FC Barçelona On My Mind

Segun at Wembley

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (March 2nd 2015)

Fan

I guess every reader of this column knows by now that I am a fan of FC Barçelona. I love the team because, like me, they are football purists, always winning by playing the better football, cleanly, clearly, and on the field – never in the boardroom. In the past decade, it is hard to find many lovers of football that have not been captivated by the club’s achievements, its football brand and philosophy, its youth academy and its very exceptionally gifted players.

Without question, FC Barçelona have been the team of the 21st Century, winning the world’s most coveted club trophy three times since 2000, getting to the semi-finals six times, and the quarter finals twice. Compare this to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, which have won it twice each in that period, although, under José Mourinho, Real Madrid had a semi-final hoodoo, broken by Carlo Ancelotti winning the historic ʻLa Décimaʼ last season against cross-town rivals Atlético de Madrid.

Nevertheless, to the chagrin of Realʼs supporters, there is no question of who has played the better football and been more successful this century. It is clearly the Camp Nouʼs finest. This century the world has been treated to a brand of football that had never been seen previously in the history of the game.

The Blueprint

Tiki-Taka was a deliberate style of football conceived in Barçelona’s youth academy, complimented by acquiring some of the best players in the world – but many of Barçelona’s young players, not only held their own in élite company, they went on to play for Spain and made them World Champions for the first time in their history and the only nation to win and retain the European Championship.

Tiki-Taka became an art exhibition on display every week and everywhere FC Barçelona played. The team taught the rest of the world the ultimate art of ball possession, the quick one-two passing and movements, the short interchange of passes, back and forth and sideways, the players running and pressing when they lose possession, and maintaining a fluid but intricate organised pattern of movements all the time like a well-oiled machine.

With this style of play the team simply ran rings around most opposing teams. They were a delight to watch, even though critics of their style began to describe them as boring and rather monotonous. In the past decade, particularly, the ultimate challenge for European club managers was how to decode the team’s play. In the past three years a few have succeeded.

Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany discovered the antidote and reduced Barçaʼs impact and dominance. FC Barçelona needed to do something different to compete to win the UEFA Championsʼ League again.

The New Era

As great players aged – not even Barçelona have discovered the elixir of perpetual youth – a new style was needed too. Barçelonaʼs captain supreme Xavi Hernández i Creus doesnʼt play so much now, but Andrés Iniesta Lujáremains an integral part of the new machine.

I have just watched Barçelona FC take Manchester City FC to the cleaners in the first leg of the round of 16. It was a very emphatic and comprehensive performance that captured the essence of a ‘new’ FC Barçelona.

What is clear is that Tiki-Taka has been dismantled and is metamorphosing into something new, something less dramatic but, potentially more exciting and more deadly when the ‘concoction’ fully matures!

The old Barça played with 7 or more midfield players without a permanent striker upfront. Now, from outside the influence of the Barçelona youth academy, the team has been experimenting with new players for two seasons. FC Barçelona may have returned to the conventional style of European club football but they have created a new headache for European club managers.

The price that Barça have had to pay for this new formation is a midfield and defence that now look less compact with more open spaces for opposing teams to play. FC Barçelona are no less exciting than they once were, are less patient in attack than they once were, are less dominant in ball possession than they were previously, and less imposing on opposing teams than they once were. But for everything that they now are in deficit over, they make up for it with a striking partnership of three of the best goal scorers on the planet in their team!

In Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (Neymar), Luis Suárez Díaz and Lionel Messi Cuccittini, FC Barçelona now have a dream attacking formation almost unmatched by any other team with the exception of Real Madrid.

Questions

Having said all of that the question now arises: can the new FC Barçelona win the 2014/2015 UEFA Champions League? I run a betting shop so I know a good wager when I see one. This one is not. I will not put my money on FC Barçelona winning the Champions League this season.

