¡Crisis!

Suarez Delaney masks

Ecuador lose 10-1 to Switzerland despite simultaneously losing 2-0 to Chile in the Copa América. ¡Crisis! Four Ecuadors – dimensional, gravitational, ethical ¡crisis! It was the Women’s World Cup, you say, dear bequiffèd one? Nevertheless, many a noisy ¡crisis! has beset Argentine football over these last months of silence, and now over in Chile all the different strands seem to be massing together like so many disaster-loving bacteria to form some kind of mega ¡crisis! Pegamequemegusta recalls.

Back in December 2012, with River finger-drummingly convalescent from their relegation ¡crisis! Boca finally succumb to their ever-throbbing nostalgia twitch and reappoint club legend Carlos El Virrey Bianchi as manager. Not to be outdone, River get rid of Almeyda, who stepped in in aforementioned ¡crisis! and got them promoted and secure in the top division once again, and reappoint Ramón Díaz, who had won their last Libertadores with Crespo and the likes in the mid-1990s, when ¡crisis! was but a whisper on the horizon. A year and a half later, in which time El Tata Martino has won the league in great style with Newell’s and gone off to Barcelona, making everyone feel more than a little silly about their earlier nostalgia, Bianchi leaves under an utterly forgettable cloud of sub Santa Rosa drizzle, as Riquelme will a few months later, too, after one too many a dressing/boardroom ¡crisis! River are vindicated somewhat by Ramón winning the Torneo Inicial in 2014, yet he leaves abruptly, quitting while he’s ahead, being replaced by uppity young tyro Marcelo Gallardo, former playmaker, who was an unused substitute in his last game for the club in May 2010, when they lost 5-1 to Tigre in the Monumental.

¡Crisis averted! River go on to play some of the finest football seen in these parts for quite a while, with at least two months of sublime dreamball seeing them unanimously regarded as uncrowned champions before ¡crisis! losing to Racing, on a one-nil, one-nil, one-nil eight-game streak of a stomp towards the title led and inspired by Diego Milito; Racing, ¿no? who had their very own mini ¡crisis! of their own earlier in the season after losing the clásico to Independiente but got back on track by coming from one down in the Bombonera in a twenty-five-minute instalment of a match previously suspended due to a storm to win two-one, leaving Boca’s new manager El Vasco Arrubarrena with ¡crisis!-flavoured egg on his face. Racing will go on to the quarter finals of this year’s Libertadores, scoring fifteen in the group phase before ¡crisis! inexplicably losing to a bunch of try-hards in the quarters. River, in the meantime, win the (Uefa cuppy) Sudamericana, knocking out Boca in the semis, but then in the Libertadores will, arguably, continue to suffer the fallout from Racing’s impetuous licking, and stutter into the second round as the worst-placed qualifier, leaving them to face the suddenly irrepressible Boca for the first time in living(?) memory, or at least since before Carlitos Tevez met Kia Joorabchian and did that chicken dance before an, as usual, screeching ¡crisis!-seething Monumental; and they’ll win the first leg one-nil (a penalty), then peck with majestic indifference at the Bombonera turf in the first half of the return (still nil-nil, nothing doing) until on emerging from the inflatable tunnel on the half-way line that protects the subterranean exit from the bowels of the ground they are assailed by a quite simply insane homemade, liquefied concoction of Mustard Gas (¡crisis!) poured into the air duct or whatever of what is fast becoming the angriest bouncy castle in the world; and the water they feverishly apply to cleanse themselves, as well as providing added fluidity, makes the gas mutate into an even stronger, lacerating compound that gives them third-degree burns on their chests and backs; and only after about an hour of confusion and River’s president invading the pitch and the head of CONMEBOL’s TV wing marching about in a very lovely white scarf and making dark threats, are they allowed to leave the pitch under a funeral guard of riot shields to protect them from the few malcontents who haven’t been driven home by sheer boredom and embarrassment. Mother of ¡crises! Boca are disqualified, fined and ridiculed, and the few people who still take this nonsense seriously wonder, apparently in earnest, if all this ¡crisis! would have happened were don Julio still around. River march into the next round, though, improving as they make the semis, e’en as Racing lose their way and lose to Guaraní of Paraguay.

