… que o Rei subiu ao trono:
[b]Twenty years ago today the hand of God smote England[/b] I was a spectator on the pitch when Maradona performed miracles.
June 22, 2006 09:15 AM
My entire qualification for writing this column is that on that day, at that time, I was there. And I must say that I was bored stiff because we couldn’t get a grip on the match. When we wanted to play fast we were inaccurate, when we wanted to be accurate we were tedious. Eleven functionaries on each side trying not to make a mistake.
On a day like that nobody expects a visit from history, but in that office full of bureaucrats there was one crazy man capable of anything. A crazy Argentinian, to boot. It is important to consider the nature of that person because, from that day on, Maradona and Argentina became synonymous. We are talking about a country with a clearly extravagant relationship with football, a country which made a deity of a footballer with a decidedly extravagant relationship with football. And that afternoon, which began so boringly, Maradona made extravagant through football and through Argentinian character.
It all began with a long slalom, which was Maradona’s natural way of running with a ball. Just before he reached the area, he found only opposition legs in his way and, seeing no way forward, knocked the ball up to me and looked for the return.
The problem I had playing with Diego as a team-mate was that he turned you into a spectator and, when he passed you the ball, it took a moment to remember that you were like him – a footballer. Well, perhaps not like him, but a footballer none the less.
The fact is that when I woke up, I shook a leg to try to play the one-two but did it so unskilfully that the ball was knocked forward by my marker. Looking at it in perspective, it was a smart move on my part because if I had touched it Maradona would have been offside. The fact is that nobody recognised my singular contribution, partly because I fell to the ground so clumsily that it embarrasses me to remember.
Fortunately, the eyes of the people were not on me. Because from the ground myself, and the rest of the world, from wherever they were, saw that ball rise in slow motion and then begin to come down on the edge of the six-yard box where Peter Shilton and Maradona went to challenge for it in the air. There something happened which I couldn’t understand but which was called a goal and had to be celebrated as wildly as such an unpleasant match, a World Cup, England deserved. Maradona ran and celebrated without much conviction, as if his cry contained a doubt within. Strange goal, strange cry – I still didn’t understand much until I got to the huddle and found out why.
From my position I suspected that Diego could not have reached up there with his head but at no point did I see his hand, nor God’s. Any ethical scruples? Twenty years on we can have them, but at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.
In the days before the game I said that we had “a good opportunity to confound the idiots” but that was just playing the intellectual. When emotions come into the equation, nearly all of us are idiots. Also we shouldn’t forget that we were Argentinians, representatives of a country that rationalises with the word “exuberance” what in other places is called cheating.
The office was now turned upside down but the crazy man had only just begun. Shortly afterwards he received a very difficult ball in the middle of the pitch with his back to goal. He turned, took off and got into a series of tight scrapes from which he escaped perfectly.
I was accompanying him level with the far post as if I were a television camera tracking him. Diego assures me that he meant to pass to me several times but there was always some obstacle that forced him to change plans. Just as well. I was dazzled and I thought it was impossible (it still seems that way to me) that in the middle of all those problems he would have had me in mind.
If he had passed me the ball as it seems Plan A called for, I would have grabbed it in my hand and applauded. Can you imagine? But let’s not deceive ourselves, I am convinced that Diego was never going to release that ball. Throughout those 10 seconds and 10 touches, he changed his mind hundreds of times because that’s how the mind of genius in action works.
That celebration that put intelligence, the body and the ball in tune was an act of genius – but also in the most profound way, in footballing terms, of being Argentinian. What Maradona was doing was making Argentinians’ football dream a reality: we love the ball more than the game and, for that reason, the dribble more than the pass.
When the ball went into the net I knew, in that instant, we were present at a moment of great significance: Maradona had just put on Pele’s crown. Aware of the historical moment in which I was living, I did something that humanity has still not recognised. I, ladies and gentlemen, took the ball out of the net where Maradona had put it. The focus, fortunately, was still elsewhere. In fact, 20 years on, the ball keeps going into the net time and again in the memories of those who love football … and there was me thinking I’d taken it out.