Pegamequemegusta’s been silent for a few days now, days that have been spent licking our wounds like a particularly assiduous cat after an aborted open-air vivisection down at the tar pits, days spent feebly fending off ham-carrying neighbours eager to steal the glaze from our tear-filled eyes, days like any other, then. We tried to take out our rage on poor unsuspecting day editors of reputable newspapers with many a missive featuring the words ‘shoddy’ and ‘outlandish’. Yet they weren’t interested in what we should name our children.
At least we had the World Cup for one week more. Yet even that was ultimately disappointing. Uruguay would’ve given Spain a better game, we bellowed in yet another missive. This time it was to the RFEF insisting Spain abandon the dull, defensive European Championships to take place in yet another sprawling, poverty-stricken sub-continent in favour of the Copa América next year, which will be in, er, Argentina. Only there will they get a real balompié challenge and the Street Fighter 2 background people kind of atmosphere a real football tournament needs. Plus, Japan will be there! Pegamequemegusta will keep you up to date on this campaign.
In the meantime, we have not been the only ones trying to make spurious links between Spain and Argentina. Today we bring you another interview from Olé‘s irrepressible Ignacio Fusco (the original interview was in Sunday’s Olé as part of their preview of the final, but we just found it). No matter who he talks to, no matter how apparently anodyne the matter, his interviews are always fleghmy and bespittled. Usually Nacho is the irascible one, but today Don Alfredo Di Stéfano is the one who betrays a crankiness of spirit that makes Kaká look like Karol Wojtyła.
Señor Fusco appears to be intent on outdoing Cruyff’s attempt to claim all the credit for Spain’s win for himself by sending his Paulian tentacles even further back in time to the 1950s. Despite the fact that Argentina either didn’t participate or went out in the first round, the fact that Don Di Stéfano originated here seems to be enough to launch a claim in this War of the Spanish Success[ion]. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go into why they didn’t participate [political wranglings involving Perón himself], why Di Stéfano led such a peripatetic career or why, having won 6/10 Copa Américas between 1945 and 1959, Argentina could still be thrashed 1-3 and 1-6 against West Germany and Hungary in the group stage in Sweden 1958. [The kind of story a good blog would pounce on as if it were a tasty mussel, given its parallels to the present, where they’ve won 5 under-20 WCs in the last 15 years without getting past the quarters finals of the real thing. Hmm, we may look into this].
Nonetheless, spurious credit-hunting aside, it’s a good read. Di Stéfano’s fuse is shorter than Howard Webb’s… fingernails and he goes on an almighty rant. We don’t think he’s 100% right about that either but we do feel a certain affinity with the cynical wallowings of grouchy ex-pats. The translation, as always, is ours. Let us know what you think – pegame, que me gusta.
An idol and an adopted son of Spain, who today will play their first ever WC final, Don Alfredo Di Stéfano laments the state of our Selección: they didn’t keep the ball, it’s not a proper team, there’s not even a recognisable style anymore. Once again, he says, we were arrogant, and the best football has been played by Spain: “But today they have to win, eh.” Cheers, old fellow.
The story starts in Chamartín. In the north of Madrid on the night of the 23rd September 1953, Spain is getting ready to take its first steps. Few things are as inevitable as an inheritance, as being what others have been: to learn, plagiarise, continue. That day Alfredo di Stéfano makes his debut with Real Madrid. He’s fat, slow, irksome: it’s been nine months since he last played. Despite his goal, French side Nancy win 4-2 in a friendly that laid the basis of the current story, the continuing past, today’s final. Don Alfredo was Xavi, he was Iniesta, he was Cesc: the Motherland’s stars spring from his branch.
“These days they talk about midfielders. Rogelio Dominguez, a lovely fellow, once said to me: ‘Alfredo, you are an all-over-the-fielder!’ What can I say, I liked defending. I’d drop back and they’d say: ‘What are you doing here? Get back up front!’ laughs the maestro, the man who came up with this kind of football, ‘the Founder of the modern game’, according to Platini. The crack, who more than 50 years ago played the way Spain do now, patient, pleasure dripping slow.
- What did you make of the World Cup, Alfredo? Did you watch much of it?
