Mascherano on the Barca Way

Still, by far the most intriguing aspects of the interview are those considering the Barca way. Masche’s not the first Barca man we’ve heard make these statements but the idea that he’s echoing others’ views is arguably even more ‘worrying’ (worrying like a lack of milk or sugar, not worrying in the sense of unexplainable lumps on your person or being confronted by Joe Jordan riding a sabre-toothed mammoth). Barcelona seem to have convinced themselves they are in fact Jesus and are calling out, in the most un-Nietzschean way imaginable, for some Judas to betray them so they can be nailed to a crossbar and martyred and redeem football for its sins. Despite their considerable haul of late, they appear to be fixated with NOT winning trophies, as if Inter Milan were some kind of dirty collection of tax collectors (though they probably are). Indeed, in retrospect perhaps their coach trip to Milan last year was engineered to emulate Joshua Ga-Nozri entering Jerusalem on a donkey.

“People remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. that’s worth something.,” says Mascherano. Perhaps, but these dasy people remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything because every five minutes someone from Barcelona says people remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. You’re top of the league and playing a notoriously spineless Arsenal team at home with an away goal. If you don’t go through, you don’t get martyr status. Besides there are plenty of crap martyrs, and pegamequemegusta didn’t think martyrdom was very fashionable these days anyway. It’s all very General Boulanger. In any case, if you are going to be martyred, you may as well show some balls, go out screaming insults at the whorish wife of the Tetrarch rather than meekly faffing about in a garden muttering about a bad smell.

 

Mascherano spoke today in El País about his time at Liverpool, how Rafa improved his game and the love he still holds for the place. He speaks about the childlike lust that characterises the English game and gets all Corcadorcha about Xavi & Iniesta: Ní fheicimíd ár leithéid arís ann. Indeed, if pegamequemegusta were grand enough to make tabloid status, there’s also a potential Arsenal-niggling headline regarding Fabregas being a ‘Barca man’. He speaks fondly of Bielsa and Guardiola, comparing the two, without a word for Batista, who’s not mentioned once.

All interesting enough from a guy, a thoughtful, measured, rational enough guy we rarely hear from. Still, by far the most intriguing aspects of the interview are those considering the Barca way. Masche’s not the first Barca man we’ve heard make these statements but the idea that he’s echoing others’ views is arguably even more ‘worrying’ (worrying like a lack of milk or sugar, not worrying in the sense of unexplainable lumps on your person or being confronted by a sabre-toothed Joe Jordan riding a mammoth with a marketing degree). Barcelona seem to have convinced themselves they are in fact Jesus and are calling out, in the most un-Nietzschean way imaginable, for some Judas to betray them so they can be nailed to a crossbar, martyred and so redeem football for its sins. Despite their considerable haul of late, they appear to be fixated with NOT winning trophies, as if Inter Milan were some kind of dirty collection of tax collectors (though they probably are). Indeed, in retrospect perhaps their coach trip to Milan last year was engineered to emulate Joshua Ga-Nozri entering Jerusalem on a donkey.

“People remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. That’s worth something,” says Mascherano. Perhaps, but these days people remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything because every five minutes someone from Barcelona says people remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. You’re top of the league and playing a notoriously spineless Arsenal team at home with an away goal. If you don’t go through, you don’t get martyr status. Besides there are plenty of crap martyrs, and pegamequemegusta didn’t think martyrdom was very fashionable these days anyway. It’s all very General Boulanger. In any case, if you are going to be martyred, you may as well show some balls, go out screaming insults at the whorish wife of the Tetrarch rather than meekly faffing about in a garden muttering about a bad smell.

Likewise in this vein of passive subjugation to the beast, the main thing we’ve all been wondering about down in the caves these last few months has been why Mascherano, captain of Argentina and 27 in a few months, has acquiesced so. He appears to have moved to Barcelona knowing full well he wouldn’t be in the team and has accepted with relish his role on the bench as if it was some Henrik Larsson-style cameo to round out a stellar career. Why on earth Mascherano is so content to ‘learn from’ someone else?

