A football philosopher at the festival

Argentinian football aficionado, Victor Torres, is one of the disappointed millions still trying to recover from Italy’s 4-0 loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 final.

The Argentinian is one of the thousands of people enjoying the national arts festival in Grahamstown. Torres, taking an extended break from his advertising career in Argentina, is spending some time in South Africa before he goes off to China with his Argentinian companeros to shoot a movie.

Even though he is tied to Spain by language, he wanted Italy to win. He likes football when its logic is premised on surprise and spontaneity. This means that Spain’s studied geometric game, whose chief obsession is control and control and control, doesn’t have much allure.

Any discussion with an Argentinian, inevitably, turns to that age-old conundrum: who is greater: Lionel Messi or Diego Maradona?  Torres is not in two minds about who is better: it’s Maradona because Messi “hasn’t won anything with Argentina. He will be greater than Maradona if he wins two world cups with Argentina.”

Not that he thinks Messi isn’t worthy to untie Maradona’s  size 37 boots.

“Messi is fast, he can keep the ball next to him; he can score; he has vision,” Torres explains. “If you are the best player you must better your team. Maradona could raise my soul and he could do what he wanted,” says Torres, who was 6 years old when Argentina won the world cup in 1986.

“That game was important. It was not just about football. It was against England. We had lost a lot of kids in the Falklands war,” says Torres, about the quarter-final match which England lost 2-1. “If you scored the kind of goal Maradona did, you would be accused of cheating, but Maradona cannot cheat. He is not a cheater because in that match he also scored the best goal in world football.”

The excitable Argentinian was talking about the mesmeric moment in which Maradona dribbled past a clutch of English defenders before drawing out Peter Shilton to score.  Torres then related an anecdote told by Argentina’s  striker and former Real Madrid bureaucrat Jorge Valdano who was running in sync with Maradona, expecting a pass, as El Diego went past the English.  Valdano asked him why he didn’t pass the ball to him and Maradona told him that as he weaved his way past all these men he could still see him from the back of his eye and would have passed the ball to him if he felt he (Valdano) was in a better position to score. To be able to run some 50 metres, dribbling past all these men, and still see a pass made Valdano feel like a small footballer, not worthy of playing along Maradona.

In the tunnel, just before the match, Maradona was nonchalantly chewing a gum which he spat, wrapped into a paper, juggled for a while and then kicked into a bin.

“It’s about the soul he brought to the field,” Torres concludes.

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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