The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
To decide the national team roster for the Argentine national side is to paint a picture. The pigments are poignant, the easel world class, and the brush made of the finest hairs from a dark Arabian stallion. Yet, despite these brilliant starting points, an unskilled hand can still botch the promising masterpiece. Surround a wizard like Riquelme with bodyguards such as Cambiasso and Mascherano, and the setting trumps the figures. Field three genius-in-a-bottle strikers like Tevez, Higuaín, and Messi, and the characters fail to connect on canvas.
In that respect, current coach Sergio Batista faces the same dilemma as the House of Medici in fifteenth-century Florence. What painters deserve time in the king’s court?
The knee-jerk reaction is to insist on Masaccio, the so-called “Mascherano” lock-starter of his day. But, at some point you have to accept a simple fact—capably painting naked dudes or dudes in togas does not make great art. Masaccio’s illusion of three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional plane should fool nobody—Masch can pass sideways ten feet all day, but a cross-field pass is never forthcoming. VERDICT: postcards for Crusader tourists.
Donatello, before he acquired international acclaim for defeating Shredder, was a brilliant sculptor who similarly brought the concept of “perspective” to art. Everybody fawns over his sculptures of David, just as the universe sings praises for Cambiasso’s role in Inter’s treble season. However, history has sadly overlooked the impressive brass pulpits for Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo. While Cambiasso did not play for San Lorenzo in Argentina, his work for the 2006 Argentina squad also seems unjustly overlooked. VERDICT: royal court material.
Then, of course, the royal court cries for Brunelleschi, the architect who designed Cupola in Florence. Up until the last moment, sectors of Argentina similarly cried for Diego and Riquelme to kiss and make up. Neither did either. However, Brunelleschi’s good ideas on paper did not always translate to immediate success—his famous dome took almost two decades to complete. During that whole time, the “pride of Florence” was roofless. Riquelme’s elaborate buildup and patient touch cannot mask a lackadaisical disinterest in modern football’s physical demands. VERDICT: royal court fill-in.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius. He excelled in both the arts and science, leaving breathtaking paintings and haunting images that predicted the future of modern warfare. Nobody during his time could touch him. Today, Leo Messi similarly eludes both his modern competitors and adequately flattering description. Perhaps not able to improve those around him, his individual skill when allowed to blossom can wow any crusty old King. VERDICT: royal court regular.
Éver Banega is the enigmatic promise for Argentina. Too creative to be confined to his own half, yet too diligent to be given free rein as enganche, his recent run of form for Valencia and the national side hint at greatness. Yet he remains an anomaly in his home continent—an athletic box-to-box midfielder. Like Michaelangelo, who sculpted the Pietà and David before thirty, Banega’s talent masks his youth. But can he be trusted to finish St. Peter’s Basilica when called upon? VERDICT: internship as a Cardinal bodyguard for two years, then….who knows?
Titian was praised for his big brush strokes that added dramatic effect. Carlos Tevez currently holds the title of clutch goalscorer—netting against Chelsea for City a few weeks ago and also rippling the nets for United sometime back. However, when we look for Bacchus in these works, Tevez’s erratic goals for Argentina mirror the famous baby drinking and peeing. Brilliant one moment but invisible against Germany the next, is a starting spot warranted? VERDICT: FC Vatican super sub.
The works of Botticelli reflected upon mythology, his “Birth of Venus” encompassing the Renaissance’s return to classical themes. Ángel di María of Madrid and Javier Pastore are throwback players for the current national team—pure wingers in the 1970’s sense. Long-legged, lanky, and eager to sprint down the flanks and dribble at defenders, they could easily be confused with George Best. At least in spirit. But given the current team’s commitment to possession and patient passing, can they signal a shift? Or would they stick out like a sore and poorly drawn thumb? VERDICT: Pope Pious ambassadors-in-waiting.
Ghiberti was a brilliant sculptor but had a bit of trouble making friends. Why? Competition. Fierce competition. Ghiberti was selected over Donatello and Brunelleschi to make the doors for the Baptistery in Florence. Granted, he spend 21 years making the Northern doors, but he got the job done. Higuaín has similarly spent forever competing with Raúl and Ruud Van Nistelrooy for his spot at Madrid, eventually running both off after several years. However, while his finishing has improved, his game has stagnated as a backdoor specialist—he finishes chances, but struggles to link-up and create them. VERDICT: Bronze option for up front.
Of course, the most important lesson that Batista can learn from the Medici family is to watch his back. Machiavelli’s Prince could easily depict the daily happenings of the AFA. Still, if he can find the right mixture of pigments and characters and landscape, the Copa América and beyond could be a beautiful sight to behold.
Elliott blogs about soccer at Futfanatico.com.
Read More: Argentina
by Elliott · November 22, 2010