Argentina 5-0 Canada – and Without Messi, carajo!

Argentina’s glorious procession over the strewn cadavers of CONCACAF contingents continues apace. Haiti, Panama, Jamaica and Costa Rica have all felt their wrath, all been put to the sword by rippling-muscled, rampaging Homebase squads and tonight was no exception as the blood bayed for from the celeste y blanco bedecked Monumental coursed warmly, thickly and sweetly. Canada was the heifer to be led a mysterious priest, lowing at the skies with all her silken flanks with garlands drest, to be slaughtered on the green altar of the Monumental. Argentina beat them up good and sent them packing, Argentina destroyed them, 5-0 carajo! Aguante Argentina la concha de tu madre!

More beasts than men
After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to the spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, to the gladiators. – Of Cruelty

Argentina’s glorious procession over the strewn cadavers of CONCACAF contingents continues apace. Haiti, Panama, Jamaica and Costa Rica have all felt their wrath, all been put to the sword by rippling-muscled, rampaging Homebase squads and tonight was no exception as the blood bayed for from the celeste y blanco bedecked Monumental coursed warmly, thickly and sweetly. Canada was the heifer to be led a mysterious priest, lowing at the skies with all her silken flanks with garlands drest, to be slaughtered on the green altar of the Monumental. Argentina beat them up good and sent them packing, Argentina destroyed them, 5-0 carajo! Aguante Argentina la concha de tu madre!

Yes, the Bicentennial celebrations and the doling out of the tickets to activists sympathetic to la Presidenta meant that the atmosphere was positively anthropophagous. To this end the organisers’ decision to put out the soprano, and dinger, Katherine Jenkins to sing the Canadian national anthem was inspired: if not quite quell the masses’ murderous desire, she did at least manage to distract them long enough not to boo. And soon they were singing their little hearts out as pegamequemegusta heard the Argentine national anthem for, easily, the 40th time this weekend (an underrated one actually). This time the honours went to Ciro Martínez, who gave an unconventional rendition on the harmonicay:

The nation’s pulse, groggy now after three days of unexpurgated partying, throbbed back into life as the game got under way. Though Messi was out after a knock on the knee with Mascherano in training on Friday afternoon, Tevez, making a rare start, lined up with Higuaín, Di María, Pastore and Maxi Rodriguez. ‘Olé, Olé, Olé, Diegoooo, Diegooo’, the horded masses were singing down at the Obelisco on 9 de julio. Before long the missus and the mother-in-law were screaming with pleasure and castigating nonplussed dogs, cats and gringo dogs for not displaying the requisite enthusiasm that such an illustrious occasion demanded. “You don’t know what it’s like to be Argentine!” Quite.

Yet soon an anxious note crept into their warblings. More than 20 minutes had gone by and Argentina had not scored. Canchallena’s breathless minute by minute could only point to a corner each, good play in the box and Argentina’s ‘probing’ for an opener. The Canadians were up for it! Too up for it, in fact: there was a nasty two-footed foul on Tevez from behind which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an Argieball game. And when Pastore broke down the left wing and tore towards the box like the ‘thunder bolt’ Caniggia, Maradona went streaming down the touchline in a manner reminiscent of his seal-dance in the transplendent triumph over Peru to protest that Pastore had been pulled down in the box. The Monumental was alight and the referee booed roundly as a free kick was indicated. Yet the Argentines were a-festejando a minute later, however, as Maxi’s free flew passed the a goalkeeper whose flapping was convincing enough to get him a place if there ever is a re-run of a certain 1990s soup ad.

