves. Far above the petty spectrum of beaver architects or even city planners, those aggrandised, gentrifying Haussmann figures who tear down tenements for monuments to their own ego, projects such as the construction of man-made reservoirs can only be the product of a mad, Lex Luthor-style genius, of one who thinks on a cosmic scale. Such will!

Rivers diverted and blocked, towns and villages abandoned, railway lines pulled up, stations demolished, mountains turned into islands, thousands of graves dug up and moved; the years of patient waiting as the designated glen fills and fills with water so that once arable land and boroughs become drowned ghost towns, sailless wrecks disappear beneath billions of feet of water so yuppies in far off metropoli can leave the tap running as they brush their teeth. Yes, our tiny laptop fingers tremble with Kurtz-like wonder before the gaggle of inoculated one-armed children.

As a foulness shall ye know them

– H. P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror

I

Pegamequemegusta is a soft-bellied creature. Prone to bewildering deflations of the spirit which leave us powerless to control events – despite the initial positive prognosis, despite widespread hopes in the pueblo that we would at least challenge for some level of respectability in this world. Hence no doubt our sympathies with Racing. Hence no doubt our fascination with damn construction and the inevitable flooding of valleys it involves. Far above the petty spectrum of beaver architects or even city planners, those aggrandised, gentrifying Haussmann figures who tear down tenements for monuments to their own ego, projects such as the construction of man-made reservoirs can only be the product of a mad, Lex Luthor-style genius, of one who thinks on a cosmic scale. Such will!

Rivers diverted and blocked, towns and villages abandoned, railway lines pulled up, stations demolished, mountains turned into islands, thousands of graves dug up and moved; the years of patient waiting as the designated glen fills and fills with water so that once arable land and boroughs become drowned ghost towns, sailless wrecks disappear beneath billions of feet of water so yuppies in far off metropoli can leave the tap running as they brush their teeth. Yes, our tiny laptop fingers tremble with Kurtz-like wonder before the gaggle of inoculated one-armed children.

The construction of the Quabbin reservoir in Massachusetts in the 1930s is a case in point. Four towns were destroyed as the Swift River Valley was flooded to provide water for the denizens of Boston. James Tate sets a poem there:

There was a village at the bottom of the lake,
and I could just make out the old post office,
and, occasionally, when the light struck it just right,
I glimpsed several mailmen swimming in or out of it,
letters and packages escaping randomly, 1938, 1937,
it didn’t matter to them any longer. Void.
No such address. Soft blazes squirmed across the surface
and I could see their church, now home to druid squatters,
rock in the intoxicating current, as if to an ancient hymn.

Not his best but nice all the same. In any case, do bear with ol’ pegamequemegusta, for Tate’s not the only author to set a tale in the drowned Swift River Valley. No! dear handsome reader. A couple of H. P. Lovecraft’s tales also unfold in the murky depths of the still grassy valleys: The Dunwich Horror and The Colour Out of Space.

Both stories seem like ripe material for hammy, Ed Wood-style B-movies with lurching, tentacled monsters and buxom, screaming damsels. The Dunwich Horror features a creature born of a spindly albino girl impregnated by some being not of this orb who stalks the countryside flattening houses and leaving tar-like deposits in its wake like an incontinent aunt; while the malignant presence in the The Colour Out of Space is effectively formless, an infestation that begins with the crashing of a meteorite in the valley floor, which leaves

five acres of grey desolation that sprawled open to the sky like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields.

Both manifestations of evil are invisible, either because they exist in another dimension or are too small to be seen, leaving Lovecraft room to crank even a dulled imagination such as ours into gear.

However, what really makes them good readin’ is something cinema’s not usually particularly adept at conveying, smell. The Dunwich Horror, in particular, abounds in elaborate descriptions of noxious odours. Lovecraft is especially fond of the word foetor, (‘lethal foetor’, ‘ineffable foetor’, indefinable foetor’) and its more common adjetival cousin, foetid, and pegamequemegusta, for one, cannot blame him:

 A single lightning bolt shot from the purple zenith to the altar-stone, and a great tidal wave of viewless force and indescribable stench swept down from the hill to all the countryside. Trees, grass, and under-brush were whipped into a fury; and the frightened crowd at the mountain’s base, weakened by the lethal foetor that seemed about to asphyxiate them, were almost hurled off their feet. Dogs howled from the distance, green grass and foliage wilted to a curious, sickly yellow-grey, and over field and forest were scattered the bodies of dead whippoorwills.

Indescribable stench is good.

