Great player appears, club happy. Club prefer money: there are plenty of good players. Player doesn’t want to leave: he’s young and besides he’s done more than most to win the title the club will probably win in a few months. Other club unappealing, also. The impertinence of talking meat. Club sigh, decide to wait. Player: Jonathan Calleri; Club: Boca Juniors; Other Club: Brighton Hove & Albion. Time: August 2015.

Roll around January 2016 and Boca really want that money. Brighton’s paltry £5m wasn’t going to cut it anyway (not even, later, $10m for 85% of his rights). Now Calleri’s a champion, even outshining Tevez on his oh so fabled patch. Inter Milan are interested now but aren’t willing to cough up $12m in cash for, in their view, an unproven player. Maybe he could come on loan and we’ll see? Cash, we said.

Enter the Investors: we’ll put up the cash and loan him to you, Inter. Boca smile. The Investors have their own little club, Deportivo Maldonado, in the second division in Uruguay. Plus, taxes in Uruguay are low-low. Boca grin. Inter squirm: third-party ownership is a nasty little business. You never know just how FIFA are going to react.

Although these kinds of deals have been done for years, in 2014, following up on an initial complaint from 2012 by the Argentine tax service, the AFIP, they fined a number of Argentine clubs – including Rosario Central, Racing and Independiente – and suspended a different Uruguayan ghost club, the unfortunately-named Sud América, from all transfer dealings for similar practices to the one proposed by the Investors. Yet only two weeks later, once the seven people who cared had forgotten, the sanctions were lifted. In 2015, however, they suspended a similarly small Belgian team, Seraing United, along with a real club in FC Twente. (Just this morning Real and Atlético Madrid were handed two-year transfer bans, but for signing minors, not for TPO). Boca’s face assumes the perplexed expression of one who is staring at their very own pie but their thumbs are numb and despite the room being full of people no-one will cut them a slice.

Bologna don’t care much about FIFA and would be more than happy to take Calleri on loan. Calleri grunts. Someone checks out their hair in the back of a spoon. The Investors tell Inter Moratti would have been all over this! Besides, they’ve done this before: former Estudiantes keeper Gerónimo Rulli is happily playing away with Real Sociedad. It’s win-win: Inter get their man, Boca get their cash, the Argentine tax man gets red faced, and we’ll probably get a little return on our investment down this rose-lined road of bridge transfers. Drop your face in the pie. escudo-club-deportivo-maldonado-rf_620285

According to La Nación, the men who control the company behind Maldonado are Malcolm Caine and Graham Shear, who for years served as Kia Joorabchian’s legal representative and engineered Tevez’s move from Boca to Corinthians via MSI, with all the trouble that ended up causing in Carlitos’ career. (Ariel Senosiain makes a link with Stellar Sports, owned by Jonathan Barnett, Gareth Bale’s agent; and it’s true they do own a horse, named Curbyourenthusiasm, together). The murk thickens: you didn’t need to be the world’s most acute scout to notice talent in Boca’s star number 9, but Calleri was brought to the Investors’ attention by Gustavo Arribas, who until December 9th was an advisor to Deportivo Maldonado and, according to Senosiain, was part of a group that signed players for the Israeli super agent Pini Zahavi. On December 10th Mauricio Macri became the president of Argentina, after a narrow two point win in a presidential run-off election. Arribas was Macri’s choice to be head of the new Federal Intelligence Agency, set up to replace the old intelligence service whose counterintuitive web of counter espionage led to the clusterfuck that saw Alberto Nisman pop a bullet in his temple 360 days ago. Macri was the president of Boca Juniors between 1995 and 2008, and is an important backer of current Boca president and bingo empresario, Daniel Angelici. The tax authorities now say that they have no interest in pursuing possible tax evasion by the president’s team engineered by the head of the intelligence service. Quite.

It really got our monocle flying because putting an end to precisely this type of corruption was one of the main (only?) promises in the campaign of Macri’s cheerfully choreographed, balloon-festooned, Cambiemos (“Lets Change”), a name and a movement that seems almost impossible to write without an exclamation mark. A serious government was required if Argentina were to become a normal country, a real one, where capital flows like cake and everybody wins. (The prosperous middle classes are generally convinced they were unfairly abandoned at birth in a shadowy underworld, envying Oedipus his shepherd). If any good was to come from this presidency, it was going to be some kind of systemic administrative reform. The Kirchners spent so much time fighting, in our opinion, the good fight, taking on many of the most powerful interests in the country, and abroad, and then putting out fires, that for all the good done only negligible impact was made in the boring but fundamental work of shoring up an institutionally and administratively fraught state. And then they botched an eminently winnable election. After all, the thousands of people who went to listen to the outgoing president’s speech the day before Macri assumed power showed he did not have much of a mandate.