And the goals duly followed after that: on the break – Maradona’s tactics executed excellently! – Higuaín and Tevez broke before the latter slotted a pass through for Maxi to grab his second. Then Di María scored a lovely dink, described by canchallena as ‘unstoppable no matter who’s in goal’. The Canadian aggression, which had seen Maxi limp off in the first half,  was suffocated by a heroic Tevez tap in after some horrendous defending in the second half, and Aguero knocked on in about two seconds after coming on to make it five. San Martín Palermo came on after a stirring chorus from the Boca contingent in the crowd and perhaps should have done better with a back-post header. Here are the goals (techno free, amazingly, but with awful music, nonetheless):

But this game doesn’t warrant a match report, pegamequemegusta is interested to know whether there exists some kind of friendly etiquette. As always, canchallena were somewhat more sober but still felt the sub-headline warranted the fantastic verb ‘apabullar’, which suggests ‘to crush’. Olé‘s headline during the match was “Son unas fieras”, meaning that they’re ruthless, bloodthirsty beasts. Yet when a vastly superior team, which has a decent chance of even winning the World Cup, plays a send-off friendly, shouldn’t it be a joyous occasion or at least have a little class? Is the Bicentennial the excuse for excessive nationalist pride? Or precisely because one is celebrating the ‘birth’ of a nation (it’s not, either, no more than the formation of the first Dáil was the decisive step in Irish independence) is an even greater level of decorum required? Pegamequemegusta was reading somewhere or other the other day about whether people liked or were annoyed by the gooooooooooooooooooooooool exclamations of commentators in South America, Spain, Italy, etc. One thing we can surely agree on is that a friendly like this is not the place for it. It’s lame, small-minded and witless. Sure there were smiles late on, but mainly they had to do with triumphing over the lousy canucks.

We learned nothing today. Maradona had said he didn’t want to play the match but he was obliged by the AFA’s debt with the Presidency to take part in the Bicentennial celebrations, as pegamequemegusta reported on Saturday. Besides friendly etiquette, we’re not sure, however, how useful pre-World Cup friendlies are. What did England learn today? And Portugal? Besides everything else that happened in Saipan, what did Ireland’s matches against those cracker teams in Japan really matter?

Still, it’s intriguing that Paraguay, Greece, North Korea, etc. are all playing three and four matches before the World Cup. Is it just because their football associations are flogging them for cash while they can? Or will they reap the benefits of match practice in a short space of time when the real games come around? Argentina’s other friendly, which was supposed to be in Dubai against unknown opposition, was cancelled in mysterious circumstances. Yet for reasons we all know, this team is only barely forming. Games would surely have done it the world of good. Today’s game, bicentennial or no, was a joke. It wasn’t even a send-off for football fans, but a grand political gesture from the president to her slavish followers.

Still, as gestures go, this anthem-filled super weekend has been pretty impressive. Tonight after the match the enormous Teatro Colón down on 9 de julio in ‘downtown’ Buenos Aires was reopened after refurbishment for the first time since October 2006.  Proof at just the right time that Argentina does indeed have class:

coronados de gloria vivamos
o juremos con gloria morir

For my part I have never been able to see, without displeasure, an innocent and defenseless animal, from whom we receive no offense or harm, pursued and slaughtered . . . Plato, in his picture of the golden age under Saturn, reckons, among the chief advantages that a man then had, his communication with beasts, of whom, inquiring and informing himself, he knew the true qualities and differences of them all, by which he acquired a very perfect intelligence and prudence, and led his life more happily than we could do. Need we a better proof to condemn human imprudence in the concern of beasts? – An Apology of Raymond Sebond

After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to the spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, to the gladiators. – Of Cruelty

Bicentennial Man – Diego Presidente

The media may tell you that it was a glorious mix of pride and humility in their finest forms, patriotism at its purest, that she was overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being Argentinian. Pegamequemegusta can reveal, however, that her tears were due to having to warm up for the real man of the hour, Diego Maradona.

Diego with la Presidenta in his lamentable beardless period

Argentina está de fiesta. The country is awash with the sort of fervid nationalism not seen since… last month, when the commemoration of the Malvinas conflict led outburst of flag-waving that would make your average American look like a limp-wristed, yellow-bellied communist. Tuesday the 25th of May will be the 200th anniversary of the Revolución de mayo and such is the importance of the party that Cristina has declared Monday 24th a bank holiday, too, thus creating an extended nay super weekend of music, dancing, endless parades, flag-waving, theatre (the Colón reopens tonight) and football – the send-off for la Selección is on Monday night against Canada – for the country’s bicentennial.

