By Ken Pendleton - USSoccerPlayers (August 10, 2006) — One of the downsides of having a global empire, like the English once did, is that the sun never sets on the grievances that other countries have against you. Soccer, apparently, provides a very satisfying way for the once oppressed or beaten to get some measure of revenge.
Every Scotsman dreams of humiliating the auld enemy in a World Cup final at Wembley. The Irish cherish their 1-0 win over them in EURO 88 more than any other result. After Spain eliminated England from the 1950 World Cup, Generalissimo Franco hailed the triumph over “perfidious Albion,” who refused to return the rock of Gibraltar, and the newspaper Marca claimed the 1-0 scoreline served as a “splendid demonstration to the whole world that the traditional Hispanic virtues of passion, aggression, fury, virility, and impetuosity have been completely recovered.” Some government officials went so far as to suggest that the win had at long last made amends for the defeat of the Spanish Armada, in 1588.
In a similar vain, the Argentineans have argued that Diego Maradona’s first goal against the English in the 86 World Cup quarterfinal, though obviously illegitimate, was still worthy of celebration because the English had defeated the Argentineans in the Falklands War four years earlier. As television commentator Victor Hugo Morales recalls, “I ended up saying something not very professional. I was on high with emotions the war might have set off and I said, ‘What can I say, against the English, we even use the hand’.” Another announcer gushed, “How beautiful! What have you done? What happiness you have brought to the whole of the Americas!”
The problem with this rationalization, however, is that Argentineans know that they would have cheated against any country. The fact that the English happened to be the victim just made coming to terms with having done so all the easier. Even Jorge Valdano, who played striker on that team, and has gone on to establish a reputation for promoting the loftiest ideals in soccer, admits, “Of course I celebrated it. There isn’t a single Argentinean willing to go and say to the referee, ‘Look it wasn’t a goal’. We have been brought up to celebrate cheekiness and cunning.”
Members of most cultures practice cheekiness or cunning, but they don’t publicly celebrate it, or promote it as a virtue. As Valdano explains, “For us this was just another way of playing. For the Argentinian it is viveza (which is defined as taking the short cut to success or astuteness in taking advantage without great effort or at the expense of others). I want you to understand that I am not telling you this with any sort of personal pride. Perhaps many of the social and economic problems we’ve had in Argentina would have been solved if we could understand that what we call viveza is in other countries regarded as crime. Viveza is deeply rooted in the average Argentinean, and when you get away with it, you celebrate: you are ‘smartest’ compared to others.”
Perhaps no Argentinean is more morally average than Maradona, who clearly takes delight in scoring the goal: “I always say England allowed me to score the best goal of my life — a goal scored in a World Cup, a dream goal, a goal scored with my hand!”
“For Shilton,” Maradona once said while raising his glass, “For the goalkeeper Shilton. All goalkeepers are useless. You’re not an exception. Relax. You were had — but don’t worry.”
And don’t be judgmental: “If a ball crossed just over the line and you swept it away without the referee seeing it, would you go and tell him that it was a goal?”
The answer, of course, quite sadly, is no. We live in a sporting culture that encourages players to get away with whatever they can, but is there a difference between getting away with something that results from an honest effort, such as trying but failing to save a shot, and contriving to deceive a referee. Gary Lineker, who scored England’s only goal during the match thinks there is: “If I’d have gone up and it had hit my hand and gone in, would I have turned to the referee and said something? I don’t know, but whether I would have tried it in the first place is a completely different matter. I’m not sure it’s in my psyche to do that, but I’ve seen it happen lots of times.”
The English goalkeeper Peter Shilton wonders whether Maradona would have scored the second goal if he had not cheated to score the first: “The second goal was a great bit of skill by Maradona,” but it’s very difficult to explain how you feel when you know you’ve been cheated with the first goal of such an important game. Maradona was a great player, but it disguised the fact that we helped him on that second goal by our lack of concentration, due to it happening so quickly after the ‘Hand of God’ goal.”
Shilton’s question is a fair one, for the English were, as one Italian journalist put it, “still in a state of shock, like a man who’s just had his wallet stolen.” Still, Lineker argues that this was only time he had ever considered applauding an opponent: “The second goal was, and still remains, the best goal ever scored. You have to take into account the significance of the football match and the conditions, as it was unbelievably hot and we were playing on a pitch that moved with you every time you put your foot down to go the other way. It was pretty unplayable. To do what he did was just extraordinary. I have to say I just stood there on the halfway line and thought, ‘Wow’.”
Valdano saw it as nothing less than a manifestation of genius: “When we were in the shower after the game, he said to me, ‘During the whole move, I was waiting for the right time to pass you the ball as you were running up the pitch alongside me’. This is why I say the mind of a genius works at extraordinary pace, and with an amazing complexity. It’s not just that he saw a blue and white shirt of an Argentine player — he knew it was me and not someone else. To me that seems a miracle.”
Maradona also told him that “when he reached the goalkeeper he thought he would shoot to the far post, but then he recalled a similar move in England, some years before (in 1980, to be precise), when he finished that way and his brother had told him that he should have Gambeteado the goalkeeper, as well. So, as a flash, he also went past the goalkeeper.”
By way of explanation, Valdano claims that way he dribbled, what Argentineans call a Gambetta, is distinct to their culture: “It’s another kind of tango. It’s the pleasure of adding those extra flourishes, those twists and turns. There are two elements in the Gambetta. The first is skill to show that I, with my foot, have the skill to do anything — this gives a person dignity. The second is deceit. You have to fool the defender into believing exactly the opposite of what you are actually going to do. This taste for deceit is also very Argentinian. When you combine these two traits, then you have the most celebrated football move in Argentina, the Gambetta.”
Valdano clearly does not think the English are capable of such artistry: “These English players, they play with the imagination of factory workers.” Why? “Just as humanity looks for the missing link between ape and man, so do English teams look for it between rugby and football.”