Do not get me wrong. With a little bit of luck they can win it but the chances of that happening, in my humble estimation, are slim. Looking at how they have been playing this season, with Tiki-Taka dismantled, and a new style still developing, it may require the experience of one more season for the emerging philosophy to take a firm hold and make them champions once again.

Lionel Messi – Back and Better

Lionel Messi’s lethargic performance at the World Cup cost him a great deal. All he needed to do was alter his mindset and commit one hundred percent to the cause and lead Argentina to win the World Cup. That feat would have earned him the highest honour in the history of football – the best footballer that ever lived.

But something happened to him during the World Cup that I still cannot fathom. He did not play with the spirit of one that wanted to win very badly. He ‘strolled’ through the matches, and even got to the final playing without conviction and fire in the eyes. When Argentina lost Messi lost even more.

As a result, no one raised an eyebrow or complained when a few months later the hard-working, but obviously less talented Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show again and took away the crown of World’s best player from him again. Ronaldo thoroughly deserved it and it appeared as if the spirit to win had left Messi.

Now here comes a new season and suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Barçelona FC and Messi are back. Lionel Messi is playing spiritedly again. It is quite apparent in the way he plays these days, chasing and running around, joining in defending when his team loses possession, getting involved more than ever before during play, and playing his team from the front through physical effort.

It reminds me of the Messi of the early days of his career. He anchored Barçelona FC’s unique brand of football that dominated world football in the past decade. At that time there was no disputing the fact that in Barçelona and Messi the world had the best team and the best player respectively.

For Lionel Messi there is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest to have ever played football. He may not have the complete range of skills like Pelé, or almost singled-handedly led his country to win the World Cup like Maradona, but in terms of sheer natural ability and affinity with the ball at his feet, there has never been a better player.

There is a magnetic relationship between his left foot and the ball that makes him do almost anything with it at will, almost effortlessly. It is hard to put into words his ease and comfort on the ball, his dribbling ability even in the tightest of corners, how he wriggles between defenders, how he rides tackles, how he glides and races past defenders, how he makes difficult shots look so easy, how he makes goal scoring a habit.

From what I have seen of Messi this current season, if all goes well and he remains injury free, he is set to extend his grip on world football. He will likely win the World’s best player award again for an unassailable 5th time. And probably the world will now accept, as I have claimed over and over again, that there has been no player like Lionel Messi in the history of football!

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The Falcons set to fulfil Pelé’s prophecy!

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (August 28th 2014)

Were you Watching?

Segun at Wembley

Did you watch the finals of the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup last Sunday night (August 24th)? If you did, I welcome you to the future. I believe that what happened in Montreal, Canada, between Germany and Nigeria was a preview of the future – the emergence of an African team good enough to become world champions in the beautiful game of football.

Sir Walter Winterbottom, England’s youngest and longest-serving national team manager, and, later, the legendary Brazilian striker, Pelé, had predicted that an African country would win the World Cup before the end of the last century.

That forecast did not come to pass at the highest level of the game. African countries became global champions only at junior levels, with the credibility of some of the victories in doubt because of issues about the true ages of the supposedly ‘junior’ players. At age-group levels older players have a physical and mental advantage that can make the difference between winning and losing matches.

A Hard Struggle

Whereas the age-group competitions were established for the purpose of building a more solid foundation for football at grass-roots level, and specifically to narrow the huge gulf between developed and developing football cultures, African countries saw it as an end to achieve at a junior level what they could not at the senior level.

Africa’s football was considered of such low standard that, for a long time, only one spot was allotted to the continent in the World Cups, both male and female. The African teams were admitted only to make up the numbers and serve the purpose of political correctness.

For the first forty years of the World Cup, Africa was not deemed of even one automatic place at the World Cup. They had to compete in the World Group. They got their automatic place in 1970 after boycotting the 1966 edition. Morocco, hosts of the next African Cup of Nations, were the first team to qualify for the World Cup from Africaʼs group

Improvements

The situation has improved significantly in recent years. With increasingly better performances Africa now has more slots in global competitions, but even that has stagnated. Africaʼs World Cup (2010) was a disappointment and Algeria and Nigeria apart, so was the latest edition. The Quarter-final barrier remains in tact.

