Barrilete Cósmico: Malvinas, Maradona, Argentina & England

The scoreline is familiar, as is the fateful date, but surely the title for this article should be ‘The Hand of God’? Everyone knows that this was the game when England’s brave Three Lions and the hapless officials were slyly deceived by the diminutive Argentine, and thus any retrospective of the game must take this key moment as its starting point? Or perhaps not…the moment we always hark back to, with a characteristic tone of moral indignation, is remembered quite differently outside England.

The Quarter Final game may occupy a similar space in the Argentine collective memory in terms of its significance, but the epithet that is more commonly used in the Southern Cone, invoking the Uruguayan commentator’s interest in cosmology, refers predictably to the ‘other’ moment of otherworldly intervention that day.

The nature of knockout football dictates that any country’s success or defeat can and often is traced back to just a few seconds which decide a tense and even game and that these seconds ultimately go a long way to deciding the media narrative for the whole game or indeed the team’s entire campaign. All the hard work undertaken in qualifying and the group stage can very quickly be undone by just one moment of idiocy, genius or simply ill-fortune.Diego_Maradona_1_1017079c

For Argentines 1986 represents a moment of catharsis against a nemesis which far transcends the concerns of the football pitch, striking an especially raw nerve in the post-colonial Argentine psyche.

British colonial interest in Argentina dates back to the 19th Century when the British, with more than a smidgeon of self-interest, were among the first to acknowledge the independence of Argentina. From the early days of independence British interest in Argentina was significant (providing more than a third of all investment) playing a key role in the development of railway and tramway lines, agriculture, processing, refrigeration and export. One of the most indelible marks left, of course, was football, a legacy clearly visible in the nomenclature a number of Argentina’s biggest sides, ranging from River Plate and Boca Juniors to Newell’s Old Boys and All Boys (who currently play their football at the Estadio Islas Malvinas – The Falklands Isles Stadium).

Over time, Argentina have accrued a number of rivals in international football, ranging from five-time world champions Brazil to their smaller cousin Uruguay.

In the previous round, played at Estadio Cuautemoc in Puebla, Argentina deservedly overcome their River Plate neighbours and historic rivals by a goal to nil. However they are far from satisfied, for there are higher matters on their minds. One might think, in light of the historical bête noire role that the upstart buffer state has played in the history of both Argentinian and Brazilian football, that victory over their nearest neighbours would taste sweet.

Such is the superiority complex and sense of pride that Uruguayans feel with regard to their theoretically more powerful neighbour that the following phrase remains common on the streets of Montevideo ‘ataca Argentina, gol de Uruguay’ (Argentina attack, goal to Uruguay). As with any rivalry between two forces of unequal size, the rivalry means much more to the smaller adversary (think Wales and England at Rugby Union, or of any other surprisingly even David vs Goliath you see fit). Argentines feel more relief than joy at ousting Uruguay, a dangerous team and a firm rival.

However, I digress: The next round puts them on collision course with the real enemy: England. In football terms, 20 years on from Argentina’s controversial quarter final exit in 1966 at the hands of hosts and eventual winners England, there is a strange symmetry to be found – especially as the South Americans too would go on the lift the great trophy.

In 1966, of course, for those unfamiliar with the minutiae of England’s successful campaign, the Boca Juniors midfielder Antonio Rattin was famously dismissed for ‘looking at the referee the wrong way’ and/or ‘violence of the tongue’ by German referee Rudolf Kreitlein. Rattin was so incensed that it took at least eight minutes to convince him to leave the field and upon doing so he proceeded to sit on the Queen’s red carpet. Alf Ramsey, enraged at the Argentines’ performance, infamously labelled the South Americans ‘animals’ – a crassly chosen (or well-chosen if you are of the Alex Ferguson school of niggling) barb that further riled the already fuming Argentines. This comment came hot on the heels of Ramsey having instructing his players to break with protocol and refuse to swap shirts with their opponents.

Indeed the collective South American memory of the 1966 World Cup is one of particular bitterness, viewing the competition as a conspiracy of European bully-boy tactics and intimidation, most blatantly exemplified by holders Brazil and Pelé being (literally) kicked out of the tournament by their ex-colonial masters Portugal.

Of course, much of the popular feeling surrounding the game was linked to occurrences beyond the football field. With the Falklands War (Guerra de las Malvinas) fresh in the mind, the Argentine players felt an enormous responsibility to win a game that meant far more to their people than football. England still had to overcome Paraguay a day later, but the feeling was that it is meant to be. England were slowly improving after their traditional false start, qualifying second to an unfancied but talented Morocco side.

Whilst the Malvinas issue remains a potent force for populist unity and nationalism it is fair to note that the issue wasn’t of universal importance to all Argentines. Avant-garde Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges famously labelled the conflict as ‘una guerra de dos calvos por un peine’ (a war of two bald men fighting for a comb). The giant of Latin American literature, who like many of his contemporaries spent large chunks of his life in the spiritual homeland of Europe, incidentally, would pass away in Switzerland just a week before the game.

For those closer to the coal-face, wounds from the tragic war were still raw, and a burning sense of injustice colours the mere mention of the colonial antagonist. This could only be sated by a victory against the smug, superior colonial power personified by the crass, overzealous leadership of Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady famously offered a thumbs-up gesture to the British Press upon learning that 323 Argentines had perished following an attack on the ARA General Belgrano, which was moving away from the islands and was outside of the Malvinas Exclusion Zone.

It was quickly proved that Britain’s military might could not be matched by the Argentines deeming the invasion a pointless exercise for all concerned, but on the football field Argentina had long matched or outclassed their European neighbours with a nexus of guile, flair and the individualism of the criollo style.

The mid-eighties found Argentina lurching from crisis to crisis battling against hyper-inflation, a cause of the countries commitment to Washington Consensus driven neo-liberalism, whilst recovering from a macabre period of state-sponsored terror and disappearances under the military dictatorship and its participation in the trans-national repression of Operation Condor. Football, as always, provided a release valve for the beleaguered Argentine masses.

Outside of more local ‘derbies’ and ‘clásicos’ the Argentina – England rivalry is surely the most deep-rooted antagonism between teams from different continents.

Within the Americas Argentines are not noted for their popularity. A popular Latin American joke asks how an Argentine commits suicide, explaining that he climbs to the top of his ego and then jump  (¿Cómo se suicida un argentino? ¡Se sube a su ego y luego salta!). Any notion of Latin American solidarity is often utopian and misplaced. The subtle nuances of each nation state prevent it and often actively encourage the opposite. The existence of terms like ‘boliguayo’, a derogatory catch-all portmanteau used to refer to immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay, goes some way to explaining the unpopularity of Argentina in those two countries. On a more general level, large swathes of the continent tend to see themselves as ‘mestizo’ (mixed-race), owing to miscegenation in the early colonial period. Argentina’s historical development was closer to that of the United States, importing a European middle class from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century.

Despite all this however, one point of continent-wide unity is the Falklands issue. Lula da Silva of Brazil questioned the ‘geographical, political and economic explanation for the islands sovereignty’, whilst Ecuador’s Rafael Correa suggested that Latin American countries should actively pursue economic sanctions against the British.

With this in mind Latin Americans outside Argentina found themselves faced with a strange dilemma, of the sort every football fan is often faced with: that of which side represents the lesser evil? It’s probably fair to say that the quarter-final game, between Argentina and England, carried a significant political edge to it. It’s a game where Bill Shankly’s tongue-in-cheek old adage about the game being more important than life and death, for a short while, in certain places, seemed to have a ring of truth to it. Nationalist sentiment was augmented by the fact that only three of Argentina’s side were playing their club football in Europe. A largely Argentine-based squad were united by their shared experiences of life in their home country.

After much fanfare the game began with Argentina controlling the early stages without managing to make the vital breakthrough. Significantly Terry Fenwick deservedly received an early booking for hacking Maradona, a common theme throughout the tournament. Persistent intentional fouling ostensibly is as much an infringement of the game’s rules (and spirit) as using a hand, but somehow within the strange hypocrisy of English footballing values isn’t. The first chance saw Beardsley hit the side-netting after Nery Pumpido clumsily spilled the ball, way off limits. Argentina came out liberated from the cautiousness of previous games, with Olarticochea particularly causing problems for the English defence. Argentina had clearly done their homework on England with Hector Enrique deployed to shackle the classy Glenn Hoddle and Jose Cuciuffo and Oscar Ruggeri tight on Lineker and Beardsley.

Half time came with the sides deadlocked, little does the watching world know that two of the most remembered moments of World Cup history will come in a whirlwind six minutes. Both incidents, inevitably, involve the player of the tournament and arguably the greatest player of all time: Diego Maradona.

The first goal is described with bumbling inaccuracy by Barry Davies. The familiar received pronunciation of the Englishman faithfully representing the Corinthian values of the game that took root over a century ago and remain dominant to this day, much to the chagrin and bemusement of the rest of the world.

‘Maradona just walked away from Hoddle then,  Valdano….Hodge….. and Maradona….they’re appealing for offside, the ball came back off the foot of Steve Hodge, and Maradona gives Argentina the lead, the England players are protesting, but the little man who started it by walking past Glenn Hoddle, there’s where the ball by Hodge, Maradona had continued the run forward and the goal is given. At what point was he offside? Or was it a use of a hand that England were complaining about?’

Quicker off the mark, however, was the most famous narration of the ‘Argentinian’ side of the game, which actually came from a Uruguayan, Victor Hugo Morales. Morales quickly realises what has happened and instinctively takes the side of the Argentines, or perhaps more accurately is against the colonial nation. Morales at least acknowledges that his stance is no dodgy moral ground, pleading for the forgiveness of God for what he has said:

‘Ahí tiene la pelota Argentina y el partido, ¿para cuando Argentina y el gol?, Vamos muchachos..La pelota viene para Batista, Batista para Henrique, Henrique cambia para el vasco, allá vino para Olarticoechea, que lo tiene a Diego como número diez, a Giusti como número nueve, a Burruchaga de ocho y Valdano de siete. La pelota va para Maradona, Maradona. Puede tocar para Henrique, siempre Maradona y su dribbling ,se va, se va entre tres siempre Diego, Genial Genial! Toco Para Valdano! Entró Maradona, Saltó frente a Shilton… Cabeceoooó… mano… Goooooool, goooooool, goooooool, goooooool, arrrrrrgentino. Diego, Diego Armando Maradona, entro a buscar después de una jugada maravillosa. Un rechazo para atrás. Saltó con la mano, para mí. Para convertir el gol, mandando la pelota por arriba de Peter Shilton. El línea no lo advirtió, el árbitro lo miró desesperadamente, mientras los ingleses entregaban todo tipo de justificadas protestas, para mí. El gol fue con la mano, lo grito con el alma, pero tengo que decirles lo que pienso. Solo espero que me digan de Buenos Aires, si están mirando el partido en televisión ahora mismo, por favor, si fue válido el gol de Maradona, aunque el árbitro lo dio. Argentina está ganando por uno a cero. Que Dios me perdone lo que voy a decir: contra Inglaterra, hoy, aún así, con un gol con la mano, que quiere que le diga.’

‘Argentina have the ball, and in this match, when will the goal come? Come on boys! The ball comes to Batista, Batista to Enrique, Enrique to the Basque, then on to Olarticoechea, who has Maradona the number 10, Giusti wearing 9, Burrachaga 8 and Valdano 7. The ball goes to Maradona. He could give it to Enrique, still Maradona and his running, he goes on, he goes on past three, incredible, incredible, touches it for Valdano, Maradona goes on, he jumps with Shilton, he heads…..handball! Goal! Goal! Goal! Goal for Argentina! Diego, Diego Armando Maradona, went in after a fantastic piece of play. A backpass and he led with a hand for me, to score the goal, sending the ball above Peter Shilton. The linesman didn’t spot it, the referee looks desperately at him, while the English make their justified (for me) protests known. The goal was scored using a hand, I celebrate it with all my soul, but I must say what I think. I hope you tell me, from Buenos Aires, if you’re watching the game, if the goal was fair, though the referee has given it. Argentina are leading 1-0. God forgive me for what I’m going to say: against England today, even like this, with a goal scored with the hand, what do you want me to say?’