And yet, within a month, the new government has declared several false emergencies in order to justify ruling by decree, since they do not have a majority in congress. Bypassing the proper channels, friendly Supreme Court justices have been handpicked; the issuing of all official statistics has been suspended until further notice; the currency has effectively been devalued by 40% in order for the oligarchs with silos full of grain can get a more higher dollar, as well as export restrictions being lifted, which means the price of food goes up since it’s effectively in a foreign currency. Those who got Macri’s party into power are being repaid in kind, and at a speed that utterly undermines any credibility in the institutions the flaky, media-led opposition claimed would be the backbone of their normal administration. For Macri is not just a charismatic businessman with strong ties to the Clarín media monopoly, he is Clarín’s candidate – hence the most grievous of all the anti-democratic decisions in the last month, the dismantling, by decree, again, of the Media Law, which could have served as a model for most countries.

Among many other elements, part of the Ley de Medios the Clarin monopoly could not hold licenses in all their current areas of interests: TV, radio, newspapers, internet, paper, etc. Despite having approved by the Supreme Court, a judge issued a holding order several years ago delaying the article of the law that required the sale of assets. Time was bought; no longer content to influence government, exchanging amicable headlines for more media licenses, Clarín took it. The independent media watchdog has been abolished and subsumed into a new Ministry for Communications with a man at the helm so Clarín-friendly one fears one of these days he might actually turn into a silhouette with a little trumpet in his hand. 

Elsewhere, on Monday Uki Goñi wrote a piece in the Guardian detailing a couple of the new government’s dictatorial faux pas from a few weeks ago (in fairness, he was probably on holidays). He doesn’t even mention the derogation of the media law in the body of his article or the fifteen thousand people fired from their jobs, hundreds of whom were shot at with rubber bullets during protests in La Plata last week; nor the suspension of pay talks with the teachers, etc. Indeed, he actually claims that “On the economic front […] Macri seems set for smoother sailing”. This is because he has a “sharp team of economists at the helm.” This explains why all those dismissals were not mentioned: just a few months ago the debate was about pay rises; now the idea that you’re lucky to have a job is being put about. Rachet up unemployment a few figures and wages will come down. Those economists sure are ‘sharp’, Uki.

Yet it’s not just economists. The new government has been stocked with CEOs – real business people to cut the “fat”, in the words of the new finance minister, from the administration. Argentina is open for business, with a capital O (the joy that informs this piece is chilling). Yet conflicts of interest abound. The Energy Minister calling for an end to subsidies has just left Shell after 37 years and must now sit down with his former(?) employers to negotiate; a key appointment to the Cabinet Office until recently was the head of the Pegasus Group, which controls chains of pharmacies and supermarkets among other interests; the man negotiating with the vulture funds who bought up debt from the 7% of bond holders who didn’t accept Argentina’s default restructuring in 200 has a history with JP Morgan and Deutsche bank; the Minister for Production already organised tech-related tax breaks for former employers Clarín and HSBC while serving under Macri in the City of Buenos Aires, not to mention having vested interests in companies whose potentially incriminating documents were incinerated in a fire that saw twelve firemen die; while the heads of the money-laundering agency have previously defended some of the companies – again including HSBC – who have ongoing cases with the money-laundering agency. The list goes on and on. Experience, of course, is a damn fine asset for any job; yet the state is supposed to look after the interests of the People. With these appointments, that looks next to impossible, to the point that it doesn’t even seem to be a concern. Nevertheless, the Wall St. Journal’s Taos Turner is, like Uki Goñi, delighted with the new regime: Macri’s uttering soundbites at press conferences already means this government is far more transparent.

Speaking of soundbites, on Monday morning pegamequemegusta, early-riser always, was anxiously awaiting Victor Hugo Morales’ radio program to start, eager for his analysis of the weekend’s events. When we turned it on, he was saying goodbye: he had just been fired. Even many non-Spanish speakers know Victor Hugo as the commentator for Maradona’s Goal of the Century. Long before the Kirchners were in power, he was a fierce critic of the Clarín media monopoly, as well as its judicial wing (the price of which is two thirds of his salary embargoed after same found against him in ¡a defamation suit! filed by Clarín’s Murdoch/O’Brien/William Martin Murphy/Mr Burns, Héctor Magnetto). He was fired once before as the radio station he worked for, Continental, was part owner of the very interests, TyC’s, he was attacking, until mass protests, and sponsor pressure, brought him back. Back then his was technically only a sports show (such a neat distinction is impossible, especially here). Since the Kirchner’s raising of the Clarín Question, however, he became a vocal supporter of the attempt to forge, at the very least, a playable field (not one with a great big monolith planked in the centre stretching skyward to poke God himself in the eye). This time, however, with Macri/Clarín in power, the radio’s own sponsor income was threatened. Bouncers were put on the doors of the station to stop him getting in. However, he had come in early to prepare the show we were so eager to hear. A confused while later, minutes before nine, when it was clear he would not be allowed on the air, he burst into Paulino Rodríguez’ program:

  • Paulino…

  • My dear Victor Hugo…

  • Sorry for the interruption..