Generally, however, one area that had suffered ‘neglect’ and, definitely, inadequate attention has been the women’s game. Africa, in particular, for years, did not put up high performances in female football. The sport suffered adversely from the consequences of cultural, religious and traditional restrictions and taboos. As a result the level and growth of female football at domestic levels in most African countries has been low and limited.

At grass-roots level, particularly in schools, there is hardly any female football played. The pool of exceptionally gifted ones is also very shallow. The few countries that have been participating in international championships have done so against the backdrop of very poor funding, neglect and little public attention.

Progress

That’s why any little achievement by the teams must be celebrated and well acknowledged. Africaʼs men have failed to break the quarter-final hoodoo in the World Cup, but Under-20s football is a different story with Ghana leading the way. In 1993 Brazil beat them in the final 2-1. Four years later they placed fourth. In 1999 Nigeria hosted the tournament and Mali came 3rd – the best of the African effort. Two years later, in Argentina, Ghana placed 2nd again and Egypt came third.

In 2005 Nigeria lost to Argentina in the final. Morocco were beaten by Brasil for third place – the second time two African teams reached the semi-finals. No African team, let alone two has achieved this in the main event. In 2009 an African country, Egypt, hosted the Under-20 World Cup – the second African nation to do so and an African nation won a World Cup for the first time – Ghana. They placed third four years later.

At Under-17 level Nigeria’s boys are the most successful in the world, with four titles, including the inaugural event at Under-16s in 1985. They won again in 1993, sandwiched between Ghana’s triumphs. They won again in 2007, losing the next edition in the final to Brasil two years later before winning again last year.

Breaking the Barrier

Africa’s men and boys have won World Cups at youth level, but never before have our women been the best in the world at any level. That’s why we must celebrate the most recent African achievement – Nigeria’s Falconets. Nigeria’s female teams, since their first appearance in 1991, have been the most successful in the continent and have represented Africa more times than any other country. Close observers have seen a slow but steady progress of the Nigerian female teams.

The major tipping point appears to be the FIFA Women’s Under-20 championship of 2010 in Germany. The Nigerian girls played against the host nation in the finals of that competition. Although they lost by 2-0 the occasion marked Africa’s best performance in all categories of female football until that time.

Two years later in Japan, Nigeria repeated their remarkable ascension of the ladder of global football by getting to the semi-finals of the same championship and losing narrowly to the USA, a country with the best record in female football at all levels. In the last two championships, therefore, Nigeria has been up there amongst the best in the world. Last Sunday, Nigeria sounded notice of fresh ambitions, when the country met Germany again in the 2014 finals.

To play against the world’s current best footballing nation in the final, and match them ball for ball, tackle for tackle, and only narrowly lose by one goal scored by 20 year-old Lena Petermann after extra time, is confirmation that Nigeria has truly arrived at the apex of female football in the world. Petermann impressed me too. She has the knack of scoring important goals – match-winning ones. She also scored the winner in Germany’s opening match against the USA and a stunning goal which beat France in the semi-final.

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The Best Player

Nigeria produced in the 2014 championship the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot award winner, the highest honour for the best player and the highest goal scorer in the championship. Both awards were won by one person, a Nigerian, Asat Oshoala, an authentic new female footballing genius!

In a match that Nigeria could have won in regulation time but lost in extra time, the world was privileged to glimpse the real possibility of an African team winning the World Cup at the highest level! What I saw that night is the clearest indication yet that an African team is about to fulfil one of football’s most anticipated predictions.

The Future Beckons

The next FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in 2015 in Canada. I can already picture the Nigerian national team, the Falcons, a mixture of some of the girls from the present Under-20 team and remnants of the best of the old Falcons, who are now, like the finest wine, much better with age. That combination will be ‘lethal’.