The inquest, and analysis of the incident, are still going on of course, with sporadic bursts of bile and bitterness from the English side and occasional exaggerated and absurd invocations of otherworldly intervention from the Argentine side.

Indeed the bloody personification of the English Corinthian spirit, Singapore-born Terry Butcher suggested that he would love to see Maradona again in order to ‘stick one on him’. Presented with two opportunities to do so (at friendly and testimonial games) Butcher did nothing, presumably too busy foaming at the mouth with self-righteous indignation.

The narrative of the ‘darker arts of Southern Cone’ football only tell half the story of course. Coach Carlos Bilardo set the tone for the way the 1986 team played. Whether the Cesar Luis Menotti team of 1978 would have approached the game in the same way. Regardless of this, the ‘good-bad’ dichotomy which the previous comment suggests and the whole Menotti-Bilardo debate is often presented as, is surely a gross oversimplification of many complex issues, and therein lies the problem.

The infamous incident was best captured by Mexican photographer Alejandro Ojeda Carvajal, who perfectly caught the moment Maradona ‘beats’ Shilton to the ball. Worse was to come for England of course. Just a few minutes later, still reeling from the first goal, they were beaten by a goal more fitting of comparison with higher powers.article-1087774-0050F98700000258-255_468x306

Accounts of Victor Hugo Morales Spanish language commentary for this goal, uncannily, are much easier to find, as the goal provides a perfect example of the emotion that the game can bring at its best. The once in a lifetime moment was described like this:

“Ahí la tiene Maradona, lo marcan dos, pisa la pelota, Maradona, arranca por la derecha el genio del fútbol mundial. Y deja el tercero, puede tocar para Burruchaga… siempre Maradona. ¡Genio, genio, genio! Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta … ¡Gooooooool gooooooool! ¡Quiero llorar! ¡Dios santo, viva el fútbol, golaaaazo! ¡Diegoooool!!! Maradona! Es para llorar, perdónenme. Maradona, en una corrida memorable, en la jugada de todos los tiempos, barrilete cósmico, ¿de qué planeta viniste para dejar en el camino a tanto inglés?, para que el país sea un puño apretado gritando por Argentina. Argentina 2 – Inglaterra 0. ¡Diegol, Diegol!, Diego Armando Maradona. Gracias, Dios, por el fútbol, por Maradona, por estas lágrimas, por este Argentina 2 – Inglaterra 0.”

Maradona on the ball now. Two closing him down. Maradona rolls his foot over the ball and breaks away down the right, the genius of world football. He goes past a third, looks for Burruchaga. Maradona forever! Genius! Genius! Genius! He’s still going… Gooooal! Sorry, I want to cry! Good God! Long live football! What a goal! A memorable run from Maradona. The greatest solo goal of all time. Cosmic Kite, which planet did you come from leaving so many English players behind, and in this process turning the country into a clenched fist shouting for Argentina! Argentina 2 England 0. Diego Diego! Diego Armando Maradona! Thank you God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears and for this scoreline: Argentina 2 England 0.’

The goal is immortalised and always referred to on the other side of the ocean as ‘barrilete cósmico’, the spontaneous reaction of Victor Hugo Morales that day, who explains his comment by saying that at that time he had taken an interest in cosmology and often used its imagery to describe otherworldly moments. The words alone do the commentary little justice, it’s worth a listen just to hear the primal scream of joy at bearing witness one of football’s seminal moments.

A goal of similar quality is not beyond the realms of possibility, but to produce it at a crucial moment in a World Cup Quarter Final against high-quality opposition seems less likely. It is also noteworthy that a couple of opportunities to bring Maradona down were passed up. In the name of the Corinthian spirit and being committed to trying to win the ball cleanly, the English players mentality was not given to simply chopping the player as a recourse within the games rules and regrouping. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it does seem inconceivable that a more pragmatic nation would concede the same goal.

Amongst a plethora of analysis for the goal comes a bit of humour (that could almost be English) from Hector Enrique, one of the many anonymous mere mortals who shared a pitch with Maradona in 1986. Enrique deadpanned the following:

‘Con el pase que le di a Maradona, si no hacía gol era para matarlo’  (‘With the pass that I gave Maradona, we’d have killed him if he didn’t score’)

Stunned by the stellar events of the few minutes after half time, belatedly Bobby Robson tweaked his line up bringing on Chris Waddle for Peter Reid on 65 minutes and  unleashing John Barnes in place of Trevor Steven. The width of Barnes, who produced a fleeting glimpse in an England shirt of what he produced so often in the red of Liverpool, made for a great finale to the game as he carved out a stereotypically English goal for Lineker. Indeed with a carbon copy cross from Barnes minutes later Lineker came desperately close to making it 2-2. Rumours abound that Barnes was unable to produce his club form as Bobby Robson insisted he remain closer to his full-back fulfilling a defensive role. The truth of this, and whether it was necessary to be more cautious at international level, could long be debated.

Returning to the significance of the game, and the strong link between football and national identity in the popular mind-set, years later the Argentine sociologist Eduardo Archetti recalls a chant steeped in the pervasive machismo of Latin American society that became popular in Argentina in the aftermath of the game ‘Thatcher, Thatcher donde estas? Maradona, Maradona te anda buscando, para metertela por detras!’ (Thatcher, Thatcher where are you? Maradona is looking for you to screw you from behind!’) Aside from its rather unsubtle but entertaining imagery, the chant neatly ties together the importance of football to national pride and the link Argentine fans saw between the game and real life.

On a slightly more serious level, perhaps the most meaningful analysis of the game, and its larger symbolic meaning, came from a player Maradona was not especially fond of, Jorge Valdano.

En un partido de un grandísimo valor simbólico, Maradona mostró las dos formas de ser del argentino. En el primer gol muestra la trampa, la picardía criolla o la viveza. Argentina es un país donde el engaño tiene más prestigio que la honradez. Pero también tiene otra cara. Es la del virtuosismo y la habilidad. En el segundo gol Maradona corona el partido con una obra de arte. Es la habilidad, la gambeta, la nuestra

‘It’s a game which has huge symbolic value, Maradona showed the two sides of being an Argentine. The first goal shows the deceit, the creole cunning and the sharpness. Argentina is a place where deceit has more prestige than honesty. But it also has another face and that is one of virtue and ability. With the second goal Maradona crowns the match as a work of art. It is flair, the gambeta (Latin American style dribbling), our style)

Valdano touches upon the great dichotomy in Argentine football which differentiates between the style exemplified by Argentina’s two World Cup winning coaches Cesar Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo. Menotti, the chain-smoking left-wing bon vivant favours an artful, high-tempo interpretation of the Argentine passing game, with a strong emphasis on entertaining and playing the game the ‘right’ way whereas Bilardo shamelessly draws heavily on the darker arts of the game privileging victory above all else. For further information on these two please see Futebol Forca vs Futebol Arte.

The conclusion that Argentina is a country where deceit holds more prestige than honesty is backed up by the man himself – Diego. Maradona speaks of his pride on having put one over on the English in this way. The idea of resorting to cunning to put one over on the oppressor is deep rooted in the mentality of the downtrodden Latin American underclass.

A veces siento que me gustó más el de la mano, el primero. Ahora sí puedo contar lo que en aquel momento no podía, lo que en aquel momento definí como La mano de Dios…qué mano de Dios, ¡fue la mano del Diego! Y fue como robarle la billetera a los ingleses, también’ (At times, I feel like I liked the goal with the hand more. Now I can tell you what I couldn’t at that time, what I defined as the hand of God: what hand of God? It was the hand of Diego, and it was like pickpocketing the English too)

Maradona’s visceral description of the moment sat well with Uruguayan romantic poet Mario Benedetti, who felt fit to chip in with the following observation:

Aquel gol que le hizo Maradona a los ingleses con la ayuda de la mano divina, es por ahora la única prueba fiable de la existencia de Dios’ Mario Benedetti (‘that goal that Maradona scored against the English with the Hand of God is, for now, the only conclusive proof of the existence of God’)

Even in Europe, one of Italy’s greatest ever strikers Silvio Piola felt that all was fair in love and war, saying that he too had scored with his hand against England, whilst representing Italy, and celebrated the goal. Piola suggested that Italian fans should remember this when Maradona returned to Italy after the World Cup.

The essentialisation of such national characteristics, of course, is foolish and misleading. The likes of Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli for example, are unlikely to have taken such pride at having ‘pickpocketed’ the opponent. The common belief that a sense of fairness is an innate characteristic unique to the Corinthian spirit of the English, which other nations are unable to comprehend, is one that surely holds us back.

Argentina, of course, would go on to defeat Belgium in the Semi-Final and finally West Germany in a memorable final. The last truly great World Cup ended with Burrachaga slipping the ball past Harald Schumacher to trigger a wave of celebration across Argentina, and who knows, maybe even elsewhere in South America.

Of course, not all were pleased to see Argentina lift the trophy in 1986. In fact a couple of decades later, still boiling with rage and jealousy, Pelé acerbically observed that ‘O único gol de cabeça importante que marcou foi com a mão’ (the only important header he scored was with his hand). The petty feud between two of the world’s greatest ever players (notice the word order – not THE two greatest) does neither player any credit, but is symptomatic of the violent emotions which football unleashes.

George Orwell was quick to dismiss the game offering the following analysis ‘Football has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disegard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’

Whilst part of his statement is hyperbolic and rather contentious, one could argue that the idea of football being war minus the shooting could equally be used to defend the game. Even the most partisan football fan tends to accept things for what they are after a time. (Almost) no English fan disputes the genius of Maradona’s second goal, even the man himself owned up to his misdemeanour and generally speaks positively of English football. Many subjective debates rage on in football, but surely in a generally harmless and innocuous way.

History is nearly always written by the victors, giving rise to dominant epistemologies of meaning, which define our understanding of our surroundings in terms dictated by those who emerge victorious. Argentine anthropologist Walter Mignolo underlines this in his ‘Idea of Latin America’ text, which brings into question our geo-political understanding of the world.

In footballing terms, a game which exemplifies the way different narratives are conveniently produced to represent historic events, it would be Argentina’s 1986 victory over England, which to this day feeds into our historic understanding of what is to be expected from a football team from both nations. The English understanding of the game cultivates and feeds into our holier-than-thou moralism along with the accompanying assumptions that good honesty industry will win out. Alf Ramsey’s ‘animals’ remark and the much-talked about first goal also nourish the xenophobic notion of ‘dirty Argies’ and/or countries of less moral fibre than the British. Of course the Argentine perspective, as represented by a Uruguayan commentator, is also highly subjective and is steeped in its own historical prejudice and/or a persecution complex. Football, at least, provides an arena to debate and understand these partialities and prejudices however, and surely isn’t as bad for international relations as George Orwell suggests.

Cabeza Mágica – The King of Ecuador

When one talks about the rich history of Latin American football, it can quite safely be assumed than one is normally speaking of the disproportionate amount of influence a country as small as Uruguay has had, the speed with which the beautiful game took off in the early part of the 20th century in Argentina or of course the way Brazilian football has mesmerised us in the later part.

In the northern part of the continent, particularly in Venezuela and Ecuador, the game has never really taken off to the same extent. Indeed as Ecuador’s debut World Cup appearance came as recently as the first competition of the 21st century in Japan and South Korea, and their record at the Copa America is largely dismal, one could be forgiven for taking 2002 as a kind of year X for the quintessential banana republic.