Cristina chokes up

The celebrations, which will go on til Wednesday morning, were opened earlier in the evening by la Presidenta, who choked up and was seen to have tears in her eyes as she spoke: “God willed that I should be President during the Bicentennial but i’d like to thank everyone for all their hard work in the lead-up to the 25th and afterwards, too, as the Patria is constructed by and for everyone.” The media may tell you that it was a glorious mix of pride and humility in their finest forms, patriotism at its purest, that she was overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being Argentinian. Pegamequemegusta can reveal, however, that her tears were due to having to warm up for the real man of the hour, Diego Maradona.

Though he told Niembro in that interview last week when he was a player his every departure from his homeland was marked by salty discharges from his eyes, pegamequemegusta reckons Maradona would be happy to get to South Africa as soon as possible. He was on tv last night in yet another interview, an ego massage chirpier than an afternoon at Ian Holloway’s house, to be feted in the greatest fete since the Marley Grange bake sale of 1991 (when all but three walnutty cakes were sold), but he looked tired. Diego was across town doing what he does best – talking. So much so, indeed that by the time he appeared on Canal 13 last night he was quite out of breath. for the first while. María Laura Santillán y Santo Biasatti got him feeling comfortable, however, with a good ego massage. Argentinian Pride, ‘the jersey’ and Maradona being a legend came up quite frequently. Indeed, the occasion even prompted him to make one of his old socialist comments: “No, María, we’re not under any pressure. The guy who goes out looking for work for 14 hours a day to try and provide for his family, he’s under pressure.” Vamos, Diego, the presidency won’t be too far off if you nail this one, we thought.

La Presidenta proves she and Diego could well exchange posts without missing a beat

Yet pegamequemegusta felt we had heard that one before… My God, could it be that such is the pressure to talk these days that Diego might run out of charm. What kind of a world would it be if we had to listen to Maradona everyday? The World Cup will certainly be his biggest test yet: can he stay interesting? This later interview was just a Richard & Judy affair, however, a fluffing exercise where he was asked such probing questions as what he planned to pack for the World Cup: “Well i’m not going to pack much stuff ’cause the important thing is what we bring back.” Yet our fears were allayed – Diego was all talked out. He had spent the day holding court before the assembled media, and many was the pearl his most regal of beards did proffer.

On Messi

The first topic of the day was, inevitably, Messi. Maradona has been thoroughly chuffed with Lio since his foulmouthed, indeed, Diego-like outburst last week upon his coronation with Barcelona last week: “Visca el Barca! Visca Catalunya! And long live Argen-fuckin-tina!” It seems as if all the media harpying has ultimately served to piss Messi off enough to make the greatest player in the world feel he still has plenty to prove. Hence he showed up a few days early this week for training in Ezeiza and Maradona been licking his chops all week. The manager has no doubts but that his star man is enchufado: “If he’s on the same wavelength as Mascherano, Heinze, Verón, and if we can get across our message, then I think he’ll be 100% at the World Cup.” About marking: “They’re going to mark him to death, deffo, but we’ll have him trained mentally. Physically there’s nothing more to do, Barcelona already did that work, but we’ll give him mental training, make sure he’s got the intensity you need for a World Cup. Everyone’s going to seek him out and he’s going to have to deal with it.”

  • Is he going to be the number 10?
  • Yes, he’s going to be the number 10.

“Every time I see him I love him more and more. In the first training session I was saying to the lads, ‘Jaysus, how does he do that?’ It’s a pleasure to watch Messi kill a ball. I was wondering how he can have such a level of perfection. And el Negro Manrique turns to me and goes ‘You’re asking how he does it, you dosser?!’ You know, I played with great players, I saw others play; I was blown away once watching Ronaldinho train, but this kid… he’s gone one better.”

  • You can’t think of any comparison?
  • Nah, nah, I can’t, but he’s got an incredible future ahead of him.
  • Would you’ve liked to have played alongside him?
  • The one-twos we’d have played! You drool watching him.

On the starting 11

As regards the rest of the team, however, although Maradona has been repeating for months now that he knows what his team will be, that the Germany test was confirmation of his plan after (improvised) success in Montevideo, he rejected any suggestion that it was set in stone: “Everyday I see [on the telly] that you set out the team, you switch one player for another, that there’ll be four centre backs… But i’m bringin Clemente who can play on at right or left-back. So you needn’t swallow so easily all that stuff about four centre backs.”