The Nigerian girls in Montreal were spectacular. They displayed all the typical characteristics of Nigerian male players and more – physical strength, mental toughness, athleticism, great skills and (their greatest asset) uncommon fighting spirit. This team can play with such power and pace that most opposition will find it hard to deal with. They will play as if possessed with some spirit, fighting and contesting for every ball as if their lives depended on it.

With a little bit of improvement in the technical area, the girls will be ready to take on the world and do what the men have failed to do – win the World Cup for the first time. That way, Walter Winterbottom’s prediction half a century ago, and Pelé’s, a little bit later, would finally be fulfilled.

Well done magnificent Falconets!

Unprecedented

 

By Valery Villena © Valery Villena (July 9th 2014)

Shocking

The football world was in shock during and immediately after witnessing an event that no one alive had seen before: Brazil was utterly destroyed and humiliated in front of their own fans in a World Cup semifinal match by the unprecedented score of 7-1! Such an unbelievable result will likely never occur again.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the poet Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis left us this phrase in one of his satires “rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno” (a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan; 6.165).

First of all, what occurred in Brazil was an atypical occurrence because it was outside of the realm of possibilities – not even Germany expected such incredible result. There was nothing in Brazil’s recent past that would have pointed in a convincing manner to such a probability.

Secondly, this will result in an extreme impact throughout Brazilian football. And third, despite its status of rare event, it is our human nature to create explanations in retrospect for this shocking result and even reasons for its predictability.

Graphology and the Wall

For instance, the signs were there and have been slowly but surely creeping into today’s Brazilian reality. If Chile and Colombia had sent Brazil to the psychologist for a quick treatment then Germany has sent them to the cemetery to be buried altogether.

In no way is this hyperbole – Brazil’s current football was destroyed and the ensuing hecatomb is inevitable with swift changes and reforms looming to return Brazilian football to its roots.

War by Other Means?

Football is not war in which anything goes – it is a sport that promotes good health and values. That’s why it has its rules. Brazil had deviated from this path and resorted to chicanery and a thuggish style which was highlighted during their game against Colombia recently.

For South Americans especially it was reminiscent of the legacy of Nobby Stiles and England in 1966 when the English team enjoyed total impunity from the referees during that World Cup that became known as ʻThe Robbery of the Centuryʼ – England’s only trophy at the international level.

Nevertheless, Brazil is a multiple winner of World Cups and Copa Américas. Brazil is the most successful country in the history of the game. Perhaps that’s why the football world is shocked and convulsing at the sight of this current Brazil side – a grotesque caricature of the legacy of Leônidas da Silva, Pelé, Jairzinho, Rivalino, Garrincha, Carlos Alberto and Cafu, winners in style, one and all – playing such football as this and shaming that legacy and themselves.

 

U-S-A! – The Aftermath

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2014)

The Tour

The USA topped their group to reach the semi-final of the inaugural World Cup. It was against Argentina, whose enforcer, later to become a World Cup winning Oriundo – an immigrant of Italian or Spanish descent – Luis Monti played hard and injured opponents. The USA lost 6-1, but that was in the days before substitutions. The Argentinians put their boots in and within four minutes goal-keeper James Douglas was hurt, but forced to play on. He wasnʼt the only American who played hurt. Argentina won easily, but the Americans were put at an early disadvantage.

Raphael Tracey suffered a broken leg with just ten minutes played. He bravely continued playing until forced off at half time. Argentina were 1-0 up at the time thanks to Monti. The US had to play the rest of the match with ten men – two of whom were also injured. They lost 6-1 – an early example of the failure of the officials to protect players from ugly play exemplified by the Argentinians and Monti in particular. He repeated the role for Vittorio Pozziʼs Italy

Argentina lost the inaugural World Cup Final to hosts Uruguay, then the best team in the world – a nation that punches ridiculously above its weight in terms of population. The USA stayed in South America and toured the continent. Bizarrely only their 4-3 defeat against Brasil at Rio de Janeiroʼs Estádio das Laranjeiras – the former home of Fluminense – on August 17th 1930 was recognised as an international.