- Why the hell wouldn’t I have watched it? It’s my job, don’t you know, I have to watch it!
- And what?
- What did you make of it?
- Bah, the team we wanted to win, didn’t. Argentina went out with a whimper. So much enthusiasm, so much blather, and then poof, it all falls apart. I didn’t like it one little bit. Not a jot.
- Now it all seems so clear. But many people were shocked by the 0-4 against Germany.
- Sure we hadn’t shown we were a proper team, what are you on about? How far are you going to get without something to prop up all the quality we had in attack? No-where, no, no, no. Three or four small lads played up front, all those lads, they played a bit, but the rest, the rest are guys you wouldn’t… you wouldn’t… Look: you can’t have everyone doing their own thing. We Argentines are the biggest bullshitters in the world. We’ve always been like this. We can’t get enough of being right smart-arses. We, we, we – no, sir, we poppycock! The time for me me me is over. The thing is we’ve had good players plenty of times, good groups, a good team spirit, and we’ve even put together some good teams. But then we go on hailing victories [that haven’t happened yet], we’ve cheered so many victories, but look at us now. In my day there was a school, an idea, a style – a style that was also a great show! Now even that’s gone. Argentine football is constantly up for sale, the players spread out all over the world. They sell everything they can get their hands on, they’re going to end up bollock naked: our football is going to end up bollock naked. We won’t even have any players. That’s where we’re at. And the farce goes on.
- We don’t even have our own style anymore?
- We had one, we had one; but not for years now, not for a long time.
- How long ago?
- When we were admired. The world copied our style of play, and look at the depths we’ve sunk to now, a real nadir. If there were some kind of continuity at least, a style to cradle all these 18 year olds for when after they’re sold, for those who rushed onto the market before they’ve been able to become cracks… but we don’t even have that.
- Were you happy with Maradona?
- Sure Maradona didn’t play!
- It would’ve been no bad thing to have had the ’86 Diego…
- What of it: he’s not a player anymore. If he were, things might be different.
- And as a coach?
- I don’t know, I don’t know… Look: the players are the ones who win, and buenas noches.
It’s been one long night for Don Alfredo, one long, unforgettable night: in spite of having turned out for Argentina, Colombia and Spain, he never did play in a World Cup. He could have gone to Brazil in 1950, but Argentina didn’t go owing to strained diplomatic relations. “And Colombia didn’t go either,” recalls la Saeta Rubia [the Golden Arrow]. It sounds like a joke: “Switzerland ’54 came along when I was in bureaucratic limbo; and for Sweden ’58 I finally had Spanish citizenship but la Furia failed to qualify,” recounts the honorary president of Real Madrid. Then comes Chile in 1962: the Argentine Helenio Herrera includes him in the squad. Now’s the time, he’s ready, finally he’ll play in a World Cup, “but I got injured in a friendly against an Austrian team just before we travelled. I was so anxious to play that at night in the hotel i’d put a lamp on my right knee so as to keep the muscle warm.”
- Politics, paperwork, injuries, it sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But I never lost any sleep over it, you know. At that time I wanted to play in a World Cup so that my parents could see me out there. That’s all.
- And to think that this Spain team, Don Alfredo, plays just as you did: passing, keeping the ball moving.
- But if you don’t move, if you don’t ask for the ball, if you don’t get free of your marker, tell me, how am I supposed to give you the ball? It would be flat football, lifeless and just plain bad. Spain play like Barcelona. It’s not about such and such a player: it’s about everyone coming together to form a team, that’s the secret. That’s how you win a championship.
- How do you see things turning out today?
- Spain have been the best team at the World Cup. The Dutch can play a bit but they’re not great. We’ll see.
- Have la Furia already earned their place in history or do they need to something else to seal it?
- [Silence] Do they have to what?
- Win, Alfredo.
- No, no; these things have to be finished off. Spain have to win. Since when is winning the same as losing? Spain have tried to play a certain way and it’s worked out well. Let’s hope they win. It’s us who haven’t been doing things right for a long time. Let’s take it piano piano, nice and slow, and try to build a team.
Us, especially us, the best in the world.