II

Pegamequemegusta was reminded of all this recently when we heard national institution Victor Hugo Morales (on his one hour evening show, not his four-hour morning show – for a supposedly impatient people, the Argentines certainly like their radio to be rather epic) discussing Maradona’s latest accusations regarding don Julio Grondona, familiar to all regular perusers of this blog as the devil incarnate. Victor Hugo, of course, was the commentator for Maradona’s second goal against England in ’86, famously exclaiming: “Oh barrilete cósmico [lit. ‘cosmic kite’], what planet did you come from?!” On this evening, however, the source of the disturbance in the celeste y blanco force was considerably more earthy. After a while weighing up the evidence and statements of the various parties, Victor Hugo was uncharacteristically exasperated: “Anyone who has known anything about the AFA for years now could not but reel at the stench that comes out of that place. It’s asphyxiating.”

We should probably not be too surprised that foul odours should result from what Maradona claimed was some industrial strength coffee ahead of Argentina’s World Cup play-off with Australia in 1993:

In the play-offs there was no drug-testing because otherwise Argentina wouldn’t have made it to the World Cup. There had been in all the other matches but for that particular game, no. Why? ‘Cause they’d give you some ultrasonic coffee that’d make you bang the ball in the top corner. They put something in your coffee to make you run more. And Grondona knew.

Of course el Diego was merely speaking figuratively but, his phrase-coining genius being arguably as potent as his left foot, the phrase café veloz has now been filed away by the ten-strong staff in the patent office dedicated solely to the recording of his mots. 

A lot of people have taken his statement literally but putting performance enhancing drugs in coffee doesn’t really sound like the most efficient way to take them, especially when you’ve already arranged for there to be no testing. The manager at the time, Coco Basile, then in his first spell in charge, dismissed the claim as ‘rubbish’, as did some other ex-players. Besides, the rather laboured nature of Argentina’s eventual passage (a deflected Batistuta goal giving them a 1-0 win in Buenos Aires after a 1-1 draw away) coupled with the complete lack of suspicion on the part of the Australians, leads us to think that the decision was taken to protect Maradona alone. After all, he was only making his return after serving a suspension for drug use. 

No, what really interests us here is not the injustice suffered by Australia. We’re not even bothered too much about the high level corruption it implies in FIFA or, shock horror, the AFA (though, it must be said, it was delightfully brazen – it’s much easier to appreciate audacious cases of fraud than petty ones). For Grondona tacitly admitted it anyway: “I just wanted to avoid there being any possible complications, and since it was just one match […].” Furthermore, although his accusations implicated his former team mates, Maradona subsequently clarified that he wanted them to stay clear of the conflict:

This is between Grondona and me and no-one else needs to get involved. Not Basile or anyone else from that team. This is a Maradona-style showdown with someone who’s gaga, does nothing but talk shite and won’t relinquish power.

Diego had clearly decided that this doping scandal, despite being even more bizarrely hypocritical than usual, was the pointy stick with which he could harangue and chase the nominally chaste don Julio from his lair down Viamonte way.

This particular angle seems to have been chosen for no better reason than some self-satisfied remarks by Grondona a few days earlier. Maradona had dismissed him, as always, as an old fart, so don Julio replied that while he may be old “at least i’m healthy, unlike other people I could mention, who only have themselves to blame.” El Diez was upset:

Grondona said I was a fiend even though for a long time now the strongest substance i’ve taken is a bottle of water. I’ve got a whole file full of tests to prove it in court. He referred to my problems with drugs. I’m just defending myself against Grondona as what he says isn’t true. He’s talking out his hole. This just shows how bleedin’ gaga he is. He went too far. So we’re going to put an end to this. We’re going to sort this out in court.

His lawyer, one Klabermatten, did a wonderful Jackie Chiles impression on FM Identidad, saying “there have been insults and defamation, there’s even been discrimination.” The idea is to go after his money, to throw everything at Grondona: “We’re going to go for the maximum, the cumulative sentence applicable for all his crimes. The idea is to do what no-one has dared to do until now.”