  • But you confirmed it on the radio…
  • Yeah, but since then you talk to me so much about four centre backs that you’d think it was a crime, as if I was a bloody Italian!

Nonetheless, he went on to say that the four centre backs plan was true to a point but he did have other options at full back. Likewise, despite lamenting ESPN’s scheduling which often excludes Palermo games, in midfield he’s sure that the “sassy” Pastore can do a job when called upon, while on the wings, polyfunctional players such as Maxi and Jonás ensure a plethora of options. Whether these options would really constitute a Plan B as opposed to being mere inferior versions of the starting eleven remains to be seen, however. For his part, Maradona says “We’ve done all our homework and have no doubt but that whoever plays will do the job we set out for him.”

On the squad

Of the squad, the man whose call-up this week has caused so many twisted eyebrows most of the pundits on the telly have looked like they just came from a Ming the Merciless convention, Ariel Garcé, Maradona was quick to defend himself:

“If you lot are surprised by Garcé being called up, you didn’t see any of Colón’s games. You probably don’t even know where Santa Fe is! […] When I called him up [for the Haiti friendly] he convinced me: I observed him in the dressing room, in training. [….] And he’s not here on holidays, i’ll have you know. Whoever thinks they’re here just to make up the numbers is wrong. Garcé’ll be one of my options.” He went on to express his sorrow at having to only pick 23 players saying “It was a real pain in the balls” to leave out players like Lavezzi.

Just as Garcé managed to convince Diego through his gait and his excellent posture, the manager assured the press that he will be watching the players every minute of the day, “how interested they are in training, how they speak to each other, how many times they go to the bathroom before each game… I’ll be watching them in the dressing room, in the hotel. Still, I don’t think the jersey will be any problem for this group of players.”

Verón, Maxi, Messi, Tevez, Maradona & Mascherano in Ezeiza this afternoon

What he does with the trouser-darkening array of forwards he has at his disposal, if not a simple decision by any means, does seem easier to anticipate, however. Despite Milito’s Caniggia-like prowess in today’s Champo League final, Maradona has been reserved as to what plans, if any, he has for Inter’s deadly striker. Perhaps it’s just because he hasn’t showed up yet or maybe he was only obliged to included him by dint of his prolificacy. In any case, he has had words for Higuaín and Tevez:

“I was asking him today if Real had given him a ten year contract extension yet and he says to me ‘they haven’t rang me yet’. Just like that, you know. So I said, ‘Relax, buddy, you’ve done what you had to do: score 250 goals. Now just get your old man to go and get as much money out of them as possible, or get them to sell you for 70 million quid.

“Then you’ve got Carlitos, who gives his all in every training session [really?] and you say to yourself: ‘God, how am I going to leave him out?’ […] Leaving Carlitos out is tough.”

Indeed, Tevez today swore that he was going to make Maradona’s decision as difficult as possible: “It’s not gonna be easy for him, not at all. Still, it’s nice, healthy competition with the best of the best, Messi and Higuaín.” For his part, Diego posited the possibility of playing with two strikers at some point and playing Messi a little further back, almost as a classic number 10. It’s a delicious idea but one which hasn’t worked the few times it has been tried, such as in the defeat to Chile in Santiago, which was notable for two things: firstly, it featured a rare start for Diego Milito; and second. it was Coco Basile’s last match. Nonetheless, given Maradona’s belief in the transformative power of the World Cup – a sort of giant holy well from which only Argentines can drink, apparently – even his own twisted logic would permit some tinkering.

On the World Cup

  • What would you consider a good World Cup?
  • Coming first. Bringing back the trophy.
  • Are we favourites? No, ’cause the favourites never win it. Let Spain be favourites,” he replied while grabbing his balls in an apparent effort to ward off evil spirits.

His terrifically Argentine (or terrifically Diegoish.. has pegamequemegusta come to confuse what’s typically Argentine with what’s typical of Diego? Would we be right in doing so?) routine continued with such lines as “It’s not just your head or your skill you need to win a World Cup, even your arse has a part to play.” This might be a the clearest justification yet for calling up Palermo.