Betrand Patenaude scored a brace for the Americans and Adelino (Billy) Gonsalves – one of the best players the USA ever produced – got the other. It was his only goal for his country. Before Pelé broke his record Carlos Alberto Dobbert de Carvalho Leite was the youngest footballer to play in the World Cup Finals – a record he set in 1930. He had only just turned 18. Carvalho Leite also scored in the friendly against the USA. Teóphilo Pereira, (João Coelho Neto) Preguinho – Brasilʼs captain at the 1930 World Cup and scorer of his countryʼs first goal in that competition – (Alfredo de Almeida Rego) Doca scored the others for Brasil. All of the Brasilians were part of Brasilʼs squad for the World Cup. Only Doca didnʼt play.

Gonsalves and three others, including the teamʼs captain Tom Florie, also represented the USA four years later in Italyʼs first World Cup. They beat México 4-2 in Roma on May 25th 1934 three days before the tournament opened to clinch their place in the finals. Aldo Donelli scored all four of the USAʼs goals.

Their stay was not a long one and despite the dark arts used later by eventual winners Italy there was no controversy over Italyʼs first round win – a 7-1 thrashing of the USA that could have been even worse, but for goal-keeper Julian Hjulian. Donelli scored the Americanʼs goal, but they were three down at the time.

Argentine-born Raimundo Orsi got a brace, although he had switched allegiance to Italy in 1929, so unlike Luis Monti he didnʼt play for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup. Bolognaʼs Angelo Schiavio got a hat-trick, and Italian legends Giovanni Ferrari and Giuseppe Meazza.

The Huddled Masses

Immigrants played a great part in the USAʼs success in football in both 1930 and again in 1950. It has its roots in the generation of immigrants who came to America in the two decades before the World Cup. Football had a following in the factory teams and it was reflected in the national team too before the Great Depression destroyed football in the USA. People had other priorities – life and survival was more important.

Six of the starting team for the USA were born in Britain – one Englishman and five Scottish-born players. The next generation of American heroes came twenty years later. They included foreign born players too. Among them was a Belgian war hero and they were captained by a Scot while the iconic goal that made them heroes was scored by a Haitian – Joseph Gaetjens. The current generation has five German-Americans in Jürgen Klinsmannʼs squad. It was controversial before they arrived in Brasil, but Klinsmann has earned the right to take the sport to the next stage.

 

 

More Despicable People and the World Cup (Part One) – Archive

Editor’s Note:

With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)

Early Days

The early years of the World Cup had been tainted by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s shameful manipulation of the tournament in 1934.1 He was captured and executed by partisans in 1944, but ten years earlier the nation celebrated the World Cup triumph and Mussolini basked in the adulation that accompanied that victory.

They celebrated again four years later as the world edged closer to war. The legendary Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo remains the only coach (manager) to have won the World Cup twice.

Pozzo successfully countered the threat of his friend Hugo Meisl’s prototype of total football Austria’s Wunderteam of 1934 with a more physical approach exemplified by the Oriundi Luis Monti, who man-marked Austria’s star player Matthias Sindelar out of the game. He repeated the trick on the flair of the Brasilians in 1938, benefiting from the complacent decision not to play the tournament’s top scorer Leônidas da Silva. The Italians also prevented Hungary’s star striker Gyula Zsengellér from scoring in the final – the only match he failed to do so.

Despots

Mussolini was the first despot to exploit the power of the World Cup to legitimise nasty regimes, but he wasn’t the last. During the World Cup in México in 1970 Edson Orantes do Nascimento (Pelé) took an England player aside and told him: “Our country is ruled by despicable people.”

It was a sentiment that was later echoed by one of Pelé’s great rivals for the tag of greatest ever player, Diego Maradona, when he vowed that he would never allow himself to be used by Argentina’s military despots again after discovering the extent of the lies the military junta had fed to the Argentinian people during the World Cup in Spain in 1982.