It also follows logically to assume that Ecuador’s finest footballer would be a product of the country’s recent emergence, most likely Antonio Valencia, whose meteoric rise from playing barefoot in the humble surroundings of his dusty hometown Nueva Loja on the border with Colombia to the glitz of gracing a Champions League final against Barcelona in a Manchester United shirt has captured the imagination of his countrymen. Valencia seemingly personifies the rapid rise of Ecuadorian Football, with his tough no-nonsense style, his indefatigable work-rate and his pinpoint crosses.

Ecuadorian Football as a serious entity is indeed largely a recent phenomenon and alongside Venezuela their evolution from perennial minnows to realistic World Cup contenders in a short space of time is as admirable as it is difficult to account for.

Amazingly though, a hugely influential Ecuadorian player, not only in his own country, but throughout Latin America, began his rise to fame some half a century ago. The curious hybrid name inscribed on the Municipal Guayaquil stadium on Avenida de las Américas leaves a lasting reminder of a phenomenal athlete: Alberto Spencer.

Spencer’s mother was Ecuadorian, but his father was a Jamaican of British origin who worked in Ecuador on behalf of the Anglo-Ecuadorian Oil Company, a subsidiary of what is now known as BP, a company whose presence in Ecuador continues to cause consternation, particularly among environmentalists to this day.

The fact that many fans in the English speaking world have never heard of Spencer can be explained by two important factors: Firstly, unlike Pelé, Spencer never graced a World Cup, which of course is the greatest stage for any footballer to be seen. Secondly, like many of the great South American players of his day, he never made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to play for Europe’s top sides. Players like Di Stefano, who starred for Real Madrid, were the exception and not the rule.

The production line of South American players has always been prolific, the fundamental difference in Spencer’s era was that holding onto the players was possible, thus creating something akin to a level playing field between the two continents. Indeed, in the 60s, the South American teams could quite easily go toe-to-toe with their European counterparts and on many occasions came out on top in the annual Intercontinental Cup games.

Spencer was born in Ancón on the Santa Elena peninsula. He began playing football as a small kid with his older brother Marcos, who years later would bring him along to Guayaquil club Everest. Everest saw Spencer’s potential and immediately gave him his debut. Spencer quickly racked up a century of goals for Everest, and was spotted by Peñarol staff while the Uruguayan club were playing on tour in Ecuador. They immediately signed him, and he became a hugely important player in Peñarol’s all-conquering sides of the 60s.

He won an amazing seven league titles with Los Carboneros (the coalmen), along with three Copa Libertadores and two memorable Intercontinental Cup victories.

He scored both at home and away as the Uruguayans dismantled Real Madrid in the Intercontinental Cup final of 1966. This feat didn’t go unnoticed with Europe’s top clubs, and Peñarol soon found themselves resisting the entreaties of Inter Milan. Whilst playing for Los Carboneros, Spencer went on to score an amazing 326 goals, justifying Peñarol’s stubborn refusal to sell him. Spencer holds the incredible record of being the all-time leading goalscorer in the Copa Libertadores. Spencer’s haul of 54 goals is not insurmountable, but surely to be beaten it would require an outstanding South American player to ignore the lure of Europe, with all it entails financially and in terms of prestige, to concentrate on achieving in his own continent. At this juncture that seems unlikely, though maybe in the future this may change, particularly with the emerging Brazilian economy.

A great number of fellow professionals from his era regarded him highly, with Pelé in particular alluding Spencer’s heading ability being the finest that he had ever seen. Curious then, that in the latter days of Spencer’s life (in 2004), when Pelé came to draw up (or put his name to) a list of the greatest living 100 players, Spencer was shunned in favour of a bizarre mishmash of manifestly PC selections aimed at including each of the World’s continents like El Hadji Diouf of Senegal, Hidetoshi Nakata of Japan, Hong Myong Bo of South Korea and Mia Hamm of the United States ladies team.

In time honoured gentlemanly Spencer style, when questioned about the matter, he declined to criticise the selections. This dignified response lies in stark contrast to Brazilian Gerson, who ripped up the list on Brazilian television and launched into an extraordinary rant about his exclusion.

Spencer was the first Ecuadorian player to score against England at Wembley in 1964. No mean feat considering that Ecuador’s national side have never played at Wembley. He scored the goal whilst representing Uruguay as a guest, something he did on a number of occasions in friendlies, whilst stating clearly that he would never abandon the country of his birth. He made 11 appearances for his homeland Ecuador, and continues to be revered there.

Indeed as a labour of love to his homeland, Spencer returned in 1970 to finish his career at Ecuador’s most emblematic club Barcelona of Guayaquil, where he added an Ecuadorian title to his illustrious list of honours before finally hanging up his boots. Such was the esteem in which he was held back in Montevideo, he was sent by the Ecuadorian government to remain there as honorary vice-consul at the embassy. He brought up his children in the Uruguayan capital and held the place in great affection.

A pervasive Eurocentric view (of the football world at least) is ever more difficult to resist as the economic gulf between the clubs of the two dominant football continents is more apparent than ever. Neymar’s oft-reiterated commitment to remain at Santos until the Brazil World Cup, turned out to be a hollow promise as economic reality for the Brazilian club and the lure of Barcelona for the player won out.

Equally it is sad in many ways that a player like Messi, who so clearly continues a distinguished tradition of Latin American No.10s, was uprooted and taken away from his own continent at such a young age, never representing his hometown club at senior level.

Spencer too, of course, was uprooted from his beloved homeland the moment his talent was discovered by the giants of Peñarol, but Spencer belongs in an era of more idealistic era of Latin American Football, when (Southern Cone) clubs aspired to keep their best players in order to prove their supremacy against their ex-colonial masters, rather than aspiring to supply Europe with players to ensure their own survival.

Peñarol indeed twice proved their supremacy against Real Madrid and Benfica in the 1960s, with Spencer’s goals playing a pivotal role. Little wonder then, that some four decades on, supporters of Las Manyas still hold banners and chant the name of Alberto Spencer, beyond any reasonable doubt Ecuador’s greatest ever player.

Marta and the Revolution

During the course of the twentieth century many Latin American countries experienced enormous migrations to the rapidly urbanising cities, allowing football’s popularity to grow exponentially and become a significant factor in the formation of local, regional and national identity.

In Uruguay the game is so deeply entrenched in the national psyche that the following saying is frequently heard: ‘Otros paises tienen sus historias, Uruguay tiene su futbol’ (Other countries have their history – Uruguay has its football.’)

However, the country where the juxtaposition of football and national identity is most obvious is Brazil. In 1938 eminent sociologist of the time Gilberto Freyre spoke of a mulatto Brazilian spontaneity and creativity that lay in stark contrast to the European style. Freyre sought to express ideas of national identity based upon otherness In this case the nascent individualistic football being played in Brazil provided a perfect example of this.

An important aspect of football’s influence on the formation of  identity that is often not considered is that of gender. Football, of course, in the traditional Latin American mindset, is intrinsically linked to manhood as explained succinctly by Pelé:

Toda criança do mundo que joga futebol quer ser Pelé, o que significa que tenho a responsabilidade de mostrar a eles como ser um jogador de futebol, mas também como ser um homem (Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pele. I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be a man.)’

Football has long been a foundation stone of patriarchal society in Brazil. Indeed, in 1941, football’s position as a bastion of masculinity was institutionally consolidated by a 1941 government decree ensuring that women playing football were not only frowned upon, but actually breaking Brazilian law.

Sadly, prohibition was to remain in force until 1975 meaning that when second wave feminism ushered in the professionalisation of women’s football in the early 1970s in countries like the United States, Sweden and Germany, the mere idea of a woman kicking a football remained anathema in Brazil.

Generally, success in Women’s football has largely been achieved by countries which take a progressive approach to social issues like gender equality, and thus make the corresponding effort to accommodate the development of women’s football. Such is the clamour for gender equality in countries like Norway, for example, that a law has been passed that requires a 40% quota of women in all company boardrooms. Whether or not one agrees with this type of state enforced quota system, there can be little doubt that this type of society is more conducive to the growth of professional women’s football than a society with deeply entrenched gender inequality and prejudices.

Perhaps surprisingly, in the bastion of machismo that is Latin America, Brazilian women, in fact, took to the field as early as 1921 in São Paulo. The novelty factor of the game amused locals so much that exhibition games were arranged as part of circus acts.

Crucially however, the prejudices of the Brazilian establishment ensured that the game never professionalised, a situation that remains today, despite waves of progressive social reform in other sectors of society from the populist Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party) of Lula da Silva and current incumbent Dilma Rousseff.

It’s fair to say that the marginalisation of women in Sport is widespread across Latin America, and that for much of the 20th Century women playing football was certainly not a mainstream activity in any other Latin American nation.

Even in other mainstream sports which are less readily associated with masculinity, like Tennis for example, only Maria Esther Bueno, who triumphed three times at Wimbledon, comes to mind as an example of a successful Brazilian woman.

Of course, breaking into the male-dominated sporting world is not a problem exclusive to Latin America. Gabby Logan’s recent documentary exploring sexism in the UK sporting world gave an insight into the difficulties faced by women trying to establish themselves both in media positions and at boardroom level in the case of Karren Brady.

Milene Domingues in her Rayo Vallecano days

Milene Domingues in her Rayo Vallecano days

The extent of the problem was memorably highlighted by the monumental ignorance of the president of the world game, Sepp Blatter. Even by his rather high standards of buffoonery the suggestion that beautiful female players ought to ‘wear tighter shorts in order to pique people’s interest‘ was excruciatingly cringeworthy.

The presupposition in Blatter’s statement that, in his view, women’s sport will only sell by providing eye-candy for the male audience appeared, at best, rather dated and at worst, extremely offensive to many sports fans.

The Brazilian media hardly batted an eyelid at Blatter’s 2004 comment of course, instead choosing to focus on the media darling of the time: model turned keepy-uppy expert Milene Domingues. Domingues was loved by the Brazilian media for her traditional beauty pageant candidate looks and her femininity (which her website still alludes to).

Domingues, in her defence, showed more than a modicum of footballing talent, when she entered the Guinness Book of Records for the ‘keepy-uppy’ record (55,197 touches) and has played successfully in the Spanish Women’s League for a number of years. She often appeared on the front-pages of Brazilian newspapers as a model and married Brazil’s best forward of that era, Ronaldo (they are now separated). She was part of the 2003 Women’s World Cup as an unused sub, which rather belied her status of the most expensive women’s player ever at £200,000. In summary, her ‘marketing potential’ was far greater than her football talent: think Anna Kournikova, or even David Beckham. On the other hand, the media nickname ‘Mrs Ronaldo’ was symptomatic of the problems womens’ football faces.

Against this historical backdrop came the emergence of As Canarinhas (the Brazilian Women’s football team) as a serious force. Considering the societal attitudes they came up against, the lack of a professional league in their homeland and the lack of support from their own federation, their rise is simply miraculous. The Swedish, Japanese and American women’s teams, to name a few examples, have achieved success because of, or at least with the support of their respective women’s football federations’ pro-active approach, the Brazilians have achieved success in spite of the inertia of theirs.


Marta Vieira Da Silva, Latin America’s first female superstar

Brazil’s women have won five of the last six Sudamericano Femeninos, twice won Olympic Silver, finished runners-up at the 2007 World Cup in China, and their standout player Marta Vieira Da Silva has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five consecutive occasions from 2006 to 2010 inclusive, only being dethroned in 2011 by Homare Sawa of the Japanese World Cup winning side of 2011.

