El Cartel – Ezequiel Fernández Moores

Nacional, as has been said, has exceptional players during Escobar’s time in charge. They include some of the best players of the Colombian national team, who impress in Italia ’90 and in 1993 thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Monumental. They arrive at USA ’94 as one of the favourites but get knocked out in the first round and, upon their return, Andrés Escobar, the player who scored the own goal, is murdered. One year earlier, the army, or paramilitaries working for the state, had killed Pablo Escobar. An Independiente de Medallín flag, not a Nacional one, is placed on his coffin. Two decades later, the druglord, who at the zenith of his power would hire the Brazilian musician Roberto Carlos [for private shows], is the subject of guided tours in Medellín – museum and tomb included – as well as a record-breaking tv series, and has even made Cannes, played by Benicio del Toro, even as the Colmbian state has been forced to castrate the hippos in his private zoo. There are now sixty of them. According to the authorities, “they represent a threat to public safety.”

On Wednesday night River Plate play the second leg of the Sudamericana final against Atlético Nacional, from Medellín, Colombia. The first leg was a 1-1 draw so the odds are in River’s favour (although away goals do not count in the final). The Sudamericana is not the most important international competition in this continent; indeed it’s barely the most interesting competition that will come to a close this week, what with Racing, River and Lanús all in with a shout of winning the title on the last day of the season this Sunday. Nevertheless, they’re both good teams and the match does promise to be a bit of a stonker.

We came across this piece by canchallena’s Ezequiel Fernández Moores a few days ago and we wanted to share it with you. Pegamequemegusta veritably digs his comprehensive take on things and his deadpan delivery. We’ve brought you several of his articles in the past and they always get us thinking, even of hippos, so we hope you enjoy it, too. If not, pegáme, que me gusta.

Escobar's hippos
Photo by Guadalajaracinemafest

translation ~ pegamequemegusta

“What do you know about Atlético Nacional?” ask the Colombian journalists. The Brazilian player Josef de Souza replies: “They’re a good team, they’re strong in several areas and they’ve got good players, like Pablo Escobar.” It’s a few hours before the semi-final kicks off in Medellín and there are no follow-up questions. It isn’t clear whether it’s a slip, a mistake or, as many believe, just another of the little japes typical of the São Paolo player. Escobar, dead since 1993, is no longer “in the game”, of course, but his name is writ large in the history of River’s rival tonight in the first leg of the Sudamericana final. Before Escobar, Nacional had only won four championships in four decades and had never made it past the first round of the Copa Libertadores in their four attempts. Under Escobar, in contrast, Nacional becomes the first Colombian club to win the Libertadores, courts the heights of world football and establishes itself as one of the most powerful clubs not only in Colombia but in all South America. There’s no denying that they had – and still do – great players and plenty of style. Yet they were also backed by Escobar, ‘El patrón del mal’.

Before Escobar, over four separate terms from 1962 to 1983, the president of Nacional was Hernán Botero Moreno, widely remembered for, in 1981, waving a wad of banknotes during the clásico with Independiente de Medellín, suggesting their opponents had bribed the referee. Botero controlls 76% of the shares in the club when in 1985 he becomes the first Colombian extradited to the United States on money laundering charges. In response, the Colombian First Division declares a period of mourning and suspends the following round of matches. These are the times of narcofútbol. Another of the subsequent owners of Nacional, Octavio Piedrabita, also accused of money laundering, is murdered in 1986. Pablo Escobar comes on the scene. Millonarios, under Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, aka El Mexicano (the number two in the Medellín Cartel), wins the championship two years in a row (1987-88), knocking mighty América, run by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers (the Cali Cartel), off the top. In 1989 it’s Escobar’s turn. Nacional are proclaimed king of the Libertadores – but not of their country. The Colombian championship is suspended after a couple of hitmen kill referee Álvaro Ortega. “The assassination,” John Velásquez, alias Popeye, the drug lord’s right-hand man, says in 2012, “was ordered by Pablo Escobar.”