And then you have Busquets, who’s the perfect player for this club. Sergio, though he has so much talent he could play for any team, was born to play here. He’s got everything a Barca midfielder should have: he knows how to nick a ball, he’s got good technique and a perfectly ordered tactical game. I watch him and try to learn, to take things from him.

Pegamequemegusta is inclined to suggest he grow a pair quicksmart. Having said that, we do have some sympathy for his apparent desire to change his game, to actually become a Barca-style player, not just be a Van Bommell-style blow-in who hauls the buckets of plaster around for the fresco-painting geniuses; to make another step-up as he did at Liverpool. Maybe he’s deluded, maybe he’ll be proved right as it does look like he’ll be playing tomorrow. We’ll see. In the meantime, with the best will in the world, it’s hard not to be irked by his honesty in this interview as at times it borders on mawkishness.Anyway, as regards the interview itself (Spanish speakers can get the original here), it’s somewhat stuttery. There are incoherent jumps in the middle of an answer that give the impression they’re not really straight question-answer pairs. They read like the answers have been cobbled together from his remarks in general over the course of the day. Indeed, hardly any of the questions are actually posed as such. They’re more comments, statements.

Another odd thing, something we’ve noticed before with interviews by Argentine players in Spain, is that you get the impression he wouldn’t have used certain of the phrases that he is reported to have uttered. They’re too Spanish. It reads like it’s been translated into Spanish Spanish for the readers of EL País rather than his words having been directly transcribed. El País musn’t like these regional dialects polluting their pure castilian.

There are obviously abrupt jumps in theme, too, even though the piece is laid out as one long conversation. And at the end it becomes very messy indeed as they appear to have decided to just throw in a few jumbled remarks to close out the piece, some of which hardly make sense. The combination of these thematic non sequiturs, the suspicion that the answers are somewhat fake and the odd-sounding Spanish makes translating his tone and exact words a bit of a bitch. Still, pegamequemegusta would never ask you dear handsome fools to take it easy on us.

  • You were born near Rosario but you started off with River.

 

  • Yeah that’s how it started. Even though i’m a Central fan, the idea of playing for one of the Rosario teams never really came up. When I was twelve I got into Renato Cesarini’s training school, from where many kids move on to clubs in Buenos Aires. I’ll probably finish my career in Argentina, and hopefully it’ll be with River.

 

  • Why did you go to Brazil?

 

  • River had to offload players and Corinthians made a huge offer. It was weird ’cause either Lucho, Maxi López and me all had to go together or the deal was off. For me the move worked out well in a professional sense. I played for a year and we won the league, but then things got messy. The company in charge of the club wanted out and wanted to get its money back, too, so they sold me to West Ham. It was an awful move as I didn’t have any time to adapt or find out anything whatsoever. It was all a bit weird.

 

  • What’s it like being a midfielder in England?

 

  • It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. It’s football in its purest state. There’s no pretense about it, it’s pure innocence, you go out to win. It’s the kind of football you play as a kid. It suited me perfectly as I started out playing in the street. That’s one of the reasons I have such fond memories of England. It was very enjoyable.

 

 

  • Completely different to Brazilian football, obviously.

 

  • No! Brazilian football is really open: for the defenders and the midfielders it’s difficult as you’re always playing one-on-ones. You’re duelling constantly, and if you lose out you’ll probably lose the game. I always seemed to find myself up against really quick guys in wide-open spaces…

 

  • What did you learn at Liverpool?

 

  • Under Rafa Benítez my tactical game improved greatly. He gave me the chance to show I could play in England. Tactically he’s very astute. He knows the other team very well, knows their weaknesses. He’s a very hard worker. He likes the team to be very well organised.

 

  • He doesn’t restrict the players too much, then, put them in a strait-jacket?

