Thursday, 29 July 2010

Joel Richards

Argie Bargy

What's a blog called European Football Weekends doing in a country like this? Well, we're a lot more global here at EFW these days but with staff too lazy to change the name. Argentina is going to be the setting for a month long football sojourn for me soon when I set off to celebrate my 40th birthday.

So, who do we dial up when it comes to all things on Argentine football? Joel Richards of course. Joel is a freelance reporter who regularly produces award winning copy for the likes of FourFourTwo magazine and The Guardian. He moved to Buenos Aires to be in the thick of it after a spell in Madrid.

It was good of Joel to give up his time to talk to EFW this week. I say that, but following his stint out at the World Cup he probably had a bit of time on his hands. It's not as if Diego Maradona was going to resign and go a bit bonkers this week was it, oh:

Hi Joel, thanks for talking to EFW. I guess we have to kick off with El Diego. A suitably shambolic ending to a chaotic reign no? It's a pleasure, EFW. I think you're absolutely right about the ending. Maradona being in charge of Argentina has been utter chaos from start to finish. That is in part because of him himself, and he just cant help himself, but it's also because of the way AFA operates. The role of Bilardo, which has only been to destabilise everything from what I can see, was also a major problem. It was destined to fail.

Many Argentineans did not rate his chances with the national side when he took over and they didn't exactly inspire during qualification or at the World Cup. Is he still a national hero in Argentina? One thing that's always struck me about Maradona is not just how people admire him as a player, but how Argentines love him for what he did for the country. I've heard this from lots of different people. That said, very few people thought him becoming coach was a good idea. A better draw against an easier side, against England for example, might have helped in the quarters, but the way they lost to Germany confirmed most people's suspicions about how him being in charge. Lots of Brits suggested it was like gazza being in charge of England. It was actually a mix of Gazza and Keegan.

Will the national team be better off without him and his questionable tactical nous? It's very easy to assume so and we'll soon know. Things will certainly be calmer, but The Copa America is next year which will be very competitive, plus Argentina are hosts so the pressure will be on. It's easy to forget that despite people saying that Marcelo Bielsa is a god, for example, his side went out of 2002 in the group phase. Coaching Argentina is not an easy gig, and it is not just tactical genius that helps coaches succeed.

I'm guessing sales of natty grey suits will nosedive in Buenos Aires? I think they were out of most of us mere mortals' budget in the first place. At least they all looked good when it went pear shaped.

Messi. Not as good a player as Maradona was is he? Ha ha, the best thing about Messi is how long we still have to enjoy watching him. He has a fairly major image problem in Argentina, because of his performances for the national side, which frustrate the average fan, but I'd say it's naive to expect Messi to play as well as at Barcelona for any other club or international side, with the exception of Spain. Brazil 2014 will be huge for him. If he never kicks a ball again he'll already be considered a legend, but he does need a great world cup to be compared to Maradona.

How did the Barra Bravas behave during their paid jollies to South Africa.English hooligans had to hand in their passports, In Argentina, I read that some were even on El Diego's flight over? They behaved pretty badly. You had three sets of barras there. Some were self-financed, some pooled cash via their scandalously formed NGO. Then you had the ones who, they themselves admitted, dealt directly with Bilardo and Maradona. They were the ones on the plane with the squad. It's disgusting, but barras are worse than hooligans as they more institutionalised than hooligans. Some were deported, I saw some just being aggressive and lairy and growling as they wandered around at the World Cup, but it's probably just as well there wasn't an England Argentina. Any excuse...

Rupert Fryer has been in touch with EFW. He wants to know about your encounter with Socrates out in South Africa and also, somewhat mischievously asked about your views on Kirchner? Well the encounter with Socrates never happened. I was supposed to be interviewing the great man but the security guards clearly had no idea who he was, his accreditation wasn't up to scratch and wouldn’t let him into the TV compound… As for Kirchner, I assume he’s referring to Cristina, not Néstor, and I’m not so sure he’s asking about what I think about the policies, so I'm avoiding that one...

Did Argentineans switch their support to Uruguay after were dumped out by Germany.Rightly or wrongly I compare Argentina and Uruguay’s relationship to England and Scotland’s. I think most Argentines wanted the Charruas to do well, even if the were a bit envious. Just as in the analogy, the opposite does not tend to occur.

How will Brazil 2014 differ from South Africa 2010? Will there be a South American feel to it or will FIFA stifle it out in their quest for bland commercialisation across the world?South Africa was such a commercial success that's it's very unlikely that FIFA or the sponsors will change much. Hopefully there'll be less vuvuzelas, and I'm sure that the Brazilian culture and football culture is do strong that it will still come through, how much so depends though...

