For days now I have been thinking about how to sum up the passion that football represents in Argentina. The World Cup usually increases this and it is normal to hear: “It doesn’t count if you only watch football on the World Cup.” Meaning: you are not a true fan if you do not support a team, or a player the rest of the year.
It is difficult to represent that passion in a country where every time Boca Juniors or River Plate wins on a Sunday, the average daily newspaper sale is 20% higher on a Monday; where the president started his public life as a president of a football club (the same Boca); where away fans were banned from attending matches for three years; and where hooligans are involved in politics. That’s just a few peculiarities of Argentine football.
And suddenly, out of the blue, it dawned on me that we, as a society, judge our men’s national football team the same way we judge the political management of our country. In each case, the scrutiny come every four years and the one to take the blame is the charismatic leader.
Football is really teamwork, but we blame or praise one player for a loss or a win. The same happens with governance. Whenever the charismatic leader appears, he or she acts as a messianic agent, who is seen as the only natural leader, with the right to rule and the only one qualified to govern and save the team or the country. When they fail, the people shout for their head.
However, nobody considers that behind that person there is a system, with its own actors, mechanisms, failures and histories. Nobody in a government take all the decisions, but we blame the president. Nobody in a team competition take all the decisions, but we blame Lionel Messi.
In Argentina that system has not worked for a long time, whether in politics and in football.
For one, the people running football in Argentina are not “new” or reformers. For a long time the national football association, the AFA, was run by Julio Grondona. He also served as FIFA finance committee chairman during Sepp Blatter’s corrupt administration there. In 2014, Grondona passed away. His successor was ousted when he was charged with fraud. The subsequent election of a new AFA president in 2015 ended in controversy when it emerged an extra vote was cast by those present. The eventual winner, Claudio Tapia, is the son-in-law of Hugo Moyano, the president of one of the country’s largest trade unions. Moyano just happens to be the AFA treasurer. Then, our best players play for European (or Chinese) clubs, winning club championships there, but they don’t know each other as a team. A combination of violence, money, politics and sport diplomacy has a lot to do with Argentina being knocked out of 2018 World Cup. But we blame Messi.