  • No problem, how are you?

  • I’m getting fired from the ra…

Cue jingle. Ads. Music.

Now Paulino’s program, while very serious indeed, is, like all the others on Continental, very anti-K (VH’s show was an anomaly, leading to legendarily tetchy handovers between shows). No journalist (or, now, hardly any), however, can accept such a personal and malicious attack on a fellow professional, so after the initial surprise Paulino let Victor Hugo back on. He spoke for about ten minutes, until just after his own show would have started so that he could say goodbye to stunned listeners like yours truly. He expressed sympathy for the very directors of the radio who were firing him (again): with a troika of executive, legal and media powers united, what choice did they have?

Later that day it emerged Victor Hugo had not been the only victim of the purge: Matías Canillán, one of the foremost journalists and football commentators on Continental, had also been given the boot. Just as Macri has called to an end for political programming on state tv, preferring bland cultural ones instead, the head of programming at Continental has suddenly decided all this talk of FIFA and AFA on the radio is a drag – girls just want to have fun. For in football, too, the changes shall be rung. Macri repeatedly stated over the years that if elected he would immediately abolish Fútbol para todos, the free-to-air broadcasting of Argentine football that in 2009 took the rights from Clarín-controlled TyC, indicted in FIFA-gate last year. It has been spared so far (maybe because we’re being gypped elsewhere) and looks set to continue, but with much heavier involvement of sponsors – a boon for those who consider public service announcements propaganda but insurance ads chicken soup for the soul.

Just as the swiftness and brazenness of Clarín’s revolution, the slowness of reform at the AFA in the year and a half since don Julio Grondona died has been surprising. No power vacuum, no real upheaval; it’s as if the clubs presidents feared he might come back. When elections were eventually held, hanging chad-type irregularities with ballot papers meant no winner could be named. Both of the main candidates are reprehensible puppets, so we’ll spare you the details. The skinny is that as both candidates square off, the real sticking point in negotiations (after all, a unity candidate could be proposed) is legalised online gambling – not whether, but how –, which is unregulated as yet in Argentina. Under the last government, Grondona pushed successfully for a rather tame pools game to be introduced. The new version – balloons ‘n’ all, no doubt – promises to swamp the winner’s hypoteneuse in cash. If it’s to succeed, of course, us workers will have to have a few pesos to spare. Macri’s CEOs will have to spare us that much.

Pegamequemegusta apologises for any queasiness this post may provoke. Yet save your real sympathy for 22-year-old Jonathan Calleri, who has been triangulated into a footballing netherworld. After further speculation about him being shipped off to Brazil came to nout, for now, he was officially released by Boca into the loving arms of Deportivo Maldonado for $9.5 m rising to $12m. Olé report: Asked by a fan on his last day of training with Boca where he was headed, he replied: “I wish I knew.”

Doña Tota, la madre de Maradona

Giving birth to Jesus wasn’t easy. Only a woman could do it. Giving birth to a little Che Guevara wasn’t easy either. Only a woman could. Giving birth to Diego Armando Maradona, a more than outrageously talented footballer and around 1986 one of the most famous people on the planet, wasn’t going to be easy either; not in the least.

I didn’t realise ’til I was thirteen, I was a bleedin’ idiot until I was thirteen, that when it was time to eat my mother always had a pain in her belly. I swear every time we were going to eat she’d get a pain in her belly, but she wasn’t really sick. It was that there wasn’t enough food, there wasn’t enough to go round so she’d go without in order to make sure we all got enough to eat…

That’s el Diego talking a while back about his mother, the much-loved doña Tota. She died on Saturday, aged 82. Beyond his headline-grabbing declarations, the genuine grief expressed in the newspapers and on the radio over the last day or so has shown the grip Maradona continues to hold on the nation. Free of controversy or bombast, it highlights how important he still is to the heart of the country.

Furthermore, the outpouring reflects one of the most interesting aspects of the Argentine character, how family-orientated they are. Fine, maybe it would be more interesting if to a man they spent their Sundays hunting imaginary geese with silver spatulas clad in lead dungarees, but thus far we have yet to witness such a spectacle. No, despite working long hours, not to mention the extremely high divorce rate, family gatherings remain a central part of Argentine life; most regroup for an asado on Sundays, meat prices permitting. They love their mammies. So when el Diego’s mammy passes away, we think it’s fair to say that far from any nonsense on tv, the nation really does mourn.