Nacional’s year is also Pablo Escobar’s. In 1989, his Medellín Cartel assassinates vice-president candidate, Luis Carlos Galán, detonate 100 kilos of dynamite in the headquarters of the newspaper El Espectador and take down an Avianca airplane with 107 passengers in the belief that among them is another candidate, César Gavira. Other politicians are also murdered. Judges, too, journalists, priests, policemen and trade union activists, many of them victims of Escobar’s cartel. In 1989 Medellín is witness to 4052 homicides, almost twice as many as in 1988. Times of car bombs, massacres and magnicides; fifteen murders a day; an explosion every second day; times of narco-terrorism and cartels, armed gangs, guerrilla and paramilitary warfare. The peak of the violence is 1991: 6349 homicides, 17 a day. The “Capital of Crime”, writes Gerard Martin in his book Medellín, tragedia y resurreción, “is more violent than the Chicago of Al Capone, the Palermo of the Corleonesi, the Marseilles of the French Connection.” Dozens of politicians, judges and journalists are bought off. ‘Medallo’ [‘Medal’], the city’s erstwhile nickname, is ditched in favour of ‘Metrallo’ [‘M16’]. Medellín, “the city of eternal Spring” is now “the city of eternal shooting” [“la ciudad de la eterna balacera”].

Nacional’s successful Copa Libertadores campaign kicks off in 1989 against Millonarios. Raucous derbies and controversial refereeing. In the first round, they draw 1-1 in Bogotá and lose 2-0 in Medallín. In the second round, Nacional knock out Racing (2-0 and 1-2) while Millonarios pass Bolívar on penalties, with the Peruvian referee José Ramírez penalising the Bolivian goalkeeper in the defining stages for not staying on his line, and neglecting to do the same with Sergio Goycochea, who saved, winning his team the match. The two Colombian teams meet again in the quarters. This time Nacional win: a valuable 1-1 draw in Bogotá accompanied by scandalous refereeing by the Chilean Hernán Silva, and a 1-0 win in Medellín. “Tonight,” a Millonarios player tells a Colombian collegue, “there were guns in the stands, there were guns everywhere. I don’t know how no-one was killed.” Regarding the semi-finals, against the Uruguayan team Danubio, many will recall the referee Juan Bava telling El Gráfico: “A couple of guys came to the hotel with machine guns. They offered us money and threatened to kill us.” No further assistance required. Nacional, who had drawn the first leg 0-0, run riot 6-0.

In the final, Nacional lose the first leg 1-0 in Asunción against Olimpia. Conmebol [South American football association] decides that the return leg should be played in Bogotá. Olimpia come to the ground escorted by tanks. They lose 2-0. They also lose on penalties. Eighteen penalties, four saves by René Higuita. The fear stoked by the threats before every match played in Medellín goes to a new level in the following year’s Libertadores owing to a formal complaint by Uruguayan referee Juan Daniel Cardellino. Conmebol suspends all Colombian stadiums. “Extra-footballing reasons”, the sanctions are called by then president Sergio Naranjo in his farewell report on his stewardship of the club. That December, Italian newspapers argue that Nacional should not be allowed to play the Intercontinental Cup. AC Milan win, just about. Their owner, Silvio Berlusconni, is jubilant. “What money is clean?” wonders at one point the journalist Pepe Calderón, a character in Autogol [Own Goal], a novel by the Colombian Silva Romero.

Nacional, as has been said, has exceptional players during Escobar’s time in charge. They include some of the best players of the Colombian national team, who impress in Italia ’90 and in 1993 thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Monumental. They arrive at USA ’94 as one of the favourites but get knocked out in the first round and, upon their return, Andrés Escobar, the player who scored the own goal, is murdered. One year earlier, the army, or paramilitaries working for the state, had killed Pablo Escobar. An Independiente de Medallín flag, not a Nacional one, is placed on his coffin. Two decades later, the drug lord, who at the zenith of his power would hire the Brazilian musician Roberto Carlos [for private shows], is the subject of guided tours in Medellín – museum and tomb included – as well as a record-breaking tv series, and has even made Cannes, played by Benicio del Toro, even as the Colmbian state has been forced to castrate the hippos in his private zoo. There are now sixty of them. According to the authorities, “they represent a threat to public safety.”

Escobar is dead. Medellín, while retaining a relatively elevated amount of homicides, is a different city, whose policies on social integration are cited as models, while the public works designed to highlight its great natural beauty have been widely praised. “Cities,” the Colombian writer juan José Hoyos, “are built on amnesia: one layer of asphalt, a layer of amnesia and then another layer of asphalt.” And Nacional, without a doubt, is a different team. Between 1994 and 2014 they’ve won nine Colombian championships, the last three in succession and with their eyes on a fourth. They also win two Cups and a Colombian Superliga. And two Copas Merconorte. Now they want the Sudamericana. They still have good players (Edwin Cardona and Daniel Bocanegra), good collective play and a worthy manager (Juan Carlos Osorio, firm favourite for the Colmbian job once José Pekerman’s cycle ends). Their patrón is different now, likewise the power wielded. The Organización Ardila Lulle, one of the four most powerful conglomerates in the country, is the sponsor of the championship through the soft drink Postobón (Liga Postobón). And they televise it through a mixture of free-to-air and cable tv, through RCN or Winsports. Carlos Ardila Lulle, whose fortune is estimated to be at $3000m, is the champion of the league he sponsors and televises. His conglomerate includes La Mega, a radio station that blasts reggaeton, pop and electro. The flagship program of La Mega is called El Cartel.