In many interviews Marta has spoken of her childhood in North-Eastern Brazil, in the backwater of Dois Riachos, where she used to play football with boys. The state of Alagoas is among the poorest in Brazil with one of the highest levels of illiteracy. In her infancy Marta’s older brothers warned her not to play football, fearing an adverse machista reaction from members of the local community.

According to Tereza Vieira, Marta’s mother, her brothers would go as far as hitting her to prevent her from tarring the family name by participating in what they perceived to be such an innately male activity. Only with an admirable strength of character and perseverance did Marta manage to stay in the game she loved, and eventually be spotted by Helena Pacheco. From there she went on to shine at the inaugural Women’s Football Olympic event in Atlanta 1996 and got her break in the game.

Sadly however, in order to forward her career and compete with professionals, Marta had to leave Brazil, playing for Umeå IK of Sweden (where she won four consecutive Swedish Championships and a European Cup), Los Angeles Sol, Western New York Flash and most recently back in Sweden for Tyresö FF (whom she joined this February). Marta did briefly return to her homeland to join Santos in the inaugural Copa Femenina de Futebol Brasileira and the Copa Libertadores de Futebol Feminino, however the tournament featured girls as young as 14, and lacked the kind of professionalism that a high-level player needed to be able to compete at the highest level.

The out of touch gerontocracy at the helm of the CBF are showing few signs of rewarding the rise of the national side with the professional league a country Brazil’s size deserves, as attitudes within the football federation haven’t changed an awful lot since prohibition in 1941. For the first time in history, at least, Brazil has a female leader (or more importantly a democratic political agenda that seeks to redress inequalities across Brazilian society.

In Dilma Rousseff Brazil has a leader who clearly finds herself at odds with the male-dominated oligarchy of Brazilian football. Rousseff made no secret of her disdain for discredited long-time leader Ricardo Teixeira and has made no overtures about getting involved with the new leadership of the CBF (Brazilian Football Federation). Gender inequality remains a high priority for the Rousseff administration.


The Brazil Women’s football team

Even with a progressive Brazilian government which openly acknowledges many of the errors of the country’s past it is difficult to overcome the ingrained prejudices of huge swathes of the Brazilian public overnight. It is unlikely that Gray-and-Keys-gate would ever have happened in Brazil. In fact the Brazilian sports media habitually exhibit outrageous prejudices without ever being challenged.

Despite an overall panorama that is far from ideal, a number of Brazilian women, like Cristiane, Daniela and Marta have shown millions of young Brazilian girls that the game doesn’t belong exclusively to men, and that success is possible.

At the beginning of the 20th Century Uruguay’s men triumphed in the Olympics (and World Cup) inspiring its South American neighbours to try and match them. Could we be seeing the same thing happen for Women’s football in Latin America at the beginning of the 21st Century?

This post also appears on IBWM here.

Cubillas and Peru’s Golden Generation of the 70s

The 1970s were a cataclysmic decade for South American football. World Cup triumphs for Brazil and Argentina went some way to masking the huge stylistic changes that were enforced upon the continent’s national teams by tactical development in Europe.

Brazil’s seminal class of ‘70 are often eulogised as the best side to ever step onto a football field whilst Menotti’s high-tempo version of the traditional Argentine passing game saw the host nation (literally) brought up to speed with developments in the European game.

Between these two triumphs came a transitional for the traditional powers, with the most notable lesson coming at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany where the pace and fluidity of Total Football made even Brazil realise that fundamental change was necessary.  The decade also saw an unlikely golden period for one of the continent’s perennial also-rans.


Cubillas, Sotil and Cueto playing for Alianza Lima

For most, the Peruvian side of the 1970s conjures up memories of its alleged collusion with the Argentine military junta at the 1978 World Cup (they capitulated 6-0 to Argentina in a game Argentina needed to win by 4 clear goals). Another abiding memory (particularly for Scottish fans) was the sublime outside of the boot free-kick by Teófilo Cubillas. The Peruvian’s moment of inspiration set the tone for another uphill struggle for the Tartan Army and left Ally MacLeod’s infamous boast that his team would win the World Cup then retain it look rather hollow. The rest of the Scottish campaign would pan out in familiar fashion, from the downright dreadful 1-1 draw with Iran, to the traditional glorious failure overcoming an excellent Holland side 3-2 with Archie Gemmill’s solo strike (immortalised in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting) proving decisive.

Our collective memory of old games, of course is often limited to major moments in games or to what we want to remember: a few seconds of genius, like the Cubillas free-kick, or the Gemmill wonder-strike, and failing that it tends to be distorted by petty nationalism, personal bias or bombastic media exaggeration of events.

The Peruvian side of the 70s, perhaps owing to their lack of success before and after, are subject to the latter tendency. Media hyperbole in their homeland has contributed to making them untouchables, elevated to legend status as an example of how the game should be played thus extrapolating fact from myth becomes increasingly difficult.

Fortunately for them, they left irrefutable evidence of their calibre in the 1975 Copa America triumph, defeating Brazil in Belo Horizonte along the way before finally despatching Colombia in the final at the 3rd attempt in a play-off game, bizarrely played in the then football backwater of Caracas, Venezuela.

The exploits of the 1970s Peruvian national team at the World Cup and in the Copa America both came at difficult moments for the impoverished Peruvian people.

Just days before the 1970 World Cup Peru suffered a devastating earthquake that left some 70,000 people dead and over a million homeless. Cubillas, in an interview years later, spoke of how he felt that, though trivial by comparison to the 1970 tragedy, he and his team-mates felt that they had, at least, done something to raise the spirits of his people in their darkest hour.

The Peruvian side qualified for Mexico ’70 by eliminating the Argentines in their own backyard and after cruising through the group stage went down 4-2 in an exhilarating showdown with neighbours Brazil. They proved it was no fluke in Argentina ’78 gaining a hugely creditable draw with finalists Holland on the way to the qualification for the second group phase, where they strangely capitulated against the hosts. On each occasion they reached the last eight and even the notoriously cynical Peruvian media had to concede that the team’s performance had been a success.


Teófilo Cubillas against Poland at the World Cup

In the year of the 1975 Copa America triumph Peru played against the backdrop of a right-wing military coup known as El Tacnazo (so named as it occurred in the Southern City of Tacna) with human rights looking more fragile by the day and spiralling political instability that would wind up in the emergence of a hugely contentious Maoist Guerrilla insurgency, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) by the end of the decade. The Peruvian side gave the nation something to be proud of on the international stage, and provided a much needed distraction from events in their homeland.

In the 1970s Peru had a collection of players genuinely capable of not only beating anyone on their day, but matching anyone in the style stakes too, with their eye-catching, imaginative one-touch football. Indeed the 3-1 victory over Brazil in the 1975 Copa America was achieved not with the negative style many have employed to neutralise the Verde-Amarelo, but ‘fighting fire with fire’ taking the game to the world’s most emblematic football nation.

Peru’s midfield was touted as being the best in the world at the time with Hugo Sotil, who won a La Liga title in the same team as Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, Teofilo Cubillas, the country’s all-time leading goalscorer and most loved player and finally César Cueto, known as el poeta de la zurda, which literally translated would be the left-footed poet, but perhaps more idiomatically in equally nonsensical English footballing parlance might be something like ‘he of the cultured left-foot’ (an expression we often use in English, presumably to acknowledge that the foot was fully versed in all seven volumes of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu).

Allied to this assortmentof flair players, the back line was ably marshalled by the man unpromisingly nicknamed el ciego (the blind man) so named on account of his acute myopia, (he wore contacts on the pitch, he was actually rather good) Juan Carlos Oblitas and El Capitán de America (America’s Captain, not to be confused with this Captain) Héctor Chumpitaz.

By the 1982 World Cup, held in Spain, the powers of the golden generation were beginning to dwindle. After a disappointing stalemate with Cameroon and a creditable 1-1 draw with eventual winners Italy, Peru were torn apart by the stylish and incisive Polish duo of Lato and Boniek losing 5-1 and sadly haven’t been seen at the tournament since. Cubillas remains to this day one of only two players who have scored 5 goals at two World Cups, the other being Miroslav Klose.

The fleeting nature of Peru’s success, one fears, can be linked to the desperate state of the country’s club game. It is no coincidence that none of Peru’s club sides has ever won the Copa Libertadores, and the country has only one Copa Sudamericana, won by provincial Cienciano as late as 2003.

The Peruvian League has been won three times in recent years by a university team that only formed in 2004. Universidad San Martin de Porres have recently pulled out of the Peruvian League in protest at the ineptitude of the Peruvian FA and the unchecked amassing of debts by the traditional big clubs like Alianza Lima.

The current travails in the financial administration of Peruvian club football go some way to explaining why youth development and Peru’s national team have been in stagnation for so long.

Cubillas, an increasingly influential figure in the Peruvian game, speaks highly of the technical level of the current Peruvian players, arguing that players like Farfan, Pizarro and Guerrero are every bit as good as their predecessors. However, surely the more pressing problem is the administration of the clubs, which has seen de-motivated players go unpaid for months and as an inevitable consequence the country’s clubs have become less competitive in continental competition.

Despite the complex panorama of Peruvian Football, Cubillas continues to repeat the comment he made the day he retired from the game, leaving no doubt about his national pride and summarising the spirit of his team: ‘Si volviera a nacer volvería a jugar a la pelota, empezaría en el Alianza Lima y volvería a nacer en el Perú (If I could be live my life again I wouldn’t change anything, I’d be a footballer, I’d be Peruvian, and I’d start at Alianza Lima)’. Peru’s golden generation more than merit their place in Latin American Football folklore.

Bochini y La Furia Roja de Avellaneda

Each year from 1963 to 1980 at least one Argentine team contested the final of the Copa Libertadores. At no time was the Argentine stranglehold on the competition more evident than the golden years of Independiente from 1972 to 1975. In the same way, arguably, no one player has made as profound an impact on the competition (before or after) as El Bocha, Ricardo Bochini.

Outside Independiente’s newly renovated home Estadio de los Libertadores de America a street carries the name of the great man. As we speak they are working on the Bochini Stand at the stadium, in between worrying about the ignominy of life outside the top flight for the first time in their history.

The man they knew as el duende rojo was every inch an unlikely hero. Jorge Valdano, stumbling for an appropriate phrase to describe such a unique talent, famously described him as ‘Woody Allen playing football’. Bochini certainly wasn’t the most athletic specimen to grace a football pitch, nor was he the fastest of players. Clearly his strength lay in his cerebral brilliance in the middle of the park measuring inch perfect slide rule passes into the front men, and slaloming gracefully past players as if they weren’t there.

Whilst the legend of El Bocha is, alas, largely unknown outside Argentina, you would be hard pressed to find an Independiente fan, or indeed any reasonable minded Argentine fan, who would exclude the influential enganche from the canon of Argentina’s all-time greats.

Bochini was a one club man who achieved all he could dream of and more besides in two glorious decades with one of Argentina’s proudest clubs. His pomp, clearly, was in the early 70s, when Independiente swept all before them in the years of Argentine dominance in the Copa Libertadores.

As many Argentines would tell you, particularly those from Avellaneda, Independiente were the first Argentine team to really make their mark on the competition, and remain the one club that is truly defined by its Libertadores success.

As with international competition on the continent, the first out of the blocks were the Uruguayans. Peñarol triumphed in the first two editions (1960 and 1961) of the competition and reached the final for the third consecutive time in 1962 only to be thwarted by a brace by a young man called Edson Arantes do Nascimento for Santos in a third play-off game.

Boca Juniors became the first Argentine finalists in 1963 but were found wanting in the final againstfthe genius of Pelé and Coutinho. Independiente would go one better a year later.

They ended the two-year reign of the Santos of Pelé and Coutinho, knocking them out in the Semi-Final stage before defeating Montevideo’s Nacional in the final. They went on to retain it the following year against Nacional’s great city rivals Peñarol, and in doing so, opened the way for the exploits of Avellaneda rivals Racing Club and the provincial world conquerors Estudiantes La Plata later in the decade.