To mark the occasion, highlight this, and bring you, dear info-hungry web trawler, something a little different, we’ve decided to translate a short story written about the woman who gave birth to the best player ever. (You can hear an interview with the author, Rodolfo Braceli, with Victor Hugo here). It’s a bit silly at times, we’ll admit, but it’s got some good lines.

It’s flotsom, a footballing nativity. Yet just why Diego is so important was highlighted by Braceli in the Hugo interview. Among so many other things, of course, Maradona, he says, was a kind of conductor, a lightning rod for the racism of Argentine society. When things weren’t going well, the powers of ‘mis-communication’, in his phrase, would invariably hit out at this villero; while in the euphoria of success, “at every moment that eternal goal is being scored, Maradona helped us take stock of things,” reminded them of who they were and what they could be.

Pegáme, que me gusta.

The woman who gave birth to Maradona was able to bear such a being as beforehand she gave credence to and followed the advice written down for her by la Pierina word for word. As a midwife, you could count on la Pierina at any hour of the night or day. A digression: the midwife who helped my mother give birth to my three and a half kilos was also called la Pierina. It wasn’t the same Pierina, no, but one reminded me of the other, and the other led me to this story. It was at that high point of the diary that links one year with another, when we toast and hug one another and kiss and become good, albeit for a moment, that Dalma Salvadora Franco, la Tota, leaned over to her husband, Diego Maradona, Chitoro, and whispered in his ear:

  • The next one will be a boy. I’m telling you.
  • That’s what you said the first time…
  • … and it was a girl.
  • And the second time…
  • … and it was a girl.
  • And the third time …
  • … it was a girl. And the fourth time, too, I said the same thing, I know.
  • And it was a girl.
  • But the fifth, Chirito, is going to be a boy.
  • It’ll be boy, Tota, if it’s not a girl.
  • I’m telling you it’s going to be a boy.
  • If it’s girl i’ll love her just the same. You know that.
  • It’ll be a boy. And he’ll play football according to God’s will.
  • God, Tota, doesn’t have a clue about football.
  • Well if He doesn’t, it’s about time He looked down and learned a thing or two.

A pitiless rain was falling on the little house in Villa Fiorito in Lanús, in the province of Buenos Aires. Yet la Pierina had promised she was going to be there at six in the evening and there she was on that fifth of January, soaked, with her umbrella inside out. This midwife kept her word. La Tota threw a towel over her and they went off to the only room where they could talk privately. It was a conversation for grown-ups, let the girls play amongst themselves.

  • I want the baby to be a boy, Pierina. A boy and a footballer and good.
  • A good person or a good footballer?
  • Both: a good lad and a great player.
  • I knew you were going to say something like that. But let’s pretend you didn’t. Let’s start afresh. Give me an answer for everything I ask you, yeah?
  • Yes.
  • You two have never been anything other than poor… you’ve got four little chislers there, do you really want to have another?
  • Yes, I do.
  • And your husband is fine with it?
  • Yes, he wants this, too.
  • Do you want a little girl or a little boy?
  • A little boy.
  • Then, Tota, you must look at the sun every time you have a drink of water.
  • I’ll look at the sun every time I drink water. But what do I do at night?
  • Look at the neck of the sun, the moon.
  • I’ll look at the moon when I drink water, then.
  • That’s not all. You and Chitoro, every day you must eat things that grow on trees, from wood.
  • Why?
  • So that the newborn comes with a little stick.

La Pierina was a woman with a bit of reading behind her. That line, for example, about ‘being born with a little stick’ she knicked from some poet who would include it three years later in a book titled The Last Father. These things happen. You’ve got to admit, too, that as a midwife la Pierina was extremely flexible and assured: more than once, with pain in her heart, she helped abort little dears who would have been devoured by a life sentence of poverty. No-one has the right to condemn anyone to hunger, she would say.

Giving birth to Jesus wasn’t easy. Only a woman could do it. Giving birth to a little Che Guevara wasn’t easy either. Only a woman could. Giving birth to Diego Armando Maradona, a more than outrageously talented footballer and around 1986 one of the most famous people on the planet, wasn’t going to be easy either; not in the least.

La Pierina asked for a herbal tea – with no sugar! – and sipped it slowly, pensive.