El Tano Pasman at Cape Bojador

In any case, even if we suppose the superstitious sailors are correct in their suspicions that the admiral and the sea monster are one and the same, it is still true that many a ship has sunk down to the murky depths owing to seamanship so reckless it was tantamount to skuttling the vessel. After all, the paralysis that affected the once awesome battleship River Plate last month was so sublime precisely because even with the rocks dead ahead the mariners seemed determined to maintain their course. No treacherous fog enveloped them, no whirlpools formed suddenly off the bow. The sky was clear Belgrano blue and the ripples on the green sea carpet were no more pronounced than the muscles on a proud stevedore’s physique. With morbid fascination we watched from the shore as they seemed to will themselves below the waves.

Among us there was one who suffered more than most; a man whose forebears sprung from a land with a distinguished seafaring tradition, el Tano Pasman. Oh how he suffered as he watched his once illustrious frigate struggle feebly with some poorly-armed piratas from Córdoba. Sure it was well known that the SS River Plate had traded in their sails for magic beans and had replaced the mast with empty bottles of rhum, but no-one expected such a collapse. The dear mothers of our town had to lead their bonny children away by the hand as the expletives rained from his seething gob like foam from the mouth of the opprobious kracken. Luckily it was filmed for posterity, dear handsome reader, and while we make no claims to novelty we feel it’s worthwhile including it here if not for your edification at least for your titillation.

Quem quer passar além do Bojador, Tem que passar além da dor

Back when River were relegated at the end of June, we didn’t have any time to write about it. Pegamequemegusta was laughing too hard anyway. Besides, we were sure the suck from that sinking ship would continue to stir the waters for some considerable time to come. 

And so it has been. Given that we’re far from God’s firm earth, given we’ve rounded the Cape of Bojador and are far out on unchartered, treacherous waters, ’tis no surprise that strange sea monsters should loom out of the dark water like Satan’s fist, flashing teeth like manicured nails. Why, just like week we had Cherquis Bialo, the AFA spokesman, openly admitting the plans for the new megatournament were only rushed through congress in order to ensure the return of River to the first division.

The widespread discontent with the plan saw the brine boil and almost immediately sailors began to throw themselves from the rigging in dismay. The ship’s wheel rolled unchecked from side to side as everyone bickered and denied they were responsible for charting the course in the first place. The thirst for untold quantities of dear spices had certainly been the motivation for the trip, but how they had ended up adrift in this hell hole no-one was able or willing to say. Some blamed the king for sticking his oar in when the good ship AFA was most certainly not a Roman galley. Others expressed wonder that the captain, an admiral in fact, usually so sturdy, could have proposed such a plan. The incompetent officers, in no mood to analyse their own role in the fracas, passed the time talking with the ship’s abundant parrot population and taking turns atop the crow’s nest lighting candles and sending smoke signals, though nobody was quite sure what they meant. Further confusion arose when the ship’s doctor, Bilardo, complained that there was no way he would work in an office, when most presumed that’s what he had been doing the past few years. Biscuits and rhum were running low. For the first time in all their sailing careers there was some talk of mutiny. Agin the capt’n?! Are you mad, sonny? By Aunt Gunning’s prize gunwhales, sure that thar’d be akin to paintin’ o’er the Stella Maris.

Enough with your barbarous chatter, sea dog. For hate’s sake I spit my last scone at thee. So far there has been no mutiny. Yet the mere murmurings of one are cause enough for giving pause. The sailors, who for so long only stirred from their poppy-besmattered bunks to carouse and switch to grog-fuelled mayhem, finally took it upon themselves to do something about the continual mismanagement of the ship’s affairs. A march was planned to the captain’s quarters demanding changes. It was to take place this evening and such was the fear of what they might do, the admiral last night decided to row back on plans to promote the scurvy-ridden curs he was trying to curry favour with erstwhile. The course remains unclear but for the moment the fury has been quelled. Some sailors insist they will march nonetheless, but the most remarkable fact in all this is not just that they have remained compos mentis long enough to even make a real threat, but that many have begun to wonder openly if the admiral is not in fact in league with the evil sea monster that harrasses them so and seems to be the only one who really controls their fate. 