Indeed, under the highly controversial leadership of Osvaldo Zubeldia, employing a maddening mix of legal and illegal destructive tactics to thwart their opponents (that would soon be labelled ‘anti-futbol’),

Estudiantes de La Plata won an incredible hat-trick of Libertadores victories and an Intercontinental Cup victory over Manchester United at the end of the 1970s.

As with the ‘Dirty Leeds’ side of the 70s in England, the collective memory of media coverage has perhaps done a disservice to a team not lacking in merit, but there is little doubt they were not averse to the uglier side of the game.


Independiente – Champions of the World 1973

Though Independiente’s breakthrough victories (worthy of a post in their own right) came in the sixties, their zenith was clearly their four consecutive victories in the 1970s. It seems inevitable that one day Boca Juniors will better Independiente’s record seven Libertadores victories, the one record that may elude them for some time is that of winning four consecutive Libertadores trophies (or even Estudiantes three for that matter). Of all the truly emblematic Copa Libertadores teams, Independiente are also the only one that has never lost a final, triumphing seven times without defeat.

From an Anglo-speaking world perspective, it may seem reasonable, especially with Alex Ferguson’s retirement fresh in the mind, to ask which manager led the Independiente dynasty of remarkable triumphs over the rest of the continent. In reality, much like Real Madrid’s triumphs in the early years of the European Cup, there was no Fergiesque dynasty of continuity to explain the team’s success. Independiente’s South American consecutive champion-winning sides, incredibly, were managed by three different men.

There achievements are all the more impressive when you consider that the lack of stability on the field was matched by political instability as a period of military dictatorship was met with growing unrest by the urban proletariat who yearned for that very Argentine panacea: a return to Peronism. A conflictive atmosphere reigned as successive military dictatorships came and went. The success of Independiente provided a release valve in a highly charged (and disturbingly increasingly violent) society

The first of Independiente’s four consecutive Libertadores came in 1972, when Pedro Dellacha oversaw a narrow 2-1 victory over surprise package Universitario of Peru (who had made the final at the expense of much fancied Peñarol and Nacional). Eduardo Maglioni scored a crucial double in the return game in Avellaneda after a tense stalemate in Lima. A year later the same player would bag a record-winning hat-trick in one minute and fifty one seconds on the third week of the Torneo Metropolitano against Gimnasia La Plata.

In the intercontinental games against the champions of Europe, Los Diablos Rojos went on to draw with the imperious Ajax of Cruyff, Neeskens and Keizer, before finally succumbing to genius as a young Johnny Rep came off the bench to bag a brace in a comfortable 3-0 victory in front of a spellbound crowd at Amsterdam’s Olympic Arena.

As popular unrest grew the following year (1973) populist ex-President Juan Perón saw his opportunity to return from exile in Spain, though he was technically barred from participating in the election, which the military had begrudgingly allowed, to find a new president. He returned to a complex panorama of left and right-wing Peronists jostling for power within the movement.

The complex but characteristically Latin American cult-of-personality that he (and his wife) had spawned saw thousands of Argentines of diverse political persuasions gather at Ezeiza airport to greet his return.

Unfortunately camouflaged right-wing factions of the Peronist movement opened fire on Montoneros (left-wing Peronists) and members of the Peronist youth leaving an unknown number dead, in an incident that as yet has not been fully investigated.

The premeditated attack proved effective in de-stabilising the moderate left-wing administration of recently elected Héctor Cámpora, who had recently taken power. So just eleven days after a CIA-supported coup had ousted elected left-wing leader Salvador Allende in neighbouring Chile, a new set of elections would have to be held after foul-play in Argentina.

The tragedy was symptomatic of a dark period in Argentine history, which ironically coincided with some of the country’s finest moments on the football field. A nationalistic inward-looking mentality prevailed, making Argentina a hostile place to visit for opposing teams.

Amidst the off-field turbulence, Independiente regrouped and thrived to retain the Libertadores trophy the following year.

In order to do so they would first meet a side from Chile, which was also deeply divided by the highly controversial Pinochet coup. The series of three games put on by the two sides produced one of the most memorable and tense finals in Libertadores history. In the days before the now ubiquitous penalty shoot-out was viewed as a necessary evil to decide drawn games, Independiente finally saw off a spirited Colo Colo outfit in a play-off game, played in neutral Montevideo after two fiercely contested games watched by volatile crowds in Argentina and Chile failed to separate the sides.

Independiente, then, would represent the continent against Europe’s finest once again. This Intercontinental Cup Final game provided the moment that the team is most remembered for on both sides of the Atlantic. La Roja came up against European runners-up Juventus. Ajax, the champions of Europe, had pulled out citing economic difficulties, which some believe were a pretext for their distaste for both the brusqueness of the Argentine football and the political situation within the country. This would be a precursor for Johan Cruyff’s non-participation in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, as the political situation spiralled out of control.

Star players Ricardo Bochini and Daniel Bertoni expertly exchanged three one-twos which left the experienced Italian defenders standing before Bochini, slotted away the goal that saw Independiente crowned champions of the world for the first time. Independiente triumphed narrowly by a goal to nil, leaving Rome’s Olympic Stadium in shock. The Argentine press christened the goal ‘la pared que cautivó al mundo (the one-two that captivated the world) and the orchestrators of the goal ensured their place in history.


El Bocha in action

Such was the esteem in which el duende rojo (the red elf) was (and still is) held in Argentina, a precise and incisive through ball has come to be known as a ‘pase bochinesco’ (a Bochini-pass), and no less than Boca Juniors diehard Diego Maradona gushes with admiration in his autobiography yo soy El Diego:

‘En aquel tiempo, mientras me iba formando como jugador, estaba enamorado de Bochini. Me enamoré terriblemente y confieso que era de Independiente en la Copa Libertadores, a principios de los setenta,¡Bochini me sedujo tanto! Bochini. y Bertoni. Las paredes que tiraban Bochini y Bertoni eran una cosa que me quedó tan grabada que yo las elegiría como las jugadas maestras de la historia del fútbol.’ (Back then, in my formative years as a player, I was in love with Bochini, and I confess I was an Independiente fan when they played in the Libertadores, at the beginning of the seventies, Bochini(‘s style) seduced me! The one-twos that Bochini and Bertoni played stuck in my mind, and I’d put them amongst the greatest pieces of play in the game’.

El Bocha’s foil right-winger Bertoni went on the shine in Cesar Luis Menotti’s cavalier crowd-pleasing 1978 World Champions scoring the third goal against Holland in the final to ensure Argentina’s first World Cup triumph at River Plates’s Estadio Monumental.

Bochini, on the other hand, along with a young Diego Maradona were surprisingly overlooked. For that reason, years later when Bochini was finally given his chance in the dying minutes of 1986 World Cup Semi Final against Belgium, Maradona remembered his idol’s 1978 torment and warmly welcomed him onto the field ‘Maestro, lo estábamos esperando’ (Teacher, we were waiting for you.). When a Boca fan as partisan as Maradona recognises a player from a rival team, it is with good reason.

Bochini, however, when questioned about the 1986 triumph told El Gráfico that he hardly felt like a champion of the world for the following reason:

Porque jugué tan pocos minutos que no puedo sentirme campeón. Eso lo deben sentir los muchachos que jugaron casi todos los partidos y que realmente hicieron méritos para lograr el título. Yo estoy acostumbrado a los torneos que ganamos con Independiente, donde sí tuve una participación más decisiva (because I played so few minutes that I cannot feel like a champion. That is what the players who played almost all the games must feel and really they deserve it. I am used to the titles that I won with Independiente, in which I did participate decisively)

Mutual admiration and respect has always existed between Maradona and Bochini, but in the eyes of Independiente’s fans, their longest serving player will always be the most special. Julio el Gran Diablo, a famous Independiente fan sums up the differences between student and teacher in the following statement: ‘Maradona es un solista, Bochini un director de orquesta’ (Maradona is a soloist, Bochini an orquestra director’.)

The frontman of Argentine rock-band Bersuit Vergarabat (catchy name? they are good honestly) likens Bochini’s nimble style to that of a dancer and assured El Grafico that: ‘Bochini es un verbo para mí, bochinear es pensar antes que los demás. No hubo un tipo en el mundo con esa velocidad mental.’ (Bochini is a verb for me, bochinear is to think before everyone else. There’s never been anyone in this world with his mental speed). He goes on to add that Javier Pastore knows how to bochinear at times. High praise indeed.

Argentine football has always been subject to crude dichotomisation between its artistic, aesthetic side and its uglier more pragmatic characteristics, between the same amateur spirit that prizes entertaining the masses over the win at all costs mentality. Argentina’s two World Cup winning coaches achieved their great successes playing the game in the way they saw fit, and in doing so provided the framework for the Menottismo and Bilardismo, once again carrying the names of those who supposedly personify a distinct ideology worthy of being followed by the masses.

In his own words in a 1994 interview, el bocha clearly positioned himself in the Menottisti camp (see my other post Futebol Arte vs Futebol Força: The Great Latin American Football Debate), to his eternal credit showing no bitterness towards the man who overlooked him for the 1978 World Cup. Considering the historical style of Argentine football and the style of the great Independiente sides, it is perhaps inevitable that Bochini, ever the purist, laments the shift towards pragmatism:

‘Argentina siempre se adhirió al jugador de toque y de gambeta, por eso la gente tuvo como ídolos a los jugadores de esa calidad. Eso se está perdiendo ahora porque el periodismo hace que la gente joven se conforme con un resultado y aunque el equipo juegue mal (Argentina always developed the short, sharp passer who could dribble, that is why people here have so many idols of such quality. That is being lost now, as journalism makes people believe that the result is all-important, even if the team plays badly.)

This kind of thinking, in some quarters, is increasingly seen as antiquated, mawkish or unrealistic, as the pragmatism of Bilardismo is evident in many of the games great coaches like Mourinho, and in many of the young breed of Argentine coaches like Simeone. Argentine writer Roman Iucht, however, sets about the considerable task of examining ‘el ultimo romantico’ (the last romantic) in a fascinating biography of Marcelo Bielsa.

It has to be said of course, that Bielsa has a number of disciples operating in the game now, and that the classic Argentine style has had a profound influence on no less than Pep Guardiola, who looks to continue where he left off with Barcelona on his new adventure in Bavaria.

Returning to the exploits of Los Diablos Rojos of Avellaneda, the team continued from the Juventus triumph under Roberto Ferreiro, again reaching the final in 1974, defeating São Paulo. After a narrow defeat Independiente forced another play-off game after victory after winning at their Avellaneda fortress.

This time, the play-off game was played in Chile, against the backdrop of the infamous Pinochet coup the year before. In Santiago’s national stadium, Uruguayan left-back Ricardo ‘El Chivo’ Pavoni netted the only goal, to seal a third consecutive Libertadores triumph.

The popular Uruguayan summed up the prevailing mood in the following statement: ‘En la década del 70, Independiente era más famoso aún que el Santos de Pelé. Nos reconocían en todos lados’ (In the 70s Independiente were even more famous than the Santos of Pelé, they recognised us everywhere.)

In 1975 Independiente once again faced a trip to Santiago’s National Stadium, to face Union Española, a game they lost, only to force yet another play-off with a comfortable victory in Buenos Aires. The historic 4th consecutive Libertadores was secured, once again on neutral territory in the hostile surroundings of Asunción’s Estadio Defensores del Chaco. Paraguayans have a long-running grievance with Argentines, dating back to a loss of territory in the Battle of the Triple Alliance in the 1800s. Daniel Bertoni and Ricardo Ruiz Moreno netted to silence a largely pro-Chilean crowd of 55,000 spectators.

