A Dirty Soccer Secret

Argentine friends wear their national team jerseys on game day in Brazil. doherty (right) wears his training jersey of an Argentine club, Estudiantes de la Plata.
Argentine friends wear their national team jerseys on game day in Brazil. doherty (right) wears his training jersey of an Argentine club, Estudiantes de la Plata.

I consider myself a fairly transparent person, but there’s something I’ve been reluctant to share: I would not be upset or disappointed if the albiceleste (the Argentine team — nicknamed after the white and sky-blue stripes of their flag and jerseys) wins the World Cup. I was passionately supporting other teams but they’ve all been eliminated.

Among the remaining teams, I would prefer Argentina win for diverse reasons. Many non-Argentines would likely say: “Argentines don’t need any more reason to be arrogant,” or something of that nature. While watching the Argentina vs. Switzerland match on a boat ride from Parintins to Manaus (when the intermittent signal reception permitted), the Brazilians were enthusiastically rooting for Switzerland. One Brazilian noticed I was cheering for Argentina and he scolded me for supporting such a pretentious people. Despite being a sweeping generalization, it’s difficult to deny the stereotypical arrogance of some Argentines when a song being chanted by Argentine fans (and players) this year boasts the following:

Brazil, tell me how it feels to have your daddy in your house. I promise that although it’s been a while, we will never forget that Diego [Maradona] schooled you, [Claudio] Caniggia eliminated you, [and] you’re crying since [the 1990 World Cup in] Italy until today! You will see Messi, he will bring the Cup home. Maradona is better than Pelé! 

The New York Times published an article titled “Why so many World Cup fans dislike Argentina.” Supported by impressive poll results, the article concluded that “many people can’t stand the thought of an Argentine World Cup title.” I can stand this thought because I think Lionel Messi deserves to kiss the greatest soccer trophy, and I think an Argentine victory would be good for the game.

Messi is the greatest soccer player of my generation. He is the only player ever to be crowned the best in the world four times consecutively, in a sport with more professionals than any other on the planet. The Argentine has countless other individual records. When he broke Gerd Müller’s 1972 record of 86 goals in a calendar year, the English announcer Ray Hudson praised Messi as “the most wonderful, stupendously magnificent player in the history of the game!” Yet, unlike Maradona, Pelé and other greats, Messi has never won a World Cup.

Argentines’ passion for soccer has enriched the game immeasurably. Whether or not one approves of some Argentines’ excessive expression of pride, they have a lot to be proud about when it comes to soccer. Not only has the country produced many great players and exported their skill and tenacity around the world (which Portland Timbers fans should be particularly grateful for), but Argentina has also produced many great coaches. Three of the 16 teams to make it out of this World Cup group stage were coached by Argentines. The current coach of the albiceleste, Alejandro Sabella, eloquently explained the other day that, “in soccer, a gram of neurons weighs more heavily than a kilo of muscle.” (He also admitted Argentines’ arrogance: “Argentines often think we are greater than we are. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad.”) In addition to players and coaches, Argentines invented the first soccer ball with a hidden valve for inflation (“Superball”) and Argentine journalists and intellectuals have produced rich analyses and reflections on the game (Dante Panzieri, Osvaldo Soriano, Roberto Fontanarrosa, Álvaro Abós). These Argentines have channeled their passion for soccer in a way that has enriched the game, and another Argentine World Cup victory would likely impassion and inspire more Argentines in a way that benefits the game in Argentina and beyond.

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