Perhaps it will be another Kronstadt, who knows.

In any case, even if we suppose the superstitious sailors are correct in their suspicions that the admiral and the sea monster are one and the same, it is still true that many a ship has sunk down to the murky depths owing to seamanship so reckless it was tantamount to skuttling the vessel. After all, the paralysis that affected the once awesome battleship River Plate last month was so sublime precisely because even with the rocks dead ahead the mariners seemed determined to maintain their course. No treacherous fog enveloped them, no whirlpools formed suddenly off the bow. The sky was clear Belgrano blue and the ripples on the green sea carpet were no more pronounced than the muscles on a robust stevedore’s torso. With morbid fascination we watched from the shore as they seemed to will themselves below the waves. 

Among us there was one who suffered more than most; a man whose forebears sprung from a land with a distinguished seafaring tradition, el Tano Pasman. Oh how he suffered as he watched his once illustrious frigate struggle feebly with some poorly-armed piratas from Córdoba. Sure it was well known that the SS River Plate had traded in their sails for magic beans and had replaced the mast with empty bottles of rhum, but no-one expected such a collapse. The dear mothers of our town had to lead their bonny children away by the hand as the expletives rained from his seething gob like foam from the mouth of the opprobrious kracken. Luckily it was filmed for posterity, dear handsome reader, and while we make no claims to novelty we feel it’s worthwhile including it here if not for your edification at least for your titillation.

The video went viral,  becoming what they call in the village an internet sensation. El Tano Pasman was hotter property than the throne of a flatulent arsonist. Pain sells, and when it comes with this many bad words it’s worth a shipload of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Only coming to light about two weeks after River went down, the video constituted a sort of national catharsis, for many had thus far kept quiet given the seriousness of what had befallen what had once been one of the proudest institutions on sea or land. In short, it finally allowed people to openly take the piss. An interview in Olé was but one of the many media outlets keen to exploit the old man’s distress. 

Hence it was with some misgivings that pegamequemegusta greeted the news that there was going to be an interview with el tano on one of our favourite shows on Argiewireless, Perros de la calle.  Uy, we said in our default snobby way, this is a bit low, a bit cheap. And indeed at first it was. The usually excellent hosts don’t seem too sure where to bring the interview. They look for soundbites and encourage the old geezer to repeat his famous lines cursing River’s drunken sailors. It’s brought home that he’s just a normal bloke caught up in truly odd circumstances. Indeed, he’s giving the interview from the bus on his way to work. It drifts. 

Then he mentions that the great Beto Alonso is his favourite ever River player and the production team duly get him on to exchange a few words, not expecting much more than a novel piece of flimsy. Yet it turns out there’s a lot more to the caricature of el Tano Pasman we’ve all formed in our minds. There’s nothing stulted in the conversation of el Tano and Beto. They begin to chat as if they’re not even on air. It turns out el Tano has a Johnny Giles-type memory of every River match of all time. Besides referring to famous goals and games, which any fan might do, he also recalls starting line-ups as well as individual substitutions and yellow cards from more than 30 years ago; he remembers certain passes from summer friendlies in the 70s. He even corrects Beto Alonso once or twice on things his idol once did himself.

Clearly embarrassed at the situation he has found himself in, he takes the opportunity to apologise for taking his father’s name in vain during the match. The whole of his childhood, you realise, is inextricably bound up with the club. Without wanting to go too far, it appears his relationship with his father revolved almost exclusively around going to games and all the rituals that entailed. It is, dear handsome reader, quite moving. What began as a fluff piece, has suddenly become brilliant radio, surpassing itself, full of insight. Bizarrely the most famous symbol of River at an infamous time, we immediately take this buffoon as the prime example of the typical fan. Yet the radio interview shows us the other side of the caricature. He’s not a cartoon after all. From the video it’s clear he’s a massive River fan but we’ve become accustomed to dismissing such figures as mindless fools. It’s only as he speaks, as he’s given a voice, that it becomes clear he’s anything but. We’ve seen passion marketed so lamely so many times we’re wont to forget what it is. In the interview, el Tano Pasman reminds us indirectly that it’s people like him who make Argieball great, not the clowns in charge of the clubs.