Four years earlier the teenage Maradona was part of Argentina’s World Cup winning squad without getting playing time, but he sampled the atmosphere in Buenos Aires as his compatriots celebrated winning the World Cup while a truly bestial régime ruled through fear and murder. It was later proved to be a World Cup tainted by that evil régime.

Bad Timing

Argentina had tried to win the right to host the World Cup on many occasions previously, but every attempt had failed, while even small neighbours Uruguay and Chile had hosted it in 1930 and 1962 respectively. The World Cup tended to alternate between Europe and Latin America – mainly South America – and Brasil had hosted it in 1950.

It was Argentina’s turn to host the tournament and everyone knew it, so they prepared to welcome the football world in 1978, having been awarded the tournament long before the Dirty War scarred the country.

President Isabel Martínez de Perón succeeded her husband Juan in that office on his death in July 1974 and expected to preside at the opening ceremony of Argentina’s World Cup, but the man she promoted to Commander in Chief in 1975 – General Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo2 – had other ideas.

Perón’s government was authoritarian, but it was also ineffective. Few tears were shed for Isabel Perón when she was toppled in a coup d’état, led by Videla, in March 1976, but his régime was merciless, cruel and utterly brutal. It soon attracted international condemnation for systematic human rights abuses that included torture: kidnap, disappearances and murder – the Dirty War.

There was talk of a boycott or even moving the World Cup finals elsewhere. Videla’s international reputation could not have been lower, but the talked of boycott fizzled out in the end and the dictator managed to keep his tournament and he had big plans for it.

The Argentinian economy was a complete mess, but Videla spent a fortune on the World Cup – sound familiar? From the very beginning he intended to use it to legitimise his rule and was allowed to do so by the football world and its governing body FIFA, but this was a time when to their shame western governments in particular turned a blind eye to horrific abuses of human rights committed by allies like Videla.

1 For further information see the four part series Despicable People and the World Cup that was published previously in the magazine.

2 Videla is universally despised in Argentina now. In March 1981 he was replaced by Roberto Viola. The junta was brought down as a result of losing the Falklands War. With democracy restored in 1983 Videla was prosecuted for widespread human rights abuses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 and discharged from the military.

     But Videla was pardoned under an amnesty granted by President Carlos Menem in 1990, but in 1998 he briefly returned to prison over his role in the kidnap of the children of those who had disappeared during his dictatorship. He was then put under house arrest due to ill-health. Five years ago President Néstor Kirchner began moves to remove the immunity that Videla had been granted by Menem.

     Videla is no longer recognised as a legitimate President of Argentina. Two years ago Judge Norberto Oyarbide struck down the pardon given to him by Menem as unconstitutional and last year his human rights convictions were restored. Videla remains under house.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Update: Videla’s convictions over the deaths of 31 opponents of his coup were restored in 2010. Two years later he was sentenced to a further 50 years for his part in the systemic kidnapping of children. He died in prison in May 2013.

 

Never Again – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2012)

The Greatest

Arguably the greatest ever footballer Diego Armando Maradona has had many battles. Absurdly one of the best ever players to grace the beautiful game is remembered, especially in England, for ‘The Hand of God’ goal rather than the many moments of genius and artistry that he provided. But Maradona offers further proof, if it were needed that football and politics plainly mix, even if that is not always a good thing.

Debates rage over whether he was better than Pelé or not, but a young Maradona later found out that his rival’s words in 1970 were prophetic. Pelé told Bobby Charlton, “Our country is ruled by despicable people.” He was right. The vicious dictatorship of Emílio Garrastasu Médici tried to hijack the World Cup triumph to justify its illegal rule over Brasil.

The Argentinian Medici

While still a teenager Maradona tasted World Cup glory for the first time, just eight years after Pelé’s last triumph on the world stage. Maradona didn’t play in the team of Leopoldo Luque, Daniel Passarella and Mario Kempes, but he learned a valuable lesson for later life.