 

  • No, he always gave us freedom to play, just at the back we had to be organised. My job at Liverpool was to bring balance. When I arrived, Sissoko, Gerrard and Alonso were all there and the first thing I thought was if I wasn’t getting a game at West Ham, how was I going to get one with Liverpool? But Rafa gave me confidence. Gerrard moved forward to play behind Torres and I played next to Xabi. He was the more creative player and I was the counterweight, giving cover, sweeping up. My time at Liverpool was like being born again. In many ways I felt more comfortable there than I had with River. I still feel it’s my home, even though things went sour at the end. Liverpool wanted to sell me and business is part of football. I know that well these days.

 

  • Your career trajectory may have been hard to foresee but it hasn’t been half bad.

 

  • I’ve kept moving forward. I didn’t imagine my career being this way either but i’m happy enough. Whatever I’ve achieved has been through hard work and sacrifice. For me, football is the most important thing, not all the stuff that comes with it.

 

  • You’ve played against Arsenal lots of times.

 

  • Yeah, loads! In the league; we knocked them out of the Champion’s League, too; we played them in the FA Cup… I’ve almost always drawn against them and they always made me cover a lot of ground. They would have lots of possession and we’d be set up to score on the counter. That team was more or less the same as the team they have now. Flamini or Denilson for Wilshere; Kolo Toure and Gallas were there, too. Now there are some more kids but it’s more or less the same. They play a similar style to Barca but they’re stronger physically. Then again, you rarely see them win by punting long balls forward. I’ve played against Cesc a thousand times. He has that distinctive way of playing, that touch, those little details so characteristic of the football played here that remind you he’s a Barca man.

 

  • As a kid you watched plenty of European football. Did you see anything that compares to this team?

 

  • No, i’ve never seen a team like this Barca one. I saw Van Gaal’s Ajax and other great teams like Lippi’s Juve, but nothing like this. There’s not just one way to play football, they’re all valid. I’m fortunate enough to be a footballer, I got a chance to get in there and do my best. You do what you can. Luckily i’m here and I see now there’s another way of thinking about the game, of feeling and playing it. I’m glad to have been able to get to know it. The easiest thing would have been to have stayed at Liverpool. I had a fixed place in the team and no-one was going to take it from me. It would have been very easy to stay but I wanted to be part of a team that was fighting to win things. Whether we win anything or not, I came as I wanted to find out if I could play in a team like this one, if I could be part of a team that will be remembered for its style of play, not for what it wins. And that’s more important than any trophy. People remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. That’s worth something. There are some people who only value winning things, but how you do things is important, too. I don’t look down on other styles of play but obviously this way is unique.

 

  • What has Guardiola asked of you? What have you had to change?

 

  • He told me to do the same job I’ve always done in defence and that as regards going forward to be very much involved, always free to take the ball, to keep it simple, to keep the move going… With Barca, positional play is very important. I run less these days but i’m always up with the play. I’m trying to learn and get better every day as my goal is to look back and be able to take pride of what I did on the pitch. Guardiola is quite similar to Bielsa in terms of the passion they both show for football. Both of them are more concerned with the other team’s goal than their own, on how to inflict damage when you attack. Marcelo is more direct, though, whereas Barca can be more patient.

 

  • Looking at the stats, you’re not playing as little as one might think.

 

  • In Argentina some people have been saying that i’m playing very little but i’m happy, especially when you consider the midfielders that Barca have – it’s the midfield that won the World Cup, the best there’s ever been. So I have to show a little respect and be conscious of the fact that if i’m not in the team it’s because players like Busquets or Keita are there… Or Xavi and Iniesta, the best creative players in the world, unique, once-off players. Unfortunately for football we won’t see their likes again. And then you have Busquets, who’s the perfect player for this club. Sergio, though he could play for any team, was born to play here. He’s got everything a Barca midfielder should have: he can nick the ball, he’s got good technique and a really tight tactical game. I watch him and try to learn, to take things from him. We’re quite different, really. I’ve always been a team player. To win things you need a squad. Only eleven can take the field, five are on the bench and six watch from the stand. But for the first eleven to be at their best you need healthy competition every day. That’s why i’m here.

