As the World Cup began, Diego Maradona was a figure of absurdity and fun—a perverse and lunatic figure, his ego as bloated as his abdomen. On the sidelines, bearded and animated as he was during his days of cocaine and Castro, he wore two huge wristwatches at once. He forced his hotel to rebuild his suite to include a bidet. He had lost, in qualifying, to Bolivia, and favored an absurd strategy that committed everything to attack, a sugared-up video game kind of football.
You play soccer. You have a team, some decent players. You’re ambitious. Good for you. Now, attempt the following: When the whistle blows and the match begins, jog around the pitch slowly, laconically, grinning the entire time. Your body language should express an indifference to the game itself. In fact, let your opponent control the pace, let them have possession, let them think they’re in charge. When you do get the ball, pass it around a little, just to see how it feels. Isn’t the stadium pretty under the lights? Smile. Mostly, though, wait. Be patient.
Of all the advantages that England seemed to enjoy at the outset of their lifeless 0-0 draw with Algeria, perhaps none looked so dramatic on television as their vast handsomeness advantage. On the sideline there was David Beckham, of course, the only man alive who can make a mohawk look upstanding, and the coach Fabio Capello, who looked terrific and commanding--gorgeous light grey suit, charcoal shirt, black tie, and spectacles so impeccably designed they seem likely to inspire a line of kitchenware.
The fate of attacking football in this tournament largely rests with Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile. Like so many other teams in these opening games, they should have probably run up a much higher score today. (A point-blank header into the arms of the goalkeeper didn’t help.) But it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about Chile’s contrarian methodology. There's lots of talk about Bielsa being a nutter, and, how this explains Chile's unique approach. I suppose the nickname “El Loco” will tend to generate that line of chatter. But, as I’ve argued, this doesn’t do the great man justice.
The tournament came alive today. Three games and each of them excellent. Chile are fast becoming everyone's second-favourite team and not just because Marcelo Bielsa is superbly bonkers. They play with verve and ambition and good luck to them. Later, against an admittedly poor South Africa, Uruguay were very good. Again, virtue - in the sense of attacking football - was rewarded. Forlan and Suarez ran rings around the poor hosts and, whisper it, a quarter-final place for Uruguay is far from inconceivable.
I am a big fan of the site Zonal Marking. The good folks over there have an excellent study of Chile. Now, I plan on rooting for Chile on feel-good humanitarian grounds. But I also intend to root for them because of their coach, Marcelo Bielsa. We’ve spent a fair amount of time already discussing the eccentricities of Diego Maradona. You might ask, how on earth did the Argentine football federation select such an obviously unstable man? Well, Maradona probably looked sane in comparison to Bielsa, one of his predecessors as the national coach.
My cousin C_____ is a cynic, a jokester, a sly dealer in double-entendres, the sort who never says anything seriously. Only twice in my life have I heard him express a sincere emotion: at his wedding reception (happiness, presumably), and once when describing Diego Armando Maradona’s farewell game. I’d decided not to watch it, but C_____ couldn’t resist, and the next day, as he told me what he’d seen, his voice broke. I thought he was joking at first. It was a charity match, a spectacle, and a slow, grotesquely overweight Maradona scored three or four goals on penalty kicks.