Argentina advanced to the second knock-out stage – the semi-finals – despite a scandalous result. Needing to win 4-0 to advance at Brasil’s expense, Perú’s Argentinian-born goal-keeper Ramón Quiroga conceded six. Stories soon emerged that General Jorge Videla Redondo, the head of the Argentinian military junta had threatened the Perúvian team.

Even now stories of the fix emerge. The Netherlands, the beaten finalists complain that they were cheated. Actually Brasil, not the Dutch, were cheated. It is now too late to correct this as 30 years on Brasil cannot now play the semi-final. Nor can a just final be played. Awarding the Netherlands that trophy now would not redress the damage that was actually done to Brasil – the real victims of the fix.

Maradona saw not only the lengths that Videla was prepared to go to in order to get the success that he demanded, but after that success was achieved, how it was exploited by despicable people.

Used for the last time

Maradona would be used and abused again in Spain. Leopoldo Galtieri Castelli had succeeded Videla and tried to repeat the trick in 1982, but Galtieri failed miserably and Maradona realised that he had been used by vile and brutal people. That was not going to be allowed to happen again – ever.

The Falklands (or Malvinas) Islands conflict was raging when Argentina went to Spain to defend their title. Football would claim its revenge on at least one of the despicable people. Spanish media was not censored as the Argentinian media had been. That country had just emerged from a vicious dictatorship that had lasted almost four decades.

General Francisco Franco, who was far from averse to using football for his own ends, was dead and democratic values in Spain were young. It had only just survived a serious coup attempt involving shooting in the Spanish Parliament a year earlier. But Spain had had its fill of a censored media. The Argentinian junta could not hide the truth about the war from its players in Spain and that had dire consequences.

Never Again

The players learned the truth that had been hidden from them in their own country. They had believed the lies, but now they were confronted by the truth. It affected their morale and the quality of their play. They surrendered their title meekly, failing to advance beyond the second stage. Spain’s World Cup had offered further proof of the power of football and connection with political change.

Galtieri had hoped that football would allow him to bask in reflected glory and deceive his people further. He lost the war and power soon afterwards and was deservedly jailed as his junta fell from power. He died reviled by Argentinians in 2003.

Diego Armando Maradona went on to become one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport. Having learned of the cynical deceit and how he had been used and abused Maradona vowed that he would never be used like that again.

He became his own man politically, and developed a friendship with then Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz. Four years after Galtieri’s failed attempt to emulate Videla, Maradona led his team to World Cup glory again in México.

 

 

Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 4)

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Editor’s Note:

These articles were originally published by us as one article. We have split the original into four articles for ease of reading. We think it timely to remind readers, especially now, that football’s greatest tournament has been subject to political exploitation by despicable people previously. It is fitting that despite his interference Francisco Franco never lived to see Spain become the dominant force in football – consecutive European Championships and a World Cup – let alone benefit from it. There must be no return to such exploitation of the world’s most popular sport.

Derek Miller

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by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)

Suspension

After an exhibition of enthralling football in México, Brasil were champions of the world for a record third time. The country forgot its problems to celebrate, but it should never have been allowed to happen the way it did. The country’s dictator General Emílio Garrastazu Médici had no right to interfere in football matters – organisation and control over Brasilian football was the domain of that country’s FA.

Médici’s interference was a flagrant breach of FIFA’s Charter. João Saldhana was the coach and had a very good record – he had not lost in six matches in charge. Plainly, he was sacked for non-footballing reasons and he should not have suffered such outrageous interference. His record did not deserve such abuse of the rules. It was a flagrant breach of FIFA’s Charter – sadly far from the first time that FIFA did not enforce its Charter when dictators came courting.

The Brasilian FA could not stand up to the fascist despot Médici. The players could not either. It is the nature of vile dictatorships to rule through fear and torture. However, FIFA have no such excuse. They could have told the dictator and the Brasilian FA that they would suspend Brasil from the 1970 World Cup if Médici did not stop his interference. They could have made other demands too, but did not. It was not unusual for sporting bodies to turn a blind eye at the time.