 

  • Did you lose money in all this?

 

  • We’ll leave that for another day.

 

  • Was it Messi who convinced you to join Barca?

 

  • Nooo, more like me asking him to recommend me to the people at Barca! Seriously, I think they asked Leo and Gabi [Milito] what kind of person I was, what I was like in the dressing room, etc. I’m grateful to them as it appears they spoke well of me, as I ended up here.

 

  • Why has it been so hard for Messi to be accepted in Argentina?

 

  • Probably because he never played there. All the players are identified with a certain club except for him. But that’s all in the past now. We’re lucky that the best player in the world is Argentine and people just want to enjoy that now.

 

  • As regards being the best player in the world, does Messi have to win a World Cup?

 

  • For the time being we have the challenge of the Copa América, which will be played in Argentina this year. Argentine football needs a trophy as we haven’t won anything for a long time. People are really looking forward to it. It’s time Argentina won something again.

 

  • What does it mean to you to be captain of Argentina?

 

  • First of all it’s a source of great pride, but it’s also a great responsibility. I was lucky enough to have Ayala here when I started playing. He showed me the ropes and eased my way into the set-up. I try, in my own manner, my own way, if not to imitate him but to leave something. The Selección is about leaving something for the next generation; they must know you tried to do your best.

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.

– James Tate

Argentina 0-4 Germany: Part III – I Wanted to Play Football for the Coach

After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.

Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.

Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter final. Incredible. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradoan was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.

Part III

Uff, this is getting tiresome. The match feels like it was a million years ago. It’s hard to care much anymore. The writing of all this nonsense has involved endless commentaries on the telly and protracted conversations on exactly the same topic. It’s necrophilia without the pulse-quickening thrill of transgression or the refreshing spike of the wind on your bare nipples; it’s sadomasochism without the alluring smell of leather. Still, this post-mortem would be nothing without a few words devoted to the defence.

Although no-one was in any way convinced by Argentina’s defence coming into the game, most informed people reckoned they might just be able to get away with it. Jonathan Wilson again:

“Manager Diego Maradona will surely maintain that solid, deep back four. [….] Germany’s forwards are very good at exploiting space, but Argentina won’t give them space. Its back four focuses almost exclusively on defending; Maradona’s side is not reliant, as England and Australia are, on attacking full-backs.”

For whatever reason, no team had really gotten behind them so far. Nigeria had once or twice but were too bad to punish them; Korea came straight at them and created little or nothing; Greece didn’t even play; Mexico scored the first time they tried to turn Demichelis, but for some reason persisted with speculative long shots.

Germany didn’t. Their patience in attack was remarkable. The didn’t even need long diagonal balls to pull the players out of position. They just passed the ball past the defenders calmly, and along the ground, too. All the goals were scored from within about ten yards of the goal. It seemed unreal the ease with which they sailed by the non-existent challenges. Wilson: “it doesn’t matter how many players you have at the back if none of them put in a challenge.”

The brain in the tank’s best line, though was: “Argentina’s insipidness was bewildering.” Bewildering is good, as the obtuse counsellor would say. And as Carlitos Tevez said after the game, Germany didn’t surprise Argentina at all: “We knew what they were going to do, we had worked on it in training but we were unable to stop them. That was our greatest sin.”

If there were to be one central thesis of this whole mammoth piece, it’ wouldn’t be Jogi Löw’s theory that Argentina were simply ‘a broken team’: Argentina were set up to stop Germany but lost every single battle on the pitch; and that Maradona failed to take action in time, despite the fact that several players were playing as if they’d just found themselves transported Quantum Leap-style onto the pitch in a World Cup quarter-final.