  • Tell me, Tota, are you really sure you want this nipper to be a top-class football player?
  • Yeah, of course, I want him to be brilliant, the best in the villa.
  • Look, if we’re going to bet on this, let’s go all out. While we’re at it, why not make him not just the best in the villa or the best in the province, the best in the country, but the best player of the century, the best player of all time.
  • Grand, Pierina… while we’re at it, sure.
  • I must tell you it’s not going to be easy. Having a kid like that won’t be easy. I came well-prepared, Tota. I’ve written down, month by month, what you have to do. You can’t leave anything out. If you forget one of the things or can’t get around to doing one of them, you can forget about the kid. You might get a little inside right or a holding midfielder who’s good enough on the ball, but nothing remarkable.
  • No, no, I want the kid to be a number ten, the best ever.
  • There you go, Tota, the best ever, in heaven and hell.
  • Pierina, is the hell part really necessary?
  • No, you can’t have heaven and earth without hell. They’re a package, eh.
  • Alright, Pierina, tell me what to do.

La Pierina asked for a maté or two, then she frowned and started to sip away rocking in her chair while looking at the floor. Looking at the floor as if she were staring into the very heart of the future, lost in contemplation. Her face darkened suddenly like a sky on a summer’s day. When she was done with her maté she moved her chair over and sat right in front of la Tota.

Their knees were touching.

La Pierina opened her little notebook and began to read in a somewhat solemn voice:

  • In order to have a son who’ll become the greatest of the great footballers, an unrivalled genius, you will have to follow, month by month, what I have here written down.
  • I will, I will.
  • During the first month, a raw clove of garlic first thing in the morning.
  • Garlic!
  • Yes, garlic. Come what may.
  • Grand, garlic, then. But why garlic?
  • So that he never bites his tongue. This kind of person must always say whatever he feels, no matter if it gets under the skin of the Pharoah or His Holiness himself… But let’s continue, it’s getting late. From the second month on, you will have to sleep on the left-hand side of the bed.
  • Why?
  • So that he’ll be a lefty, a real lefty. In the third month, you’ll have to fast for three days. Liquids only.
  • But i’ll be half starved, Pierina.
  • But him, too, so he’ll come into the world damn near insatiable. He’ll be hungry for goals, hungry for everything… In the fourth month, every three days you’ll have to make yourself a soup with spinach, celery, fennel, radishes, pumpkin, sweet potato, green chili, five onions… and the grass that grows at the edge of the well. A full pot of the stuff.
  • What’s that for?
  • I’m not sure, but be sure to do it, Tota. On the thirteenth day of the fifth month, the thirteenth, eh, you have to find a big round stone, about the size of a fist, and bury it in the middle of the nearest football pitch. This you must do alone, without anyone else watching, at three in the morning.
  • Can’t my husband come with me?
  • Alone, I said. And don’t tell a soul. Not even him.

The instructions for the sixth, seventh and eight months have been lost, for la Pierina, God knows why, whispered them in her ear. Women’s secrets. Spent secrets, too, as the page they were written was immediately ripped out of the notebook and set on fire.

  • Can I ask you something, Pierina?
  • You’re always asking me things. Go on.
  • Why did you have to whisper in my ear?
  • I don’t want anyone to hear us.
  • But who? Sure we’re here alone, there’s no-one else around.
  • Not quite, Tota, I feel as if someone were listening to us.
  • Someone…
  • Yes, I feel that right here, a third person… a writer, I don’t know, someone like that.

(Right then I felt ashamed and I blushed…)

  • Make me another maté, che, la Pierina said straight away, but change the yerba first. I’m not a big fan of maté mixed with bleedin’ enema run-off.

The maté came. And then the two women sat once again face to face.

  • Pierina, do you think i’ll be able to do all this?
  • That’s what I was just thinking. Will you, Tota?
  • I want to.
  • You’ll be able.
  • And in the ninth month what do I have to do?
  • From the first day , in the morning you have to go about your business without your shoes. In your bare feet, feeling the earth, the spine of the world. This will help your son come into the world liberal, catholic, universal… a cosmic kite
  • A cosmic kite?
  • I hear the words that one day some commentator who still doesn’t know he’ll be a commentator will use to describe him, for he’s still only about 14… Yes, barefoot, every day treading the back of the world…
  • No problem there, I like going barefoot.
  • What might prove a little more difficult is, in the first week of the ninth month, to thread a needle…
  • Sure I do that every day.
  • … thread a needle with your eyes closed. The same needle you use to sew buttons on the kids’ shirts. You can’t use some great big one, eh.

And la Tota became pregnant about three weeks after that meeting with la Pierina. She began to put on weight happily, without trying to hide it. Month after month she observed every instruction.

Until the day arrived when she finally had to thread a needle with her eyes closed. It was early when she made her first attempt, locked up in the bedroom, needle and thread in hand… she had to believe. Yet the first time she couldn’t do it. Nor at the third attempt nor at the tenth. She realised her hands were shaking. Blind and shaking, not even a year’s worth of trying would see her do it, she sighed. Three, six, seven tries more, she just couldn’t. She booted the spool and the ball flew out right through the angle of the open window. Someone outside on the street saw the ball spinning out the window and shouted what a goal! Tota heard the word goal and it was as if she’d just shaken off all the angst that had threatened to derail her. She decided to shout goal! with each new attempt to thread the needle.