Ah yes, Paraguay, where while much of this has been going on Ramón Díaz decided to copy Martino and get on board the new continental fashion and become an Argentine manager abroad – with Sampaoli in Chile, Pekerman in Colombia, Gareca in Perú, Quinteros in Ecuador, Argentine managers have swept into positions in nearly all hispanohablante, Tordesillian South America, no doubt on Papal influence, except for plucky little Bolivia, playing the part of Gaul, as part of a fiendish plan to somehow, some way thwart Dunga, unstoppable Dunga the Merciless, whose defenders are mean and soar for corners like killer whales for snacks at Sea World, whose midfields tend to be malevolent, eye-popping vices; Dunga who even has the daring to cock a snook at Brazil’s little ¡crisis! last Summer by calling up another striker named Fred –; unfancied Paraguay, who, despite getting to the final last time and still counting amongst their numbers a fair number of players with more than a hundred caps – Haedo Valdez, Roque Santa Cruz, Néstor Ortigoza, Paulo da Silva, Justo Villar – have suffered somewhat of late; Paraguay, where, as is vogue, talk has been less about Ball than money, with Chilavert coming out against Ramón’s arrival as a money-grabbing “adventure”, since he’s “lazy” and his gaddabout son does the little work required. Yet then, no matter how vicious Chilavert’s tongue, on Saturday Paraguay get one back on their former manager, Martino, who melts into ¡crisis! mode and guts his midfield, deciding to play Tevez alongside Mascherano behind Di María, Messi and Higuaín, despite being one goal up with less than twenty minutes to play.

After all the non-Carlitos-selection ¡crises! of the last few years, since his own post-City-exile, post Copa América 2011 penalty miss eating binge – already hefty before, ¡ojo! – pegamequemegusta almost wishes he wasn’t around, if only to avoid some insecure manager gurning to do something silly like shoehorn him into the back seat of a Smartcar at the first sign of ¡crisis! beads coagulating on his lower back. Yet here we are again, just as against Bolivia four years ago – play like Barcelona, with Tevez and Agüero on the wings! -, with a complacent pick-and-mix poster-boy approach that glows with the unholy halo of Checho Batistenstein’s ghost. ¡Crisis!

Ramón’s Paraguay, of course, equalised in the last minute. Messi refused to accept the Man of the Match award. The players said they were angry, said they were sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. In truth, even a real ¡crisis! is unlikely as even finishing third doesn’t necessarily get you knocked out in a twelve-team competition. Tonight they play stubborn Uruguay, who are without Suarez (banned from training with his teammates at the World Cup, banned from being at the ground, banned even from setting foot in the team hotel, seven game international ban = ¡scandal!). Martino will repeat the shape of the team that started against Paraguay – with Zabaleta in for Roncaglia and Biglia for the already ‘tired’ Banega – but yet, it’s hard to take these personnel changes any more seriously than our own analytic quibblings. We insist on thinking problems have definitive solutions, situations round dénouments, people personalities and our acts meaning. Reason can only get you so far. The Lord gave us the Testaments but we didn’t learn and he had to morph into his own Son to make the message more explicit. Maradona came, but then he fell, before the prohets Aimar y Riquelme announced Messi, a further exegesis. Yea, his hair has grown ever shorter no doubt to accomodate the crown of thorns pressing in on his temples. Neither reason nor revelation suffice, and Good Lady Fortune is a bow-leggèd lurching clutz. ¡Crisis! always looms.

Zanetti and Jazzmaster D.

There is method in the madness: a deliberately anarchic approach where improvisation is prized above all else, a cauldron of character-forming uncertainty where real men will float to the top like alphabet spaghetti. No doubt the words said tinned pasta spells out will be transcribed onto the first team sheet, too. All this talk of having the team decided already is just a fudge for fat bloggers to chew on, chum for the chumps. He said it last month, we just weren’t listening: “The players aren’t going to have any excuses, they’re going to run and run.” What we failed to understand was that they would be running from a team of automated fire-breathing dragons controlled by Wolf from Gladiators.

If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn –

Charlie Parker

Pegamequemegusta wrote a few pieces last week about Maradona’s preliminary squad (first this, then this). Of course it shared the widespread annoyance with the omission of Zanetti and Cambiasso, as well as Nico Pareja, Gabriel Milito, Banega, Aimar, Zabaleta, Zárate and Perotti, even of Maxi Moralez. Such are the players who have not been included you could arm a shadow squad along the lines of F365’s brilliant series on England’s B team during the alternate Euro 2008 with Jimmy Bullard & Co. However, we are getting a bit sick of seeing these names now and bizarrely find ourselves defending Maradona’s selection.

On Football Weekly today the ever-enthusiastic Paolo Bandini mentioned a theory that had apparently first gone out on one of ESPN’s multifarious platforms. It went like this: during some game with Argentina, apparently “the one where they qualified for the World Cup”, Zanetti disobeyed Maradona’s instructions, leading the team on the pitch like a lion while Diego, a sea lion, then, I suppose, thrashed about on the shore. Thereafter, Maradona’s wrath being akin to Poseidon’s, Zanetti has been ostracised from the national team.