The greatest example of a player having a nervous breakdown on the pitch was poor Nico Otamendi. He’s a good player, he has played well before and will again. Perhaps he wasn’t playing in his best position but he had arguably been man of the match against Mexico. The kind of meltdown he had in the second half on Saturday usually comes served with tuna. Maradona was doing him no favour by leaving him on the pitch and he should have come off at half-time at the latest.

Otamendi misses Al desperately as his latest Quantum Leap sees him thrust into right back in a WC quarter final

After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.

Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.

Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter-final. Bewildering. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradona was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.

It seemed obvious that if Argentina went behind first in the game it was going to be a lot more difficult, nigh on impossible, such is Germany’s strength on the counter-attack. Surprisingly though, and good news for Spain on Wednesday, that’s not how the match was won. Germany didn’t just sit back and wait: they wither lost their nerve or were genuinely unable to do anything for a good fourty minutes of the match. Mascherano kept Özil quiet as a laryngitis-stricken mouse. Olé described his efforts, aptly in our opinion, as ‘almost moving at times’.

Most of the analysis of this match focused on the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. As we detailed in the previous instalment, it was the initial Otamendi collapse coupled with Argentina’s misfiring front players who let them down, failing to even come close despite extended bouts of possession.

Unlike the internet geeks pegamequemegusta spent the whole first part of this glorified exercise in self-harm taking the piss out of, Johnny Giles on RTÉ offered a simpler, more sensible, more traditional breakdown of events. Jonathan Wilson’s reading of events was correct, too, of course, but he approaches the game from a completely different point of view. Gilesy’s is more conventional, more classic, and more accurate than the diagrams and stills of the bloggers:

  • Would a better team have punished them in that 15-20 spell [in the second half]?

  • Well they could have done, Darren, that’s the problem, and they had a little bit of bad luck cause they had some reasonable chances at that stage that could have changed the whole course of the game. In any game… every game is different and there are stages in it where you’re on top and you have to score your goals. Sometimes the other team get on top and you have to defend… It ebbs and flows. Through experience you learn that ‘if that happens then this is what we’re going to do’, and I think that the German team have to learn that. They have to learn to say [to themselves]: ‘Look, this team is not doing its stuff, we’re a goal up, we have to take advantage of it’. And the best way to take that advantage and kill a game off is to score goals.

We feared coming into the competition that even if things were to work out for Maradona’s Argentina, even if the butterfly didn’t emerge from the chrysalis horribly deformed, the lack of game time and the poor squad selection could come back to haunt him. In the end it was somewhat more complicated than that rather facile argument. Those aspects of the preparations certainly didn’t help but the inexplicable implosion of Brazil does constitute a rebuttal to a certain extent.

Unfortunately, Gilesy let himself down immediately after this speech by admitting that he had no idea what things were like in the Argentine camp or what their preparations were. This lack of background knowledge is the downside of the wizened footballer pundit (yet it is not too far removed from the know-it-all geeks who so spectacularly fall between two sweaty thighs of ignorance in their attempts to offer pseudo-scientific previews and reviews of every single match). Nevertheless, he didn’t imagine Maradona working on corners, free kicks or on instilling any kind of discipline on the team. Pegamequemegusta has only spent the last three weeks demolishing that myth: four of their ten goals came from set-pieces and only excellent goalkeeping denied them on a few more. A bewildering indicator of how lost they were in the Germany match was that all these training ground moves just disappeared.

Or the match can be summed up in an even more concise way: Argentina were shit.  And unless they come up with at least three midfielders and four defenders over the next four years, they won’t win in Brazil either. So far Maradona could well be staying for the Copa América next year in his homeland: one last shot at some kind of glory and the opportunity to show that just as he learned from the qualifiers he is capable of drawing lessons from this defeat, too. If he does, as Lou Reed mumbles sweetly into the ear of a transvestite,  Diego, i’d give it all up for you:

The Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Plata, after the World Club Championship defeat of Estudiantes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messi in colloquy with a true Argentine

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