She didn’t need many more tries. In fact, the very first time she felt the thread slip through the tiny little eye of the needle.

She could feel it, and she began to sob silently.

Then her husband came in and found her. He didn’t dare try stop her tears, he just bent down and kissed her swollen belly. Then he, too, began to weep softly.

Two days later, la Tota, at full term, was helping her husband, standing on his tip-toes on a chair, to change a lightbulb. Chitoro, why not use a bloody ladder… but the words were hardly out of her mouth when he dropped the bulb. She managed to break its fall with her knee; the bulb flies up again and begins to fall once more – but it doesn’t crash on the floor this time either; she cushions its fall catching it on her instep and flicks it into his bewildered hand.

  • Will it still work? he asks.
  • I’m sure it will, she says.

Having followed la Pierina’s instructions to the letter, she didn’t think her little feat with the lightbulb would seal, like a precocious birthmark, the peerless destiny of he who was to be born at seven in the morning of the following day, a Sunday, naturally; he who would be born for the ages.

On the 30th of October in the year 1960 anno domini, doña Tota’s waters broke at about five in the morning. On the way to the clinic that, of course, was named after Evita, she said to Pierina:

  • I’m sure Dieguito is going to be a number 10, but tell me, will my son be happy?
  • Your son will be condemned to bring happiness to others.
  • But him, will he be happy?
  • Look, we’re almost at the clinic. Finally.
  • But him, will he be happy, Pierina?
  • Give me your hand, watch your step.
  • But him, will he…?
  • Trust me, Tota, come on, quick.

Messi, Francescoli & Sports Illustrated

This may seem like curmudgeonly criticism, but when a magazine like Sports Illustrated rolls along with its feted, prizewinning auteurs deigning to shed a bit of light on Argentina only to tell a story anyone who’s at all interested in the topic already knows by heart, present bits of other peoples’ interviews as its own work and even make smug, condescending and downright stupid comments about a country the writer clearly doesn’t know very well, pegamequemegusta don’t like it; we expect better.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so does pegamequemegusta churn out these cold, wet and unpotable posts. My brothers, oh handsome brothers (and we stress this as narry a lovesick sailor after three years on the yardarm has espied more females than are wont to frequent this inhospitable coast), pegamequemegusta was forced out on its crutches to stalk the shoreline today for two reasons: firstly because of the usual financial imperative that sees us selling cigarettes to schoolchildren and, secondly, as the words of two contrasting Messi interviews in one day had set our salt-encrusted sinapses firing alternately bursts of delight and outrage as in the 50-gun salute once held by our dear, late schizophrenic skipper after what he claimed to be te vanquishing of his evil twin.

The first piece that set our ears as pointed as a horny cocker spaniel with a Nosferatu make-over comes from Sports Illustrated. The piece is imaginatively titled ‘Lionel Messi: the World At His Feet’. When we came across it, it had already been retweeted many times, nearly all of which referred to it as ‘outstanding’.

Although the sarcasm leaking from the previous lines is about as appealing as being dripped on by a paedophile, it is a good article, of course. Pegamequemegusta was even quite thrilled with such great lines as these:

The fact is, with a talent as otherworldly as Messi’s, charm would be a distraction. Miles Davis played a diabolic trumpet with his back to the audience, and that was more than enough; any hint of charisma would have blown the roof off the place. Maradona’s career, meanwhile, played out like a war between a glorious body and a corrupted mind; when, in 1994, his days as an international player ended in disgrace after he failed a World Cup drug test, the personality seemed to have consumed the player whole.

Great stuff; and it’s accompanied by interesting claims such as Messi “has indeed shifted Maradona’s gambeta, his capering dribble, into a higher gear.” Pegamequemegusta goes all Polonius: ‘capering’ is good.

Yet by page three we began to feel irked by the excessive name-dropping. When left to its own devices, the prose is good, so why laden it down with all these quotes? Well, they’re there to create a veritable chorus of respected football voices who can testify to Messi’s greatness, who can justify the interest (and, indeed, the length) of the piece, you say, oh handsome reader. Grand. But perhaps it’s just padding since Messi doesn’t have much to say. Perhaps we don’t need any more interviews with Messi. Pegamequemegusta is pretty bleedin tired of reading and watching these things, so god knows how the man himself feels.

Yet what does SI care? It prides itself on having an interview with Messi the day after his stonking performance against Real Madrid last November. The day after. Yet SI wants water for its souvenir-studded mill so bad that in its classic Gonzo, look-at-me intro, Price complains of Messi’s churlish reluctance to speak about the comparisons between himself and el Diez: “Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.”