Insofar as we care, it’s a shame we don’t have what ESPN actually said, of course, but as the theory stands it seems pretty preposterous. Firstly, it would be odd that nothing has ever been said or even intimated in the tidbit-hungry media about the matter. Secondly, what match was it? “The match were they qualified” was the last one, against Uruguay. Zanetti wasn’t in the squad if memory serves us right. The match where qualification was saved at the death was against Peru. Zanetti didn’t play then either. His last match for Argentina was in the 1-0 defeat in Paraguay, where he looked utterly hopeless.

© LatinContent/Getty Images

So we come to point number three, that of ferociously taking charge on the pitch, using all of his experience and respect as the usurped captain. Yet far from leading any kind of an albiceleste charge after Paraguay’s domination of the first half, Zanetti was completely anonymous in attack and ineffective in defence. In fact at no point, even when he was captain, did Zanetti really show any leadership qualities whilst playing with Argentina. He never looked like the kind of character his experience would have one believe him to be. Indeed, one might, as pegamequemegusta is wont to do, don one’s shit-stirring pub hat and ask: captain of who for the last decade? Inter? Up til Iron José arrived some of the game’s most celebrated bottlers! What kind of a captain is he anyway? Maradona agrees: the first thing he did on taking charge was to strip him of the captaincy.

This is important as, unlike other players who haven’t convinced either when turning out for their national teams, Zanetti’s very longevity, the amount of instances that we can cite build up a body of evidence which does not do him much good. His excellent season and his hugely impressive – and clean – stuffing of Messi’s exhaust pipe in the Champo League semifinal notwithstanding, perhaps Diego is justified in reckoning he has failed to convince one too many times.

After all, unlike Cambiasso, he was given many opportunities and never stood out. He wasn’t the only one. Maradona experimented fitfully with a good few full backs: Zanetti, Papa, Insúa, Zabaleta, even Jonás played right back once or twice. He even played without full backs a couple of times, setting up 3-3-1-3, 3-4-3, etc. He was never convinced by any of them so he ended up abandoning them altogether in favour of his current formation with four centre backs. Although this makes some sense in that Argentina are clearly not particularly blessed in the position, the drawbacks are obvious and require no further treatment here.

Rather than come up with conspiracy theories, however, it seems more likely that Zanetti has been discarded because of his poor performances and a consistent lack of leadership, despite it being so conspicuous at Inter. Nonetheless, there is a definite political element in the omission of him and others: if not big egos, the very nature of the personalities left out of the 30 showed Diego didn’t want a tough decision for the final squad, didn’t want a close run. Discarding players out of hand has been one of Maradona’s most defining traits. He was hardly going to turn his back on it now. And if the reasons for Cambiasso’s consistent omissions are even harder to fathom and so explanations tend toward the personal (was it the missed penalty in 2006?), Zanetti’s is somewhat easier to understand once one takes his overall contribution into account.

He’s wrong, of course; they should be there as back-up, but it seems  among other things, that Maradona wants a group he can dominate. He’s intrigued by the apparently metamorphic power of the World Cup, a time of such pressure a whole new level can be reached. He never tires of talking about Mexico ochenta y seis, and the Niembro interview was no exception. “When we got to Mexico, no-one knew who Burruchaga was, no-one knew how strong Valdano was, no-one knew Ruggeri and el Tata Brown were going to be so solid. We had Nery [Pumpido – GK]. Carlos [Bilardo] had to make decisions as we went along that weren’t worked out in training. Now they’re all respected household names.” From his selections and his statements, and just listening to him an awful bloody lot, pegamequemegusta reckons el Diego’s after coming down with a bit of Theo Walcott 2006 syndrome.

Dionysus, rumoured to be on the plane to Pretoria later this month

There is method in the madness: a deliberately anarchic approach where improvisation is prized above all else, a cauldron of character-forming uncertainty where real men will float to the top like alphabet spaghetti. No doubt the words said tinned pasta spells out will be transcribed onto the first team sheet, too. All this talk of having the team decided already is just a fudge for fat bloggers to chew on, chum for the chumps. He said it last month, we just weren’t listening: “The players aren’t going to have any excuses, they’re going to run and run.” What we failed to understand was that they would be running from a team of automated fire-breathing dragons controlled by Wolf from Gladiators.

So many plaudits have been raining down on the heretofore quiet men of Inter’s squad over the last week, yet shame on us jittery, chattering type-monkeys, useless halfwits most of whom don’t even get the opportunity to feel their work in print, let alone get bloody paid. Maradona knew long ago Zanetti and Cambiasso had no feel for the horn, too long Italy have they been, too, too Apollonian are their souls. South Africa will be a Dionysian feast.