He was a tad more reflexive when asked if Argentina would play silky football in South Africa: “We’ll all go out to win and throw all the meat on the grill. But not at any price. As Angelito Cappa says, if you play well you have a greater chance of winning than losing.” He also made a good point about how long the season is and the negative effect on the team’s preparations: “In ’86 we trained together for 70 days. Nowadays, a little later and they’ll stick the Champion’s League final on the 30th. We’re in up to our necks [balls, he said, obviously]. You’ve got less chances to experiment. But i’m not worried about it all. The lads know what I want from them.”

On his sins

In this long interview, where we’d seen both Maradona clown and Maradona maestro, there was even time for Maradona-confessor:

  • What have you learned since you took over?
  • To treat the players better. To respect them more. I had a certain idea of what players were like but I realised from my actions that I was right about some things and completely wrong on others.

  • What changed?
  • Times have changed. Players nowadays are much more professional, they’re smarter. […] They’re more likely to speak up. They’re always asking questions. We weren’t like that: Bilardo would talk for 45 minutes and we would just nod and say ‘yes, boss, yeah, yeah’; he’d be having a go at everyone and the only thing we were thinking was ‘when’s it going to be my turn?’

  • And what mistakes did you make?
  • Noooooo….. Eeehhhhhhhhhhh…… Well of course there were some errors that we tried to sort out straightaway and couldn’t. But with time we straightened them out. When we took over the team, you know, we knew we were on the ropes… And it was tough, you know, everything that went on in the qualifiers… that players don’t play at the same level they can play at in the World Cup… so I made mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes, but, you know, we qualified and now i’m very confident.”

Regular visitors to pegamequemegusta will not be surprised to learn that canchallena gives a lot more details to this part of the interview than Olé does.

On his contract

Nonetheless, the latter does include a rather interesting part left out by canchallena on the details of Maradona’s contract. When asked if he’ll stay on as manager of la Selección “come what may”, he replied that it’s not up to him, that Grondona decides these matters. Grand, but then he went on a Maradonian speech where it’s hard to separate verifiable fact from fatuous verbosity: “I’m not going to stay on where i’m not wanted. I’m not the kind of guy who likes to get paid for nothing. And i’ll tell you something else: I get paid for winning. I don’t get paid if I draw or lose. That’s what my contract says. I get paid for winning. Alright, lads?” Pegamequemegusta was ready to suppose it was mere wing-flapping but he repeated the same thing on the aforementioned interview on Canal 13 later that evening, saying he doesn’t eat if he doesn’t win.” It would certainly explain those friendlies against Haiti, Costa Rica, Ghana’s youths and Jamaica; and that he hasn’t drawn a game so far. It might also explain why Diego’s so anxious to get to South Africa: pay days await. The Bicentennial can stuff its party in a sack.

BA's 23-lane 9 de julio en plena fiesta

On who’s boss

Yet whether the organisers of said party really care about Maradona was thrown into some confusion this evening. Despite the piss-take at the beginning of this post, Maradona’s only real function this celebratory weekend was to lead the team out in the Monumental for the send-off game against Canada on Monday night. That match would have gone ahead bicentennial or no, pegamequemegusta having gone four years ago. However, there is evidence to suggest that the national team is once again being used as the tool of their political masters. The 58,477 tickets available for the friendly apparently sold out in a matter of hours. Not even during the qualifiers did tickets ever go so fast. There were no lines round the block showing massive interest in the game for the tickets vanished via online gougers ticketek. Yet canchallena tell us that sources high in the Presidenta’s office revealed that the tickets have a “special destiny”. That is to say, the Grondona and the AFA seem to have paid back some of their debt to the Kirchners for Fútbol para todos (last year’s nationalising of football by stripping the equivalent of Sky of their deal and putting all matches on free-to-air tv) by handing over all the tickets, which in turn will be doled out to ‘political activists’. More than sympathetic to Cristina’s cause, they will ensure that despite all the fanfare surrounding la Selección, no-one will forget whose party this really is. No-one outdoes la Presidenta, Diego, not even you.

Yes, folks, even pegamequemegusta has been caught up in the fervour.

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.