At a time when Argentine football is in a terrible mess, both in institutional and sporting terms, with serious concern even being expressed with regard to the heretofore fruitful youth ranks, it is revitalising for this weary would-be hack to be reminded of the intensity that really keeps the air in the sails of the floundering schooner Nuestra Señora de Argieball. Indeed, it’s doubly pleasing to be reflect on this in these days when the drunken sailors look like they might well topple the evil admiral Grondona and rescue themselves and their ship from the monsters off Bojador, for a while at least. 

La Nuestra y La Cosa Nostra

Some say it’s Grondona’s way of pleasing all his constituents: saving the grand and upgrading the lowly in order to secure four more years at the head of the Family. This line is backed up somewhat by the fact that the definitive date for the approval of the scheme was set for October 18th, the day of elections at the AFA. Others, however, insist the measures came down straight from the Casa Rosada. The AFA’s own spokesman, Cherquis Bialo, who on Monday night was dispatched to bring us the news that poor Checho had been stabbed in the back and thrown to the dogs, was of the latter persuasion. He stated quite frankly that the state pays the money for Fútbol para todos and they pay for the best: “If River hadn’t gone down, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” It seems ol’ Cherquis was enjoying his moment in the spotlight a bit too much, however, and had overstepped his remit. His boldness did not go down at all well at AFA headquarters. Today Humbertito Grondona even questioned the (soon-to-be former?) spokesman’s sobriety. One thin-moustachioed committee member holding a tommy-gun was overheard reprimanding him:

I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.

Nevertheless, help was on the way. Defending the AFA as the sole makey-upper of the plan, Quilmes president and Argieball bigwig José Luis Meiszner complained that people are always asking the AFA to sort out Argieball but when they do try something innovative all they get is bitchiness. Why now? they asked him. Why not now? he replied. Because it subverts the rules! they cried. Meiszner was unperturbed, however. He appealed to the great democracy that is the AFA, failing to mention that the initial plan for the megatournament was approved by the Executive Committee 22-4 following just half an hour of ‘debate’. Ah yes, the delegates present had just ten minutes to consult the proposal. Democracy? More like a shotgun wedding. Four clubs abstained, later citing the lack of time to consider what was certainly a real noodle-scratcher. The rest just said ‘Yes, Godfather.’

Pegamequememgusta chuckled mirthlessly as we listened to Nicolás Russo, the president of Lanús, one of the better-run outfits in recent years, explain on the wireless how he voted yes but that 99% of the clubs were against the plan. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the backlash he saw himself (and the other 86% that voted in favour) engulfed in. Sure ’twas just more japes down at the AFA, like. In any case, he hastened to explain, he had got the impression that don Julio had not had much room for manoeuvre: “He was called into the Casa Rosada and told to implement it immediately.” The Don was but a meek little schoolboy taking dictation from a stern latin master in a swishing soutane.

Leave the gun, take the cannoli

Font of ideas, of brightness, light and life that we are, pegamequemegusta was thinking recently. Yes, we were, oh dear handsome one. We had an idea for an epic tv show. It would be a satire. It would be both bloody and humourous. It would be serious, bleak and thought-provoking while also containing a fair dollop of rumpy-pumpy. There would be dozens of characters, many of whom would die during the program’s run, for the most part in an extremely violent fashion. Others would start off young and grow older, allowing the producers to pick apart the thorny mess that is adolescence and allow us to perve on the starlets’ growing maturity. The hero, of course, would be what society considers to be the bad guy, such as the leader of a well-known yet secretive Italian-American crime syndicate apparently inspired by Arthur Griffith’s Hungarian monarchical fantasy, say, affording us a light, vicarious sense of rebellion. The program would take a key figure of popular culture and show him in an unfamiliar light as well as striving to analyse the thought-processes of someone we generally consider to be a monster. Indeed, notwithstanding his crude, violent character, the viewer would realise with shame that s/he was cheering him on all the same.

In the midst of thrashing out the plan for what would surely be, after the failed attempt to make a mini-series based on life of la Papisa Juana, our magnum opus, regretfully we had to discard Mar del Plata as a serious candidate for the location of the show. Pegamequemegusta is all about la guita. No, somewhere in the USA, we thought, but the peripheral nature of the show’s themes meant it couldn’t be a major city. New Jersey, perhaps? Yes. And the title? Well, given the Italian angle, along with the epic sweep of the series, it would have to be somewhat poetic. This being a daring challenge to received wisdom, it would have to be something that appeared clichéd but was really delectably tongue-in-cheek, as well as being memorable, timeless, yet less funny each time you heard it. How about the Sopranos, we thought? Aye, it was all falling into place.