Without being in the tournament Brasil could not win it and without that Médici could not exploit the win. Médici needed the win to justify his dictatorship – FIFA therefore had the power to uphold its Charter and did not. It was yet another example of a dictator being allowed to flout the rules and reap undeserved rewards by shamefully manipulating the power of football. Médici had learned well from Mussolini’s use and abuse of the power of football.

Police at Stadium

Propaganda

A delighted Médici received the team and enthusiastically greeted some of the greatest players ever to play the beautiful game. They had little choice. Médici took credit for the triumph and used it for propaganda purposes. He also used it to distract attention from the torture and executions, especially in prisons. Brasil’s military dictatorships ended in 1985 after more than two decades in power. He was perhaps the worst of the despicable people that Pelé referred to.

They only had one World Cup success to exploit and Médici proved adept at using it to bolster the popularity of his government – a time that the gap between rich and poor increased significantly. Despite economic growth, the benefits were not distributed fairly and poverty became a real problem. And then there were the human rights abuses.

People disappeared, were tortured or murdered. Médici is remembered now as the most cynical and brutal of Brasil’s military tyrants. He died in October 1985, having lived just long enough to see the military rejected by the Brasilian people who voted overwhelmingly against their choice and in favour of Tancredo Neves. His military successors relaxed the brutality, but there was no doubt that Brasil was under the control of a military junta with no respect for even the most basic of rights.

Restoration of Rights

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Civilian rule had been restored for less than a decade before another World Cup triumph was delivered to the football-loving people of the biggest nation in South America. It was the first of three consecutive appearances in the World Cup final itself – two of which would result in victory. But the restoration of democracy came at price – a high one.

The amnesty laws that paved the way for elections gave the perpetrators of gross abuses of human rights on both sides of the political divide immunity from prosecution. Many years later, with the spectre of military coups receded, the crimes of the past demand a hearing. One in particular affects the integrity of the forthcoming World Cup, the shocking death of journalist Vladimir Herzog in custody in October 1975 in São Paulo. We covered this story previously and will do so again.

In the fourteen years between hosting the World Cup for the first time and the military coup the country celebrated two World Cup triumphs and in the seventeen years since the restoration of democracy in 1985 and Asia’s first World Cup in 2002 they celebrated another two triumphs and suffered a defeat in the final as well.

The military dictatorship delivered poverty: repression and misery along with one World Cup win in twenty-one years in power. Readers will draw their own conclusions from that. Back in 1970 Brasil needed the joy of the World Cup triumph to forget the horrors of Médici’s rule even for a few days. The tyrant needed football far more than it needed him.

Despicable

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He used and abused the triumph for his own ends, but some people knew Médici for the tyrant he was. Pelé took an England player aside during the 1970 World Cup and told him: “Our country is ruled by despicable people.” He was criticised by some for not using the platform fame had given him to speak out publicly, but many who had did not live to tell the tale.

Médici was neither the first nor last despot to use the World Cup to serve his own political needs. The next two World Cups would include two further attempts – one of which would succeed and the other would demonstrate the the consequences for ordinary people. And the following two would involve attempts to escape that unwanted legacy of the World Cup.

It remains an outrage that football did not prevent it from happening again after Benito Mussolini had shamelessly exploited its power in the 1930s. It is perhaps even worse that Médici was not the last dictator to benefit from abusing the power of football for his own ends on the world stage. The gross abuses of human rights under the vile dictatorship of the now universally reviled General Jorge Videla in Argentina were known about long before the fall of the junta.

Nevertheless, despite knowledge of Videla’s crimes, the tournament allowed to take place in Argentina when it was subject to such use and abuse. Why? How did FIFA learn so little from allowing the dictator Mussolini to host and fix in 1934 and Médici to use the power of footballing success. Football has a social responsibility – one that should have been understood and embraced after Mussolini was allowed to utilise the power of the sport. Videla should never have been given the chance to follow il Duce’s example.

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