Critics of Independiente’s golden period correctly point out that, as defending champions, la roja benefitted from the privilege of entering the Libertadores at the semi-final stage. It is certainly worthy of mention, but surely the criticism falls squarely at the door of football’s authorities rather than as any kind of denigration of the achievements of a great side.

Equally it would be difficult to argue that the current seeding systems used in many club and national competitions are anything other a transparent measure to protect commercial interests and ensure the participation of the big guns in the final rounds, guaranteeing high television audiences and all the lucrative spin-offs.

For good measure Independiente added narrow victories over Olimpia of Honduras (1973), Deportivo Municipal of Guatemala and finally Atletico Español  of Mexico (1976) in the now defunct Copa Interamericana, a celebration of Inter-American solidarity that was brought to an abrupt end by being embarrassingly gate-crashed by a gringo victory in the shape of DC United in 1998.

Bochini would go on to finally win Argentine player of the year in 1983 and to star in Tokyo in the Intercontinental Cup final of 1984 against Joe Fagan’s Liverpool. By then under the stewardship of Pastoriza, the Independiente line-up would boast a number of International players including Giusti, Burrachaga and Pedro Monzón. Jose Percudani beat Bruce Grobelaar to notch the only goal of the game, winning another famous victory.

For reasons too numerous to name, one side triumphing year-on-year in this way seems a near impossibility in the modern game. Only maybe the Real Madrid of Puskas and Di Stefano have achieved a similar feat in European football, and in comparison to the modern day greats, even the imperious Barcelona of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, with their tiki-taka possession-dominating, have never managed to retain the Champions League.

The Independiente of El Bocha, Bertoni and Pastoriza will always be fondly remembered in Avellaneda and beyond, and may always hold some small bragging rights over their big city rivals. They have had a pivotal role in the rich history in Argentine football, from Raimundo Orsi (one of the infamous oriundi), through to  Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero’s debut in the Argentine top flight at the tender age of 15. They played ‘tiki-taka’ decades before some daft Spanish commentator coined the phrase, and even held the affections of an impressionable young shantytown dweller called Diego for a while.

Bochini goes some way to explaining his relative anonymity outside his homeland with the following statement made during an interview with Argentine television, ‘Si hubiera hecho en Boca lo que hice en Independiente, la popularidad hubiera sido el doble’ (If I’d done with Boca what I did with Independiente, my popularity would have been double.) Whilst there is a hint of hyperbole to the maestro’s statement, he articulates the frustrations of millions of Argentines tired of an ever increasingly Boca-centric view of national football, perhaps by extension of fans in other countries where mass media tends to focus on a couple of sides. Such is the all-consuming passion/media hype surrounding the Xeneizes, few would even notice that to this day the most successful side in the Libertadores remains the Red Devils of Avellaneda.


Futebol Arte vs Futebol Força : the Latin American Football Debate

When we think of Brazilian Football there is a strong tendency to fall back on deep-rooted stereotypes of wider Brazilian society. People speak of Samba Football (whatever that is), carnival and silky skilled players whose joie de vivre shines through above such trifling concerns as winning.

Of course there is an element of truth in stereotype. There is an incredible level of flair and invention in the Brazilian game, which has been an ever present throughout its football history.  Unfortunately, however, the panorama is rather more complicated than the stereotypes suggest.

Winning has always been a habit in Brazil, and each time they don’t win there are recriminations, inquests and a scapegoat (the manager, of course). For that reason, and many others, such as the financial consequences of winning or losing, the obsession with results has reached its zenith in Brazil.

Club managers often have a shelf-life of a few weeks if their sides don’t produce or if the manager can’t get on with big name players, and thus there is a tendency towards highly negative formations, high levels of professionalism (systematic professional fouls, simulation, time-wasting etc) and very set ideas about the physique of the player who is most likely to succeed in the modern-game.

All of this is a million miles away from the exoticised image of laid-back relaxed Brazil and its football that most Europeans lazily buy into.

The push towards futebol força (a catch all term for a more physical style with set roles meaning more positional discipline with less freedom for players to express themselves) has its roots in Brazil’s reaction to the development of European Football, from Pelé being kicked out of the 1966 World Cup to the emergence of tactically refined totaalvoetbal (Total Football) which triggered a real soul-searching in the Latin American game.

Advocates of futebol força within Brazil point to Brazilian World Cup triumphs gained in 1994 and 2002 using a more functional less aesthetically pleasing style, as opposed to the quarter final exit of the much lauded futebol arte class of 1982. Indeed, given his options, it is clear that current incumbent ‘Big Phil’ Scolari will look to re-create the functionality of the 2002 squad rather than adopt a more cavalier approach that would better suit the European stereotype of Brazilian football.


Santos coach Muricy Ramalho

The recently sacked Santos manager Muricy Ramalho is fairly representative of the reformist tendency at work in the Brazilian game. He makes no secret of the fact that he feels no responsibility to entertain the paying punter or to play beautiful football.

Ramalho famously declared after a particularly dull routine victory ‘A torcida paga ingresso para ver o time vencer. Quem quiser ver espetáculo que vá ao Teatro Municipal (The fans pay to see the team win. If you want entertainment you can go to the theatre.’). The brutally honest Paulista went on to compare football to war. Ramalho is widely respected in the Brazilian game having won a string of trophies at a number of Brazil’s main clubs, latterly with Santos of course.

However, hotly-contested debate about the futebol arte-futebol força dichotomy is never far around the corner. The performance of the national team in South Africa and the result of a match that is used far more often as a yardstick in South America than in Europe, the World Club Cup Final between Santos and Barcelona, have re-opened all wounds.

The Brazilian collapse to historical bête noire Holland in South Africa, coupled with the abject humiliation experienced by Ramalho’s Santos side by Guardiola’s imperious Barcelona side, brought into question the route they have started to go down.

The Barcelona game, in particular, saw small dynamic players dominate the game with guile and possession football in a way Brazilians used to do for so long.

The rationale for futebol força suggests that a team brimming with creativity, invention, movement and tricks like Barcelona would be overrun by brute force, tactical nous and sheer discipline. This clearly didn’t happen in Yokohama.

Brazil’s production of exportable players remains prolific, but the type of player Brazil is producing, depressingly, appears increasingly homogenised and mass-produced to suit the demands of the European market.

Of course a multitude of sins are forgiven when a team is winning, and this is where the resurgence of Scolari comes into play. The scheming World Cup winner inspired a Brazilian victory at the Confederations Cup, with a comfortable victory against Spain. Whether they can repeat the feat next year in Brazil will go a long way to deciding whether Brazil considers a shift back to producing the compact flair players of the past (Jairzinho, Garrincha Zico, Pelé et al) or whether it continues to mass produce larger more functional players like Hulk and Gilberto Silva.

Clearly players like Messi, Pirlo, Iniesta and Xavi have usurped the Brazilians as the standard bearers of the beautiful game. The soul-searching in Brazil is inevitable given the way they have abandoned their widely admired style in the pursuit of winning at all costs.

The nation is split between those who like Ramalho are only concerned with results, and those who question whether following the pragmatic approach indeed yields the best results. All this makes the emergence of a player like Neymar all the more interesting. Neymar seems a blast from the past in the modern Brazilian game, offering glimpses of the Brazil of old.

The broad argument that is known in Brazil as futebol arte vs futebol força is often heard across the border in Argentina, albeit in a slightly different guise as Menottismo vs Bilardismo.

The two larger-than-life characters are synonymous with two styles of Argentine football which are easily discernible watching today’s Argentine Football and its considerable diaspora playing and managing in Europe and Latin America.


Cesar Luis Menotti, Argentina’s 1978 World Cup winning coach

The country’s two World Cup winning managers provide two contrasting models to follow. On one side, is chain-smoking philosophical liberal left-wing idealist Cesar Luis Menotti, and on the other scheming tactician and ‘master of the dark arts’ Carlos Bilardo.

El Flaco Menotti triumphed on home-soil in 1978, much to the pleasure of the incumbent Argentine Military Junta. This triumph was a landmark in Argentine football, as until 1978 the Argentine players had failed to produce on the national stage. Menotti ignored players from champions and historically favoured Boca Juniors, choosing players from unfashionable sides, like Huracan’s Oswaldo Ardiles. He was also brave enough to leave out a young Argentine player who idolised him. Diego Maradona was capped under Menotti, but was left out of the World Cup squad.

Menotti imbued his players with a sense of his own confidence telling them that ‘”Se puede perder un partido , pero lo que no se puede perder es la dignidad por jugar bien al futbol (you can lose a game, but what you cannot lose is the dignity earnt by playing good football)”. The emphasis on the way the game was played was central to Menotti’s style.

Menotti’s commitment to entertainment was so extreme that victory was almost secondary as expressed in the following phrase: “Tu obligación no es ser campeón del mundo, tu obligación es saber cuál es la idea de juego (Your obligation isn’t to be world champion, your obligation is to know what the game is about)”. Especially in the environment in which football is played today Menotti sometimes seems to be a last link to a bygone era.

Menotti spoke ideologically of imbuing the national side with a spirit of ‘left-wing football’, an artform which offered the beleaguered people an example of self-belief and dignity in the face of military oppression, providing them with relief from the travails of everyday life. Menotti openly opposed the incumbent dictatorship, and told his players to focus on the swirling mass of Argentine fans in River Plate’s Monumental Stadium on the day of the final, rather than on the Generals who sought a propaganda victory for a truly sinister dictatorship.

Menotti saw football as art, as a medium for inspiring the masses with its beauty. His successor Bilardo, on the other hand, was reared on the anti-futbol of Zubeldia’s Estudiantes in the 1960s, an infamous side that would stop at nothing to win a game of football.


An uneasy alliance: Bilardo and Maradona

Estudiantes, became champions of the world when Juan Veron (senior) rifled a crucial away goal against European Champions Manchester United in a particularly ugly game.

Bilardo, like Muricy Ramalho, set out his blueprint early on “El fútbol profesional es ganar y solo ganar. Yo soy como Muhammad Alí: durante la competencia no tengo amigos, y a los contrarios, si puedo, los mato y los piso. (Football is about winning and nothing else. I’m like Muhammed Ali : during the fight I have no friends and if the opportunity arises I tread all over the opponents and destroy them)”.

If the manager’s work sets the tone for what his team does, then Bilardo would surely have to take his share of the blame/credit (delete as you feel appropriate) for Maradona’s infamous first notable contribution to the Quarter Final showdown with England in Guadalajara. The second goal that day, of course, showed the inspired individualism of fútbol criollo could never be completely hampered by any form of ideological rigidity. The most emblematic goal of the World Cup elevated Maradona to another plateau in the minds of Argentines.

The nervy, inhibited, cagey Argentina which defended their world title at Italia 90 personified Bilardo as they scraped through each round by the slightest margin with any entertainment for neutrals derived only from watching the once great suffer. Mercifully they lost in the worst final in living memory to a strong German side.

The difference between the two standpoints couldn’t be starker, and the resulting antipathy is never far from the surface. The influence of both is there for all to see in every Argentine side that takes to the field.

The following generations of Argentine managers, like Bielsa and then more recently Bielsa disciple Jorge Sampaoli, owe a debt of gratitude to Menotti, whereas others like Nery Pumpido, Jorge Burrachaga and Sergio Batista are self-confessed disciples of the Bilardo school.

The larger picture for Latin American Football, is deciding which route to go down, if indeed it is a case of choosing one over the other. The crude dichotomisation of the two terms seeks to create a good vs evil black & white simplification of many complex issues. Levels of fitness are higher than ever before, as is tactical awareness and discipline (evidenced by the defensive masterclasses and discipline of Jose Mourinho’s Champions League winning sides amongst others). A no-stone unturned tactical analysis of each opponents strengths and weaknesses has become a must, something which in part must be credited to the often demonised Oswaldo Zubeldia.