Now, as regards those themes, we foresaw a six or seven-series meganarrative culminating ultimately in the greatest theme of all, death. After years of digging through the vicissitudes of life and the endless bargaining to sort out the bickering and the minutiae of the everyday, we’d take it to a new level. References to the tragedy of the human condition would abound. We would delve into the most profound questions of the human spirit, not just ask in parlour-room dialogues but illustrate our existential doubts as to what it’s all about through top class photography and classy, subtle montages. Certain phrases would serve as mnemotechnic triggers, pulling the viewer back and forth through the various episodes, creating an ark and flattering his/her sense of insight. The question of the sincerity of one’s own deepest feelings and one’s place in the world would come about through an analysis of the idea of pity; while the psychical reality of death would be probed as characters wondered over and over if one really hears the bullet before it lodges itself in your brain. The debate would become all the more pressing as more and more characters would disappear in an increasingly brutal bloodbath. It would be awesome. Everyone would love it.

Plus, it would be the perfect way to raise funds for our real project, one we’ve dreamed of for years. It’s about a young Danish prince who has to avenge his father’s death after his lusty mother marries his uncle, who turns out to be the murderer! What’s that, dear handsome reader? It’s been done? They both have? Man, this is the greatest setback we’ve suffered since our autobiography was rejected for being too hackneyed. 

But no fear, we will bear no rancour, dear handsome friend. Instead, let us embrace clichés and repetition to the last syllable of this no doubt already recorded ‘time’. A fine case we have before us to get this, ahem, new project off the ground – the mooted merging of the top two divisions of Argieball into a super-dooper 38 team megaleague. And what better way to lay down our rouge-besmattered principles than with a stale mafia hook to discuss the latest goings-on at the execrable AFA.

Yes, for while watching a fictional mob boss screw make-believe people over may be thoroughly enjoyable, having to live with the real consequences of the AFA’s delinquency and, dammit, their downright disregard for decency, is most depressing. Last Thursday, news came riding over the waves towards our cave to the effect that reforms were afoot to expand Argieball’s first division to 40 teams. A guffaw and a gaspy draw on our hookah later and the matter was forgotten. ‘Twould never happen. We went back to sculpting our Biglia statue whilst meditating on the magnificent obliviousness of Diego Lugano’s psychoface. On Monday night, however, with the Copa América all wrapped up, as we awaited definitive confirmation that el Checho had been caught sleeping with the fishes, it became increasingly clear it had not been a joke.

From August 2012, the top two tiers of Argieball would be fused into one mega championship with 38 teams. The details were as yet unclear but it effectively meant River Plate’s ignominious stay in the second division could last no more than one year and the only thing they would have to do to get back up into the big time was avoid getting relegated to the third division. Likewise for the other big names currently languishing there, such as the destitute Rosario Central and Huracán, along with long-dormant but one-time power-houses such as Ferro and Chacarita. From August next year, the slate would be wiped clean. No matter how badly run the club, no matter how inveterately corrupt or stupid or criminally conchudic the people in charge, those who flog players, waste money, collude with organised crime masquerading as common hooligans, etc., they were being held out the real possibility of a new period of calm. The system of averages that determined relegation would be gone, hence so would the danger of any more of the biggest teams (such as Boca, Racing, San Lorenzo, all with a dangerously low promedio) falling into the lower divisions, at least for a few more years. Yippe-kay-yay, a new day. It didn’t matter if you’d been a good citizen, paid your taxes, kept players, kept faith in a manager, invested soundly, played good ball and punched above your weight to gain long-sought after-success. That’s a chump’s game. The mob were in charge now.