SI try to get through to their man

This isn’t a minute by minute of Mr Price’s work but suffice it to say that it covers all the ground familiar to anyone who’s paid any attention to Messi over the past five years or indeed pegamequemegusta over the past three months: Newell’s, Rexach, Barcelona, Jorge Messi, criticism in his native land, Maradona. Though in fact, apart from some delightful prose describing Maradona’s character (“Diamond earrings flashing, waistline ballooning, marriage falling apart, Maradona soon became a cartoon figure”), there is almost no discussion of Maradona as manager, leader, or the country’s hopes in the World Cup, nothing for better or worse. Being turned down by Maradona, who gives about ten interviews a day, coupled with Messi’s unwillingness to speak on the matter seems to have stumped the eminent reporter.

He regales us with an unsubstantiated anecdote about Verón (“one of the team’s veteran midfielders”) changing the tactics at half time against Brazil and claims that Argentina attacked ‘more effectively’ in the second half’. Yet they didn’t. Maradona is not a good manager and his selection for that match and others was wrong but the pathetic goals they let in the first half had less to do with tactics or Messi’s position on the pitch than they did an inexperienced, bricking-it defence ahead of a startled goalkeeper and massive Brazilian centre halves. There’s enough shit to throw around already to keep a squadron of hyperactive monkeys happy for a month, so surely one expects a celebrated journalist to get their story straight.

Neither was pegamequemegusta too fond of the suggestion that ‘Their marriage has felt strained since September 2008, a month before Maradona took over, when he clucked, ‘Sometimes Messi plays for himself; he feels so superior that he forgets his teammates.” Again, ‘clucked’ is good, but the claim is outlandish and simplistic: what about the performances of beloved, world-class players such as Tevez, Cambiasso, Zanetti and even Riquelme in the last year of Coco Basile’s reign?

But this is going on for far too long. There’s some orchestra-heavy Woody Harrelson/Wesley snipes flim that’s not White Men Can’t Jump on TV (with lines like “You’re busted and you’ll be licking the inside of your asshole for a month to get the taste out of your mouth” – jaysus), the missus is snoring and pegamequemegusta is tired. Suffice it to say that Mr Price’s well-written article is littered with faults.

'El Príncipe' Enzo Francescoli

Yet it was just earlier tonight that we saw an interview with Messi that did ask some questions that he was willing to answer. It was on Canal 7 with Enzo Francescoli in a program with an equally tacky title, ‘Juego Sagrado’. Unlike the Sport’s Illustrated piece, which had a gestation period of a few months, this chinwag took place about ten days ago, as evidenced by Messi’s wearing a Barça training top. It’s very relaxed and Enzo is impeccably turned out in a dark sports jacket and dark navy shirt. Rather than looking to bathe a lack of details in a sea of prose, it is more focused on chatting about what it’s like to be Messi and play like Messi. Obviously, the scourge of a thousand interviewers so far has been the standard response ‘I don’t know, I just do it’, yet Enzo, if his lack of journo credentials meant he couldn’t do the interview alone and had to be accompanied, at bottom is a real football man and he managed to extract a few gems from Rainman himself.

Some of pegamequemegusta’s personal highlights were when they got Messi talking (how about this for a question, SI?) about his favourite players. Aimar, was the immediate response. He even sat up in his chair. Soon he mentioned Zidane and original Ronaldo but watching Aimar back in his Valencia days was one of his great joys. Very interesting, we said as we slapped our good knee, especially since arguably he should have been in the squad.

The next nugget wasn’t long in dropping either. Enzo wanted to know what Messi thinks about when he’s in the box. “For example,” says Francescoli, “whenever the ball would be in and around the box i’d always look to position myself on the left-hand side of the area and look for knock-downs, short passes, one-twos and the like.” Messi stirs, looks up and smiles, certainly picturing the scene to himself as this slick legend talks about playing football. “You, however, score all sorts of different goals but do you think about it? Or do they just happen? Take the third goal against Arsenal, for example, such a lovely goal, to have the calm to lob the keeper like that, was that improvised?”

“Nah,” says Messi, “that one wasn’t improvised actually. I had decided that if I was in a one-on-one I was going to do that as Xavi had got into that position in the previous match and he’d missed it. You know,” and he grins whilst nervously scratching his arm, “with Almunia you had a good idea of what he was going to do.” And they all titter knowingly. Ah, Almunia.