Argentina are due to host ' Copa America' in 2011. Surely the stadiums there will need a makeover? I do not think many have had a lick of paint since 1978 World Cup. You’ve been listening to Diego, I see. He said the changing rooms at River Plate’s Monumental hadn’t been done up since ’78, which is why the Brazil qualifier ended up in Rosario. Grounds in Argentina are in chronic need of investment, although if its just paint you’re after, the previous River Plate president sold a percentage of three player’s transfer rights to drum up the money to repaint the stadium a few months back.

Argentinos Juniors won the Championship last season. Is the league there more open than Premiership or is it mainly a case of Boca Juniors and River Plate swapping titles.It is one of the most open leagues in the world right now. The last eight tournaments – don’t forget they have two league’s for one ‘normal’ European season – have produced eight different champions. Many think it’s a sign of the lack of real quality in the country, but it keeps things interesting. River and Boca were both dire last year. Its not a good time for the big clubs. To give you an idea, not one of the Big Five qualified for the Libertadores. It’s like Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool not making the Champions League. And not just one of them, all of them.

I read in 'When Saturday Comes', talk of introducing ID card schemes in Argentina. Is this scheme is still on the table and how will it effect football tourists picking up tickets?. Will they have to rely on expensive tour agencies? The idea gained some momentum about a year ago but has gone off the boil. It will no doubt be brought up again soon, and it will almost definitely mean more expensive tickets for tourists. Boca charge the gringos $400 to see the superclásico with River at the Bombonera. That's the upper limit, but a standing ticket to games is around £5, so tourists may be prevented from buying the same tickets as locals.

I've been told that the best way to experience a match for football tourists out there is to buy a local a match ticket and let him/her be your guide for the day. Is that something you've heard of? It’s not something I’ve heard about, but I’m sure locals would be delighted to be given a ticket. Buying tickets and getting into games is pretty straight forward so I’m not sure it’s necessary.

What is the best derby match you've been to in Argentina? The superclásico really is brilliant for the atmosphere, but in the past couple of years they haven’t produced great games, and after half an hour things tend to die down a bit. For tension and atmosphere, lots say the Rosario clásico is a probably the most violent of all. I did go to a very highly-strung huracan- San lorenzo, which was such a potentially dangerous game that one taxi driver refused to take me to the ground. If it's just singing and drums you want, you'll get it at most games.

Does anything else come close? Lots of people consider a Real Madrid – Barcelona game up there, and I've been lucky to see that game both at the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou. They're great, but for different reasons. For atmosphere there are few places that come close to Argentina, in my opinion.

Is it safe to watch football in Argentina? Yes and no. Its probably not a very good idea to go to games waving around lots of money and big cameras. Football related violence and murders are on the up and make lots of headlines, but it has nothing to do with tourists- they are internal wrangles between the barras. Just be sensible about where you go is my advice.

What is the worst trouble you've seen at a match?Unfortunately I have probably become slightly far too used to things that go on at games, so have stopped being surprised by things like the huge brawl and riot which I saw on the final day of last season at Huracan.

Do you still get scantily clad cheerleaders at league games over there?You certainly do, and a thriving wag culture on the back of it. You also have the sight of girls paid by the sponsors to stand behind players in post match interviews, do you have a sweaty player talking about the game, flanked by two buxom Lycra-clad beauties staring at the camera.

EFW will be over in Buenos Aires in 2012 for a few weeks. Aside from the football, what else is there to see? Lots of good museums and galleries, good shopping, lots of over-sized steaks, lots of tango, goods clubs and bars, lots of great wine... I'm sure you'll keep yourself busy.

How did you find yourself in Buenos Aires making a living out of reporting about football? Well I was living in Spain, doing the same thing as i am now, more or less, before coming to a bit of a cross roads. My girlfriend is Argentine, so we basically decided between London and Buenos Aires, and the vote was a clear cut 2-0.

And finally Lukey Moore from the rather splendid Football Ramble has been all over Twitter saying he marked you out of a recent game you played in. Any excuses Mr Richards? I’ve had plenty of opportunities to have to find excuses throughout the course of my playing career... I did actually put us ahead at 2-1 in that game, but also suffered the onslaught of cramp at the same time, which I think is roughly the moment when Mr. Moore decided he would mark me. Say no more.

Follow Joel and EFW on Twitter

Read his work at both FourFourTwo and The Guardian HERE and THERE.

Is that enough plugging? Is it 'eck as like. EFW has done some more gubbins on Argentine football which you MIGHT ENJOY.

- Feel free to comment below -


Russ said...

Great stuff as usual. Enjoy Argentina!

Danny Last said...

Cheers Russ!

Here is Joel's longer take on the Diego Maradona saga from The Guardian:

And this is a brilliant article about how dangerous it is to watch football in Argentina from his FourFourTwo column:

Ladies and gentlemen: Joel Richards *standing ovation ensues*

Anonymous said...

v good interview danny
you are one lucky man getting to go to argentina for a month
You missus must be the best and should have a word with mine
mark w

1860er said...

Great interview, thanks.
I'm thinking about going in early 2011, and this article just encourages me even more to actually do it.

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