III

It’s puerile nonsense, of course, but while pegamequemegusta, too, rejoices in its flaming bitchiness and farce, it should not be dismissed as nothing more than another shameful chapter in the disgraceful, incestuous, backstabbing story of Argieball. Maradona has talked enough rubbish and done enough mad things in his time that he can hardly complain if he isn’t taken seriously. Yet we were very surprised to hear the BBC’s Tim Vickery disregard his campaign as mere bitterness on Off the Ball. Usually a veritable font of sensibleness, Mr Vickery approvingly quoted an Olé editorial which questioned Maradona’s mental health. Yet discrediting an attack on those in power as the fruit of madness sounds like a tactic that would have had Stalin himself clucking genially. After all, Grondona owns a large share of Olé – they’d say Diego believes a pigeon in Catalonia is controlling his legs if he told them to. They refer to the cancer of Argieball as don Julio for Jaysus’ sake, as if he were just a kind old uncle. At times they criticise him, of course, but, miraculously, they always seem to pull back before too much damage is done.

Maradona is certainly an excitable, lewd, reckless hypocrite, but he’s not mad. He’s no maniac. He doesn’t put underpants on his head or pencils up his nose, as far as we know. It should also go without saying that many of the stories about him last year, such as supposedly running over a photographer and calling him an ‘arsehole’, were completely false. And as regards the World Cup itself, he did a much better job than Fabio Capello.

While it carried all the hallmarks of a typical Maradonian onslaught, the wildness, the slander, the profanity-laced invective, implicating Grondona in the doping scandal was a clever enough way of levelling the field. While there seems to be a kind of schoolyard code  when it comes to common corruption and the wielding of influence in an unjust manner – along the lines that, well, you would do the same if you were in power – drugs seem to occupy a slightly more serious category. It’s a more adult kind of meddling, more white than blue collar crime.

In this respect, Maradona was evidently trying to entice la Presidenta Cristina into making an intervention. For in theory the nationalising of football under the Fútbol para todos plan should have made the head of the AFA, if not a pawn of the government, then at least a reliable figure, one liable to pressure. Unfortunately, when they rescinded the TV rights deal from TyC Sports in August 2009, in their haste to poke the evil Clarín monopoly in the eye, the Kirchners forgot to ensure any actual reform of Grondona’s little knocking shop. The supposedly mad and bitter Maradona adopted a calm, conciliatory tone:

I’m not asking the president to kick Grondona out. I’m just asking for reform. The President, along with Néstor [her late husband and former president, yeah], gave us this great Fútbol para todos, but the problem is all the stuff Grondona gets up to. [….] The government is making a mistake if they continue to support him. We’re falling further and further behind.

Damn straight, Diego. It’s an election year, though, and the Copa América is upon us. Pegamequemegusta doubts there’s much stomach for removing the diablo de Sarandí at this point in time.

In any case, it disarms Grondona to an extent, meaning he can’t throw this particular aspect of Maradona’s career in his face any more. Furthermore, Maradona probably hoped to capitalise on the FIFA side to the scandal – Grondona pulling strings to avoid there being any drug tests – in advance of the media attention on last week’s congress.

Passarella: 'I'm not afraid of Grondona sending us down'

IV

More than anything else, though, Maradona was seeking to bolster the faltering campaign of a somewhat unlikely ally, Daniel Passarella. The River president had stormed into the AFA’s headquarters the other week gnashing his teeth wildly, sending flunkies flying and phlegm-drenching several children at mascot auditions, before screaming: “The old man’s got to go!”

His particular motive that day was the refereeing of the recent Superclásico. Boca had won the match 2-0 in the Bombonera and had done so comfortably, yet the Kaiser felt River had been denied several clear-cut penalties. Olé‘s reaction was revealing. They portrayed him as a sore loser, an arrogant fool desperately seeking to kick up a ruckus to distract from his own club’s pathetic slide towards the relegation playoff spots. A who’s-who of Argieball ne’er-do-wells, feckless officials and gormless presidents of rival clubs firmly ensconced under don Julio’s wing, lined up to discredit him. Arguably, he didn’t choose his moment wisely, nor was the manner of attack too subtle, but the story spinners clearly didn’t feel there was enough weight behind Passarella to warrant a deeper consideration of his concerns over AFA influence, and the matter was allowed to slide.

They’ve had their run-ins over the years but Maradona seemed willing to suspend existing enmities for his present campaign. He praised Passarella’s actions as ‘brilliant’ as “he knows Grondona just as well as Oscar Ruggeri and I do.” In his naming of Ruggeri, you get an idea of the plan: to get the familiar faces of Argieball, several of whom are genuine legends of the game, to unite en bloc and, in Maradona’s phrase, take the AFA (not ‘picket it’, as we heard in some quarters).