However, the triumphs of Barcelona under Guardiola, Universidad de Chile under Jorge Sampaoli and of the Spanish national side at the last World Cup and European Championships (to name but three random examples) show that, though many deny it, there is a place for flair, creativity and downright exhilarating football. Despite all the interest groups at work, some of the most effective football played is also the best spectacle for the watching millions. The mythical Futebol Arte is alive and well in the 21st century.

O Glorioso Benfica: Stolen from Africa

This is part 3 of a 3 part series

Read Part 1 : European Cup: Early Iberian Successes

Read Part 2 : La Época Dorada del Real Madrid: 1955-60

As incredible as Real Madrid’s five consecutive trophies were, it was inevitable that they would be toppled. Amongst an extremely competitive playing field, were an impressive Hamburg side, inspired by Uwe Seeler, arch-rivals Barcelona with their skilful Hungarian imports and the newly-crowned 1959/60 champions of England, Harry Potts’ Burnley side. In order to bolster his squad Potts made his first cash signing for the Clarets before the 1959/60 season. He splashed out £5,000 to secure the services of Alex Elder. He wouldn’t make a cash signing again for eight years. Anyway, I digress. The side that stepped up to the plate and took the European crown were the leading club from the other Iberian capital, Lisbon.

Benfica became the second side from the Peninsula to make their mark on the European Cup, quickly establishing themselves on the international stage as a formidable opponent. To this day the Portuguese side boast one of the highest memberships of any club in the world, and enjoy a huge national and international fanbase on the basis of their all-conquering twice European Champions side. The Lisbon club went on to contest five European Cup finals in the 1960s (more than any other club in that period, Internazionale and Real Madrid having played in three).

eusebio guttmann

Eusebio pictured with Bela Guttman and Mário Coluna (right)

Their success was built upon a number of factors, not least the forward-thinking tactical acumen of Bela Guttmann. If Real were astute in bringing Hungary’s finest player to their club in the late fifties, Benfica’s decision to hire (arguably) Hungary’s most innovative coach, Guttman was certainly no less influential.

Guttmann, a Jewish Hungarian, acquired his ideas during a playing career that began and finished predictably with two of the top Jewish clubs of the time (Budapest’s MTK Hungaria and Hakoah Vienna). In between two spells with the Vienna club Guttman even played in the American Soccer league turning out for the Brooklyn Wanderers and the New York Giants in the twenties, and winning honours with both.

Guttmann’s career would really take off, however, as a manager. Guttman’s arduous and nomadic apprenticeship saw him manage (in this order) Hakoah Vienna, Enschede (now FC Twente), Hakoah Vienna (again), Újpest, Vasas, Ciocanul Bucharest, Újpest (again), Kispest, Padova, Triestina, Quilmes (Argentina), Peñarol (Uruguay), APOEL Nicosia, Milan, Vicenza, Honvéd, São Paulo and Porto from 1933 to 1959, in between fleeing Nazi persecution before and during the Second World War.

Clearly not one to get too romantically attached to one place, Guttmann employed a synthesis of styles carefully honed during his frequent travels to trial and successfully incorporate the 4-2-4 system that would successfully conquer Europe for Benfica.

A formidable front-line of central strikers Eusébio da Silva Ferreira and José Águas, flanked by José Augusto and António José Simões would terrorise the defences of Europe during the 1960s.

After the 1962 triumph, Guttmann became all too acutely aware of his value to the operation, duly beginning negotiations to up his salary to a level commensurate with his value and contribution to the club. Guttman, however, was not noted for his modesty. In fact he could be seen as an early precursor to the great Brian Clough or José Mourinho in the egomaniac stakes.

Benfica’s hierarchy, operating in a nationalistic environment, were never likely to grant Guttmann his wish, and as the Hungarian’s history suggests, he was happy to move on once again to pastures new. Upon leaving Guttmann felt fit to offer his skills as a clairvoyant in assessing ‘os encarnados’ chances for the forthcoming century in the following infamous statement:

Nos próximos 100 anos, o Benfica não voltará a ser campeão europeu (In the next 100 years Benfica won’t be the champions of Europe again)

As is well known and documented, to date, this has proved true with Benfica ending as losing finalists in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1988 and 1990 (not forgetting 1983 and 2013 of course) respectively.

If the wily Guttman’s accrued tactical nous was pivotal in Benfica’s triumph then the influence of the geo-political factors that allowed the Lisbon club to pluck the finest talent from the countries ‘overseas provinces’, specifically Angola and Mozambique, must also be acknowledged and analysed.

As most of the colonial powers retreated from empire in the aftermath of World War II, António de Oliveira Salazar clung on to Portugal’s splintered empire by means of rebranding its subjugated colonies as a single national state spread across continents.

Salazar’s one-party corporatist authoritarian Estado Novo (new state) was fiercely criticised by the international community. The regime’s brutal repression of civil liberties and political freedom gave rise to decades of closed isolationism, poverty and repression for the Portuguese people.

Indeed, up until the Carnation Revolution of 1974 the Estado Novo ensured that Portugal pursued an integralist path privileging monarchism, conservatism, steep hierarchical structure and Roman Catholicism and systematically marginalising all its opponents ranging from Anti-Colonialist movements,  Trade Unionism, Marxism, Womens’ Movements, Social Democracy, Secularism, Progressivism or any other pluralist tendency with the potential to encourage diversity or social equality.

Logically enough, any such authoritarian regime could not function without a sinister underhand secret service with the sole objective of protecting the regime through a combination of terror tactics and victimising known organised opposition. The PIDE (Policia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado – International and Defence of State Police) took charge of ruthlessly eliminating ideological opponents of the regime. Political prisoners were taken to Tarrafal (Cape Verde) where they were routinely torture and often never seen again..

Against this backdrop the (economically and mentally) impoverished Portuguese masses needed an outlet for their frustrations and some escapism from the horror of everyday life. As a result of the political travails, the successes achieved by Benfica were a release valve for the entire nation, not only in the capital Lisbon. This explains, in large part, a phenomenon that is clearly reflected in the incredible number of Benfiquistas both nationally and internationally today. If one club can be said to have embodied Portugal socially and culturally, it could only be Benfica.

The socio-political situation in Portugal was inseparable from the rise of Benfica. Just a couple of months after even Conservative leader Harold Macmillan had begrudgingly conceded the death knell of English colonialism with his Cape Town ‘wind of change’ speech, Benfica were fielding a side featuring a spine of players plucked from Portuguese East Africa (modern-day Mozambique) and Portuguese Angola.

Beyond dispute is the fact that the Salazar regime left Portugal as a pariah state in Western Europe. Right-wing dictatorship in Spain and Portugal comfortably outlasted its equivalents in Germany and Italy, and inevitably left a stronger imprint on Spanish and Portuguese Society respectively.

Portugal’s long colonial history had left behind a mixed legacy, not only at home but also abroad. Vasco Da Gama’s voyages during what Europeans call the Age of Discovery were eulogised in Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões and Portugal’s place in history was secured. Portuguese colonial history differed fundamentally from that of other European powers as they were more prone to miscigenação (miscegenation).

According to eminent Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre this was, in great part, down to the historical miscegenation in Portugal, dating back to the Moors and the Romans. Freyre spoke of a Lusotropicalism in the following idealistic terms:

‘Given the unique cultural and racial background of metropolitan Portugal, Portuguese explorers and colonizers demonstrated a special ability – found among no other people in the world – to adapt to tropical lands and peoples’

The Portuguese colonizer, basically poor and humble, did not have the exploitive motivations of his counterpart from the more industrialized countries in Europe. Consequently, he immediately entered into cordial relations with non-European populations he met in the tropics. This is clearly demonstrated through Portugal’s initial contacts with the Bakongo Kingdom in the latter part of the fifteenth century. The ultimate proof of the absence of racism among the Portuguese, however, is found in Brazil, whose large and socially prominent mestiço population is living testimony to the freedom of social and sexual intercourse between Portuguese and non-Europeans’

Freyre’s romanticised multi-racial theories were long ignored by the Portuguese regime, as they touched on truths inconvenient to a fascist regime’s ideology.

In the early 1950s, however, looking for justification for a prolonged Portuguese presence in Africa, a simplified and decidedly nationalistic slant on Lusotropicalism , re-branded as Portugalidade (Portugueseness), was opportunistically appropriated by the regime and the Estatuto da Indigena (Statute for Indigenous peoples) was quickly rushed out to formalise the rights of indigenous people in Portugal’s colonies. Hitherto they were neither recognised with citizenship nor benefitted from any civil or legal rights. Even after this, as will be seen later, the rights of those in the ‘provinces’ were still significantly inferior to those of metropolitan Portuguese, as one might expect in a Fascist dictatorship.

The Machievelian attempt to re-brand Portugal’s empire as one big happy family may have convinced a domestic audience with access to a limited amount of information, but in Africa, in the wake of several successful independence movements in neighbouring countries, a revolutionary consciousness was beginning to develop.

In Guinea-Bissau revolutionary socialist Amilcar Cabral was stirring the masses towards liberation. Cabral and many of his freewheeling milieu spoke of a battle not against Portugal and its people, but against Portuguese colonialism. Inspired by leaders advocating Pan-Africanism like Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, the seeds were sown for a long battle for independence.

The early sixties also provided a literary angle to the revolutionary struggle. In Lourenço Marques (the Portuguese name for Maputo), Mozambican writer Luis Bernardo Honwana wrote Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso ,1964 (We killed the mangy dog), a subtle metaphorical social critique which belies its rather simple title.

The ‘mangy dog’ represents the decadent system of Portuguese Colonialism. Honwana’s collection of short-stories exposes the crude racial hierarchy operating in Portuguese colonial society. The characters represent their respective positions in the divisive social hierarchy, namely branco (white), assimilado (assimilated), indígena (indigenous) and mestiço (mixed race), all with their attendant rights and status. Honwana depicts a Portuguese Colonialism worlds apart from the idealism of Freyre, which so suited the needs of the dictatorship back in Portugal.


Luis Bernardo Honwana, an influential writer and FRELIMO militant

A number of Portuguese African writers began to articulate a multitude of issues ranging from the treatment of women to the need to change the economic and political systems within the countries. Agostinho Neto was so popular that he met Che Guevara and became Angola’s first post-independence leader. Paulina Chiziane became the first Mozambican woman to publish a novel. Jose Craiverinha became attached to the Négritude movement that had gathered pace in Francophone Africa.

However, significantly from a footballing perspective, the statute for indigenous peoples allowed the assimilation of ‘culturally Europeanised’ indigenous people. The idea of the mixed race pluricontinental state free from prejudice, seems rather undermined by the premise that in order to reach the highest cultural level, it is necessary to Europeanise culturally, but this is the perverse logic of a fascist dictatorship. In any case this law opened the door for a number of Portuguese Africa’s finest footballers to ply their trade in Europe, a move that would prove pivotal in Benfica’s emergence as a power of European football.

This thinly veiled prolongation of colonialism meant that Portuguese teams were able to draw upon (read: steal) from a large catchment area of untapped African talent, a situation that has only intensified rather than disappeared in the supposedly post-colonial world we inhabit today.

One of the great pioneer African players in European football was Larbi Ben Barek. The Maghrebi superstar was hugely successful in both France and Spain enjoying memorable spells with Marseille and Atletico Madrid among others. It’s worth noting that the introduction of African born players to Portuguese players pre-dates Eusebio by some time.