Messi dinks the ball over Almunia for his hat-trick

It wasn’t a laugh a minute by any stretch of the jaw. They spoke about competition in training, practising free kicks, trying to get better every day, etc. The interview inevitably covered much of the same ground, (he’s twenty-bloody-two) yet it seemed more comfortable than the impression given by Sports Illustrated of their encounter. When the other journalist – sorry, pegamequemegusta doesn’t know who he was and I couldn’t find any clips so far – asked about Maradona, you could see immediately his face tensing up, ready to give the same spiel Again. “I always said there’d only ever be one Maradona, and to be honest the comparisons make me uncomfortable,” he said. Yet Enzo arrived to take the edge off with one of his characteristically long interjections, which we don’t have to hand, and they end up talking about how the important thing is what you’re like as a person.

What Messi did say on the team’s chances in South Africa was that they were going to have to work hard in the build-up once they all get together. Could they play like Spain? “Ojalá,” he said, “that’s what we’re missing, we have to get used to keeping the ball and creating chances; we’re going to try and get that nailed down.” The Germany match helped greatly in stabilising things, he assured Enzo. “Whatever about the result, you could see we grew as a team and we have to keep on that track.”

Platitudes. You see, it’s not just an awkward, defensive reflex on the Diego question: he won’t truck any nonsense about naming his ‘Ideal XI’ either. Nor does he ‘dream’ about lifting the trophy: of course he thinks a lot about winning it but, you see, Messi don’t dig oneirism much. He may be a likened to a poem-in-prose but he’s no soothsayer or poet. He’s no Valdano, Maradona or Victor Hugo Morales. He hasn’t got the words to express himself; he doesn’t even seem to think much and he doesn’t watch much football. I imagine the staff employed to keep him happy never tire of sending gracious letters of thanks to Sony.

As everyone who’s met him seems to concur, he’s a lovely boy but grade-A interview material he ain’t. Of course, he brings it on himself with the outrageous number of endorsements he does. Sports Illustrated say he earns in the region of $46m a year. Utterly insane. If you’re Beckham and that’s your world, grand, but if you’d be just as happy sitting in a wicker chair with a piece of straw in your mouth, please, for the love of God don’t sign any more contracts once the current ones end. Don’t do any more underpants ads.

Beckham has nothing to be worried about...

This isn’t another of those cheapest of cheap shots whereby Jorge Messi is accused of treating his son like a particularly fertile hen, that he has been too quick to cash in on his son, right from the initial decision to up sticks and go on the grand Barcelona adventure. While it’s clearly rubbish, it is interesting to wonder how Messi how might have been different had he stayed in Argentina, had he developed longer in the vicerrealista culture of Argieball. For all his undoubted picardía on the pitch, he doesn’t have the same swagger of an Agüero, say.

For pegamequemegusta, these are more interesting topics than his relationship with Maradona. Enzo Francescoli got much closer to the heart of the matter than Sports Illustrated, who besides mentioning that he spoke in Spanish (!) didn’t feel it was necessary to point out how Messi speaks, the fact that he still has a real bogger accent and still uses Argentine slang despite living in Barcelona for most of the last decade. Does Mr Price speak castellano? In any case, he does go out of his way to quote an idiot like Sergio Almirón: “He has a Spanish mind,” Almirón says at last. “He thinks he’s Spanish!”

Even if they’re someone else’s words, it’s another cheap shot: You wouldn’t ask Don Givens why McGeady doesn’t play well (and Almirón is far less important than even Don Givens). Also, the line about the picketers smacks of condescension: protesting about the hail may have something to do with the fact that the response to their no doubt shoddy houses being fucked on was nonexistent. And Argentines don’t eat beef for breakfast since the rate of inflation in the country means most people – including pegamequemegusta – can hardly even afford it.

This may seem like curmudgeonly criticism, but when a magazine like Sports Illustrated rolls along with its fêted, prizewinning auteurs deigning to shed a bit of light on Argentina only to tell a story anyone who’s at all interested in the topic already knows by heart, present bits of other people’s interviews as its own work and even make smug, condescending and downright stupid comments about a country the writer clearly doesn’t know very well, pegamequemegusta don’t like it; we expect better. ‘Grab some wire, duct tape’ – excuse me, pero quién te creés, yanqui conchudo ? Do you know how hard people bloody well work in this country and the fact they get almost nothing for it, and have no security to speak of? Is this due to their ‘lunacy’ alone? Would your own government care to offer an opinion on its involvement in multiple disasters in Argentine history, its role in constructing the stage on which all this madness unfolds, from the overthrow of Perón down to the their complicity with the dictatorship and the crash of 2001?

Sports Illustrated seems offended that Maradona’s qualifications aren’t as impressive as their own, yet they singularly fail to identify with the subject of their interview or to shed any new light on the man or his situation. Francescoli hasn’t got much experience either yet he got a lot more out of Messi in more or less the same amount of time. ¡Viva Enzo! Sigan mamando, SI.

*Tonight Enzo is interviewing Zidane!