Before the World Cup last year, plenty of attention was given to the growing influence of the generation of ’86. Much of this was purely down to nostalgia and the Olé-selling dreams of Messi emulating Maradona’s arguably unrepeatable feats. At the heart of Maradona’s call to arms, however, is the idea that important Argieball men band together to rid their game of this nefarious influence once and for all. For if Grondona, nearly 80, is allowed to stay on at the AFA until he’s eventually beckoned down to hell to bring his experience to bear on the production of Don Gato, the Spanish-language version of the Tom Cat musical, there will be but more of the same. Humbertito Jr has been being groomed for years for the position. And even if by some miracle he didn’t manage to achieve a smooth changeover of power, the game would still have lost out on the refreshing energy a real revolution would bring.

Pegamequemegusta doesn’t seriously want Maradona and his penniless, resentful band of compadres from ’86 to take over, but they might just be a mad enough bunch to be able to take down don Julio. The excellent LaRedó makes a scaldingly disparaging comparison between the Muchachos del ’86, such as Ruggeri, who whinge about having been forgotten by society, and the soldiers who fought in las Malvinas, who really were abandoned by the State, many more of whom took their own lives in the succeeding years than were felled in combat. However, the boys of ’86 could well serve some purpose, albeit as a wild-eyed platoon of loonies who dashingly storm the hilltop only to immolate themselves when several forget to throw away their pinless grenades. Indeed it’s almost always preferable that those responsible for the successful prosecution of a revolution should have no part in the subsequent running of the body, cf 1916.

V

So it’s a sketchy enough plan, lacking in government support for the moment, and it’s badly timed to boot, especially considering Passarella’s weakened position these days. Indeed, it probably wasn’t planned at all, just grabbed at hastily as Diego saw three cherries light up on a one-armed bandit on his way home from Chechnya.

We here at pegamequemegusta, however, salute Maradona’s aborted attempt. It hardly even made a dent, probably just distracted don Julio long enough for Tevez to wriggle his way back into Batista’s flapping arms. We’ll see what happens with his court case but for now the midnight oil will remain on the shelf. Yet in theory at least, we find it a plausible approach, a convincing enough Coalition of the Willing, one that could yet be resurrected for a putsch at some point in the not so distant future.

One of the most galling things about Grondona’s continued mismanagement of Argieball, you see, is the fact that it’s so blatant, so wrong, acknowledged and lamented by all. Yet he’s immoveable, like a malevolent North Star, lighting lost sailors the way to slippery deaths. Unlike some ludicrous staple of the television schedules or risible politician, both of which can often be guilty pleasures, his hilarious sticking it to the English last week aside, he doesn’t even possess the minimum charm of your common megalomaniac. He’s been there so long every little scrap of evidence for negligence – not to mention corruption, but to be honest we don’t care too much about that – can and must be left at his door.  Yet, as with all dictators, his seemingly eternal presence, along with cowardice and media pressure of course, creates a lethargy, dulls the senses, crushes the will and leaves one soft-bellied, averse to grand projects such as the dam-building. 

Going back to Lovecraft, Borges actually dedicated a story to him in The Book of Sand. Its title, There are more Things is in English in the original, thus cementing the homage, as well as invoking Shakespeare, of course. On “one of those Buenos Aires days when a man doesn’t just feel irritated and bothered by the heat but is even debased by it,” the narrator decides to break into a house once owned by his uncle. It has since been bought by a mysterious outsider and totally redone. On entering the house, he finds that none of the furnishings have been designed for humans. There’s a weird vertical stairs (not a ladder) and a V-shaped mirror. Ooh.

Lovecraft once said that if we really got a glimpse of the possibilities the universe contains, we would “either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a dark new age.” In Borges’s story, however, the narrator says: 

In order to truly see a thing, one must first understand. An armchair implies the human body, its joints and members; scissors, the act of cutting. What can be told from a lamp, or an automobile? The savage cannot perceive the missionary’s Bible; the passenger does not see the same ship’s rigging as the crew. If we truly saw the universe, perhaps we would understand.

Unlike the monsters of The Dunwich Horror or The Colour Out of Space, don Julio Grondona, at least in his human form, is entirely visible. It is not clear whether the same can be said of the mysterious alien in Borges’s story. Yet the narrator, who as he’s leaving hears the resident approach, “suffocating and slow and plural”, makes an important decision. He resolves, “curiosity outfighting fear”, to face the beast with his eyes wide open. Perhaps the next time circumstances allow, mad Maradona’s latest sally will at least have served to crack a window or two and alert the prisoners in don Julio’s cave to the nauseating stench they’ve been breathing unwittingly for so long; perhaps one or two more in positions of power will decide to keep their eyes open, too.