Then again, the mob had always been in charge, hadn’t they? Or at least since it had become clear just how much money there was to be made and taken out of the game. Yet, strangely enough, although don Julio has run the AFA as his own personal fiefdom for some time now, he has hardly taken a very active interest in the actual running of local football. He’s not a hands-on despot, he’s not wont to be on the front line busily directing operations from a train carriage. He’s more guilty of nonfeasance than malfeasance for the most part. His manual is less the Art of War than it is the Tao Te Ching – he rules without ruling. River and Rosario Central, among others, are perfect examples of how the AFA have let clubs be ransacked by dastardly miscreants. While an evil genius, Grondona is arguably a rather dull man, and his laissez-faire attitude is one of the principal reasons for his incredible longevity in the AFA throne: he has not looked to use his position as a springboard to greater things as a politician would (former Boca president and Buenos Aires mayor/would-be presidential candidate Macri, for example). Of course he has sought to extend and cement his power over his underlings, the clubs, but he has remained curiously impassive regarding what actually goes on in society and the football he ostensibly oversees. In short, to believe don Julio cares about football is like presuming the mafia care about the environment because they’re involved in waste management.

As the hours went by and we began to get more details concerning the new competition, this lack of concern for the well-being, the credibility of the game was ever more apparent. There would be two parallel championships of 19 teams (how the seeding would be done remained unclear…). After 18 rounds, plus two weekends devoted to the traditional derbies (such as River-Boca, Racing-Independiente, etc.), the top five teams between the two ‘divisions’ and the other best nine teams in the overall standings would qualify for the Zona campeonato, while the other nineteen teams would battle it out to determine the four sides to be relegated. The plan sought to ensure all the shiniest elements of Argieball would remain, the big teams and their clásicos, while fatally undermining any sense of meritocracy or fair play. It would need to be sold by a hypnotist whose likes haven’t been seen since the trilby-less Svengali, or come accompanied by a case of mass amnesia in order to have any validity at all. In addition, in order to create this monster, the upcoming season, due to start next week, would effectively exist in a coma since there would be no promotion or relegation. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration, but conceivably clubs could just decide to do without paying professionals for the year and send out youth players… All these measures provoked an instinctive rejection on the part of the fans for they, unlike the AFA, know deep down that, despite all the nonsense and conniving we’re used to (in all leagues in all countries), fundamentally football needs transparency. Even the whiff of illegitimacy is deeply unsettling, like Zane Lowe being crowned la Marianne. And the megatorneo is most definitely a bastard child.

That has not stopped everyone and their long lost sister’s prize nanny goat opining over the last few days as to who the father is, though. Some say it’s Grondona’s way of pleasing all his constituents: saving the grand and upgrading the lowly in order to secure four more years at the head of the Family. This line is backed up somewhat by the fact that the definitive date for the approval of the scheme was set for October 18th, the day of elections at the AFA. Others, however, insist the measures came down straight from the Casa Rosada. The AFA’s own spokesman, Cherquis Bialo, who on Monday night was dispatched to bring us the news that poor Checho had been stabbed in the back and thrown to the dogs, was of the latter persuasion. He stated quite frankly that the state pays the money for Fútbol para todos and they pay for the best: “If River hadn’t gone down, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” It seems ol’ Cherquis was enjoying his moment in the spotlight a bit too much, however, and had overstepped his remit. His boldness did not go down at all well at AFA headquarters. Today Humbertito Grondona even questioned the (soon-to-be former?) spokesman’s sobriety. One thin-moustachioed committee member holding a tommy-gun was overheard reprimanding him: 

I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.

Nevertheless, help was on the way. Defending the AFA as the sole makey-upper of the plan, Quilmes president and Argieball bigwig José Luis Meiszner complained that people are always asking the AFA to sort out Argieball but when they do try something innovative all they get is bitchiness. Why now? they asked him. Why not now? he replied. Because it subverts the rules! they cried. Meiszner was unperturbed, however. He appealed to the great democracy that is the AFA, failing to mention that the initial plan for the megatournament was approved by the Executive Committee 22-4 following just half an hour of ‘debate’. Ah yes, the delegates present had just ten minutes to consult the proposal. Democracy? More like a shotgun wedding. Four clubs abstained, later citing the lack of time to consider what was certainly a real noodle-scratcher. The rest just said ‘Yes, Godfather.’

Pegamequememgusta chuckled mirthlessly as we listened to Nicolás Russo, the president of Lanús, one of the better-run outfits in recent years, explain on the wireless how he voted yes but that 99% of the clubs were against the plan. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the backlash he saw himself (and the other 86% that voted in favour) engulfed in. Sure ’twas just more japes down at the AFA, like. In any case, he hastened to explain, he had got the impression that don Julio had not had much room for manoeuvre: “He was called into the Casa Rosada and told to implement it immediately.” The Don was but a meek little schoolboy taking dictation from a stern latin master in a swishing soutane.