One of the first ‘culturally Europeanised’ players, Sebastião Lucas da Fonseca, better known as Matateu, was the first import of note. Spotted playing in his native Lourenço Marques (modern-day Maputo). The man they called a oitava maravilha do mundo (the eighth wonder of the world), was a prolific goalscorer in Portuguese football, scoring 218 times in 289 outings for Belenenses and twice securing the prestigious Bola da Prata (Silver Ball) awarded to the leading goalscorer in Portuguese Football. He also represented the Portuguese national team, again scoring 13 in 27 goals, proving his prowess on the international stage. This successful foray into Portuguese East Africa encouraged other Portuguese clubs to cast an eye over the best their colonies (or overseas provinces) could offer.

The eventual emergence of Eusebio in African football can be traced back to Hilário, (not Chelsea’s 3rd goalkeeper but rather Hilário Rosário da Conceição) who offered to arrange a trial for Eusebio with Sporting Clube de Portugal (Sporting Lisbon), where he had been playing since 1959.


Salazar and Franco

Hilario knew of Eusebio through the Sporting Lourenço Marques club. Eusébio, naturally, was flattered and very much interested in the move. When he arrived in Lisbon it quickly became apparent that Sporting were not the only team interested. Legend has it the young Mozambican fled to a quiet village in the Algarve while the ensuing battle for his signature unravelled.

Why he instead signed for Benfica, is subject to intense argument and counter-argument, insult and counter-insult. What is for sure, is that Sporting’s loss was Benfica’s gain. The legendary marksman made an instant impact at the Estádio da Luz where he would score an incredible 462 goals in 437 appearances. His legend was made, however, on the European stage, where Benfica would reach two consecutive finals in 1961 and 1962.

In the 1961 final Barcelona, with two prominent members of the Aranycsapat (Kocsis and Czibor) at their disposal, were unable to contain a Benfica side with a beautiful balance of guile, brute force and stamina. Mário Coluna, fittingly, would score the decisive goal, adding to an unfortunate own goal attributed to Barcelona goalkeeper and captain Antoni Ramallets and an early equaliser from Benfica skipper José Águas. The victory sparked wild celebrations in Lisbon, as the Portuguese side announced their arrival on the international scene.

A year later, in the final, against Real, a classic of European Football was witnessed. The five times champions, battled their way to the final with a number of survivors from the great 1950s squad, including Puskas, Di Stefano, Santamaria and Gento. A clash between the five times winners and the defending champions, appeared mouth-watering, and wouldn’t let down an expectant public.

The man from Mafalala (a suburb of Maputo which would go on to be a flashpoint in the nascent struggle for Mozambican Independence) struck twice at Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium to deny Real’s veteran hitman Ferenc Puskas who had scored a first half hat-trick for the Madrid club. Benfica toppled Real 5-3 in a classic topsy-turvy final,

On both occasions Benfica were unable to crown their European victory with an Intercontinental Cup victory, falling to the Peñarol of Alberto Spencer in 1961 and the Santos of Pelé and Coutinho  in 1962.

Eusebio, in fact, first figured on Pelé’s radar when Santos met Benfica in 1961. The Brazilians ran out 6-3 winners thanks to the brilliance of Coutinho and Pelé, but Benfica’s young substitute caught the eye, grabbing a 20 minute hat-trick after coming off the bench.

His debut in Portugal was also marked with a hat-trick. Luckily, such was his quality, he continued to dazzle, eventually gaining the title ‘O Rei (the King). Not a bad title for a black African in a fascist dictatorship.

Of course, one man does not a team make. The African contingent in the Benfica side also included the not inconsiderable presence of Mario Coluna in the midfield, Alberto da Costa Pereira in goal (plucked from Clube Ferroviário de Lourenço-Marques, the capital’s railway team) and the Angolans wing-forward José Águas and Joaquim Santana, who both hail from the port town of Lobito.

Added to that, the tricky, diminutive António Simões, who was known in Portuguese football circles as the giant gnome. Simões is currently assistant to Carlos Queiroz, who looks on course to take the Iranian national team to Brazil 2014.

Coluna was known as ‘o monstrous sagrado’ (the sacred monster – doesn’t translate so well). His physical presence, stamina and strength made him (literally) an enormous asset in midfield. Comfortably transcending the narrow stereotype of the modern African midfielder, Coluna possessed a rare poise in the middle of the field. His elegant control of the ball gave himself time to rifle in powerful long-range efforts or pick out dangerous passes to play in a team-mate.

Coluna’s significance doesn’t end with his on-field ability though. The gentle giant from Mozambique personifies the international, universal appeal of Benfica. During the prolonged struggle for Mozambican Independence, Coluna joined FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique – Mozambican Liberation Front) to fight against the Portuguese. He speaks about his experience:

“Convidaram-me para ser membro do Partido FRELIMO e deputado da Assembleia da República. Aceitei. Atribuíram-me a ‘Ordem Eduardo Mondlane do Terceiro Grau’, a mais alta condecoração do Estado, mas não se recordam em devolver o meu prédio, que comprei com dinheiro de futebol” (They called me up into FRELIMO. I accepted, they gave me the Third Grade Eduardo Mondlane Order, which is the highest state decoration, but they didn’t remember to return me my house. The one I bought with the money I earned playing football) Mário Coluna

Coluna’s remarkable life saw him move from being twice Champion of Europe living in a right-wing dictatorship to being a relatively wealthy citizen in a fledgling independent nation swinging dramatically to the left under staunch Marxist Samora Michel. Mozambique became a strong ally with Cuba, and the country that he left was no longer recognisable to him.

“Nasci em Magude e depois vim para Lourenço Marques (hoje Maputo) aos 4 anos. Quero fazer chegar ao meu Governo que voltei a Moçambique porque nasci aqui. Sou bem-vindo no Benfica de Portugal com direito à casa e dinheiro, mas preferi voltar para minha terra” (I was born in Magude, and then I moved to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) at 4 years old. I want my government to know I returned to Mozambique because I was born here. I am welcome at Benfica with rights to a house and with money, but I preferred to return to my homeland.

Coluna however, remains in Mozambique, loyal to his homeland. In sharp contrast, Eusebio, pragmatically and diplomatically, has opted for the relative comfort of life in Portugal.

Eusebio is, beyond any reasonable doubt, Portugal’s greatest ever player, not only because he was part of the great Benfica side that secured Portugal’s first European Cup triumphs but also because he brought his form onto the national stage. The recent pretender Ronaldo, of course, has also reached a World Cup Semi Final, but he has not lit up a World Cup in the way that Eusebio did in England in 1966.

Eusebio took the Golden Boot for his 9 goals, including 4 in a memorable comeback from 3-0 down in the Quarter Final against North Korea. He also won the heart of the Portuguese public in the Jogo das Lágrimas (Game of the Tears) against England in 1966. The young striker broke down in a Gazza-esque outburst at the end of the game, clearly displaying his loyalty to the motherland. To this day the Portuguese complain bitterly at the eleventh-hour change of venue which allowed England to remain in London and meant Portugal had to travel down from Liverpool to face their opponents.

Incidentally, in the same game, in an act of conspicuously un-Corinthian spirit, Jackie Charlton handled the ball on the line (in much the same way as Luis Suarez did in South Africa) but was greeted by a shamelessly unrepentant ‘oh Jackie Charlton had to do that’ from Kenneth Wolstenholme. Any possibility of controversy was buried by the fact that Eusebio (unlike Asamoah Gyan) comfortably tucked away the resulting penalty, but the incident was symptomatic of the English double-standards that reigned under Stanley Rous, and continue in our parochial mentality to this day.

Portugal, of course,  would enjoy a revenge of sorts, deservedly edging out England in consecutive Penalty Shoot-Outs after 2-2 draws in 2004 and 2006.

The great Portuguese returned to Wembley in 1968 to face Manchester United. In the dying minutes, with the sides deadlocked at 1-1, the deadly finisher par-excellence uncharacteristically hammered his shot directly at Alex Stepney, who gratefully collected, allowing United to re-group for Extra Time, where they ran out comfortable 4-1 winners thanks to the genius of Best, Charlton and Law. More characteristically, the assimilated Portuguese gentleman generously congratulated the Englishman on the save, ensuring a continuance of jolly Anglo-Portuguese relations, an enduring diplomatic alliance, which began with the Windsor Treaty of 1386.

When the great Real Madrid and Benfica sides of the early days of the European Cup are remembered, two of the three best remembered players in the Madrid side hail from outside of Europe (and others besides), whilst the Benfica side boasted four or five key players that were born in Africa. Without these key additions it is dubious whether the Iberian Peninsula could have denied the rest of the continent a success in the opening seven years of the tournament.

Whilst there is much to celebrate and admire in the respective histories of Real Madrid and Benfica it is important that the overarching themes of the era are not lost in the annals of history. At a time when the legacy of Civil War, dictatorship and colonialism is hotly contested, it is important that a balanced picture of history, and by extension footballing history, emerges.

Recently Madrid has seen the unveiling of Margaret Thatcher Street and the removal of a monument celebrating the role of International Brigade Volunteers on the Republican side. Knowing the pettiness of Spanish Politics it is not inconceivable these two moves be reversed once again the next time the left takes power.

What is surely more important is to be able to view history in a detached balance way, without airbrushing inconvenient truths out, such as the manifest racism towards the great majority of people in Portugal’s colonies at the time of Benfica’s rise. The fact that Coluna fought against Portugal in his country’s war for independence makes him no less of a hero at the Estádio da Luz. It is simply historical fact. The Benfica team were aided greatly by the intransigent undemocratic leadership of that era, though the country surely suffered greatly.

The importation and integration of players from ex-colonies has long been an advantage for Spanish and Portuguese clubs, and remains so today, owing to linguistic and cultural common ground with the world’s second great footballing continent. The accompanying ease of gaining dual nationality for players from ex-colonies has served them well in comparison to. English clubs, for example, who have been unable to benefit to the same extent as each of their significant colonies has, if not actively rejected football, then certainly embraced other sports to a greater degree, and thus haven’t proved fertile ground for the importation of players. Even with the insane wealth of Manchester City, it is unlikely that, given the choice, the next Neymar or Messi would opt for England over Mediterranean Europe. Allied to this is the role of tactical innovation and re-invention of the sides that has best allowed the players from other continents to express themselves.

Real Madrid and Benfica can thank, in no small part, their early European victories for their hegemonic position in their respective countries. Their aloof, aristocratic position in the hierarchy, if anything, will probably be protected, rather than challenged by the disingenuous FFP initiative. It stands to reason that the status quo will only be protected by a rule that allows the biggest clubs to continue spending their immense gains from gate receipts and merchandising and the smaller clubs to struggle by on their meagre earnings. The hugely unequal distribution of television monies on the Iberian Peninsula can only exacerbate this, meaning the only clubs under any threat are the nouveau riche who are spending considerably beyond their means, and don’t have the guaranteed revenue streams of the traditional clubs.

Regarding Africa and Latin America, the plundering of the best talent ensures that national leagues in those continents are blocked from reaching anything like the standard of those in Europe and means that the countries’ only chance of putting one over on their ex-colonial masters is in international competition. This fact, in large part, explains the disparity in passion for the national team between African and Latin American countries, where it represents the only chance to put one over on the old world, to Europe, where international football is increasingly viewed as a nuisance, particularly in countries where the national side is mired in mediocrity, that is only magnified by the presence of the world’s finest talent in the club league.

Of course, there is never a shortage of people happy to criticise our larger football clubs for their exploitation of the flagrant inequalities that govern the common migration patterns we see with players today. Realistically, however, the problem starts and ends where football and society intersect. The existence of gross infrastructural and economic inequalities are not the fault of football clubs, but rather generations of politicians, people and companies with their cronyism, clientelism, corruption and exploitation.  An intransigent, corrupt, bloated organisation like FIFA doesn’t help, but the real problems lie with our governments. Until they are tackled clubs like Benfica and Real Madrid will continue to sweep up the best talent from wherever they are allowed to by the socio-economic conditions.