According to La Nación and a thousand other media outlets part of the Clarín media monopoly at war with the government and who also stand to lose the rights to broadcast the second division matches (don’t you just love politics, my dear handsome fellow – you’re so pretty when you’re weary), the nasty government was abusing its power, taking advantage of the unholy FPT to intervene in football. With the presidential elections also in October, Cristina wanted to deliver the final death blow to TyC while shoring up a few more votes in the provinces by ‘federalising’ football, sending big teams like Boca, River, Racing, etc. all around the country, where most of their fans live (?). On the one hand, this seemed logical enough, following the unprecedented nature of the truly federal Copa América. However, in reality, thundered the snorts of thousands, this year’s Primera was already going to be the most federal in years, following the promotion of teams from Santa Fe, Córdoba and San Juan. And they had got there on merit! The system worked! And now their hard work was going to be spat on by an ignorant, meddling government. FIFA sanctions were called for. People were very upset. Surely there’d just be too many games anyway to have them on television at all, unless some brand new free-to-air national tv station was launched just for this. Or would this lead to the re-privatisation of Argieball again?! Even Victor Hugo, a champion of Fútbol para todos, remarked: “It’s not that easy to put together a package with such disparate elements and yet there be absolutely no-one happy about it.”

The truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle, we’re tempted to conclude in a thoroughly undergraduate fashion. Several things are beyond doubt: the idea that the AFA is a democracy is a farcical one and should not be entertained; the AFA have not made this decision for the good of Argieball; the question of reform would not have been raised if River hadn’t been relegated; the government are obviously taking advantage of football as part of a noble yet treacherous drive to reform the country’s media, and they’re no saints either. Pegamequemegusta refuses to believe, however, that this, or any other government for that matter, has the time or inclination to draw up such a proposal. In this respect, the idea that the megatournament was imposed on the AFA is ludicrous. Far more likely, and perfectly in tune with Cristina’s rhetoric in recent times, is that a somewhat naïve wish was communicated to the effect that the league be made more federal. The rehabilitation of River of course would make any such product much more valuable, but was by no means the overriding concern of either the government or the AFA. Don Julio, we posit, saw an opportunity. Well, he mumbled, you know that would take a lot more money. How much exactly? Well, you can’t just kick teams out of the first division… We’d need to bring in more teams… Perhaps double the money? Double it is. 

The figure being bandied about at the moment, denied of course by all AFA men, is AR$1,300m pesos (about US$300m). Double the money to dole out, ay. And they talk about democracy, federalisation, football. If don Julio was in the house-building business, he’d be ringing up the papier-maché suppliers as we speak. He doesn’t give a hoot about the integrity of the tournament. River certainly haven’t asked for this. Passarella released a statement this evening saying they had got themselves into this mess and they would get themselves out – playing football. Having undergone the ultimate humiliation so recently, they finally seem to have recovered a modicum of propriety, or at least some self-respect, and a humble Passarella is clearly something to be cherished.

Staying with the good news, we can finally reveal that about an hour after that River statement this evening it was announced that plans to reform the 2012-13 tournament were to be put on hold, with a decision to be taken before the end of the year. The extent of the public backlash was not referred to in the communiqué, which mentioned only that more time was needed to consider further proposals. They may well just be playing for time, though, so we consider it important to clear up exactly what’s been going on these past few days: what’s happened here has been foolish and shockingly jejune on the part of the government, but it’s not evil nor has it sought to bend the AFA to its will. In Román Iucht‘s phrase, it’s opportunistic rather than opportune. However, the real opportunist here is Grondona, who once again has taken advantage of Cristina’s crusade against Clarín to cash in. If they end up handing over the money, besides the inherent waste, it will be the second time they’ve bolstered the cancer eating away at Argieball in the name of returning it to the people. In the week that began sleepily enough with the orchestrated dismissal of the hapless Checho, we’ll have another multi-million dollar deal signed that, as Juan-Pablo Varsky points out, “does nothing to strengthen the clubs or aid player development”. Once again there will be no checks on the flow of cash, no body to oversee the administration of funds either at the AFA or the clubs, no real insistence on any project to get back to the glory days of la nuestra, the distinctive style of ball-playing that developed around the Río de la Plata bred from the genius of the criollo character, at a time when, as now, far from wallowing in self-pity, even if Argieball was poor, it still had dignity, before la nuestra was consumed by la cosa nostra.

Listen to us, we sound all nostalgic. But who cares? A revolution based on novelty is far more likely to be unsubstantial than one based on a return to basic principles. It’s all been done before.