Argentina Forever? I'll Remember Every World Cup Moment, My Son May Forget It All
Reflections from a still celebrating padre ...
“I’m overwhelmed and I’m not even Argentinian — happy to see people happy,” a friend who lives in Greece, where his partner is from, wrote to me. My friend, who is half-German and half-American, was moved by the jubilant images of millions of people celebrating in the streets of Argentina after Lionel Messi lifted the World Cup in Qatar.
His message came to me while I was reading about how the title might or might not affect the country and its people, but, above all, as I was also asking myself something simpler: Why are Argentine fans so happy — even weeks after winning the World Cup?
Why are we wishing each other a happy 202⭐⭐⭐, with the three stars symbolizing Argentina’s third World Cup victory? Why are we so happy that Messi won the only title he was missing? Why did it make me so happy, in an irrational way, to see so many people celebrating in Argentina — so much so that I keep playing videos of those exuberant, exaggerated, impromptu collective rejoicing?
There is something powerful in the happiness of others: When it doesn’t generate envy, it is usually very contagious. Yes, something can make us very happy even if we do not understand it, and are not the main protagonists.
I actually think that's what happened to my son Lorenzo, who will soon be four years old. He only saw a few images of the World Cup and doesn't understand what soccer is all about, but for the first time he saw me, his father, celebrate so emotionally during the Argentina-France World Cup final.
It went like this: Lorenzo was playing with some friends and was surprised to hear us adults screaming. I hugged him after each goal Argentina scored and I realized that he was disoriented from what was happening around him. When we had finally won, he celebrated with the other children too: We lit sparklers they could hold. I have his smile engraved in my mind.
That one, that one, that's Messi!
Lorenzo never commented directly on that unforgettable Sunday, December 18, but over the holidays I understood that something had marked him — and not only because he now asks for sparklers. A few days ago, while we were sharing an afternoon with friends, Lorenzo started kicking a ball around and, suddenly, he shouted "goooool!" He immediately asked us all to celebrate by hugging each other, as I had done with him for every Argentine goal (and as he must have seen the players do while I was telling him: "That one, that one, that's Messi!").
"I was just one more in the tide, experiencing a joy that made me neither better nor smarter nor bigger, just happier. And despite the fact that night always comes and with it come the ghosts and the stones, those hours of sun and crowds taught me an unknown dimension," wrote Argentine journalist Joaquín Sánchez Mariño on Instagram after participating in the celebrations in Buenos Aires.
A reason to feel
I was neither in Qatar nor in Argentina for the celebrations. But sharing my joy in the hugs with Lorenzo in the final was something unique. As well as seeing Irene, my partner, teary and overly nervous, trying hard to stay calm in the face of every French kick and not forgetting that she was holding and feeding our other son, the almost two-month-old León.
What’s the point of Argentina winning the World Cup? In and of itself, neither soccer nor any other cultural consumption — no matter how massive — will solve the country’s economic, political and social crisis, which has been deepening for decades and exceeds even the crises we faced at the time of the two previous World Cup victories (1978 and 1986).
But this shouldn’t be a reason to prevent those who want to celebrate from celebrating. I love seeing people celebrating. Don't we celebrate birthdays even if we know we are going to die? Everyone has their own reason to party and be intoxicated with joy. A reason to feel, that's what it's all about. Is it so hard for us to dare to feel?
"Happiness was and is total. At least for a few days, weighed down by all our problems and even knowing that the teeth of reality will come back to bite us, Argentina today is the best place in the world to spend the end of the year," wrote journalist Pablo Perantuono in Coolt.
Celebrating Argentina's victory in Buenos Aires
A message that transcends borders
Then, there is something quite ambitious, a whimsical illusion upon seeing the collective joy that overflowed into the streets of cities all over the country: to take advantage of this enthusiasm for something more.
"We demonstrated once again that Argentines, when we fight together and united, we are capable of achieving what we set out to do. The merit belongs to this group, which is above individualities, it is the strength of all fighting for the same dream that was also the dream of all Argentines ... We did it!!!," Messi wrote on Instagram, in a post that was liked by more than 74 million people — the most liked post ever on the social network.
Messi talks about Argentines, but the number of likes on his post far exceeds the country's population of 46 million. His message transcends borders. If the world shared goals for the common good and truly struggled, if it tried with its heart, it could, eventually, achieve much more. That this sounds (is) naive does not mean it is not true.
"I don't know how long the country will remain united around soccer because we tend to divide. We are difficult," wrote Jorge Valdano in El País, where he added that he was sure of one thing: "If ever we need an example of how to do something, even creating a country, let's appeal to Qatar, where a group of passionate players defied all difficulties together to reach the top, under the thunderous optimism of a fan base that spread faith and love of soccer."
Great changes take patience
Could it be that Argentina, from the periphery of the developed world, has won the World Cup and that, in any case, the challenge is for us to take advantage of it in some way?
How many times do I say I will not get mad at Lorenzo when he yells for no reason?
Besides: Great changes — social, economic, political — do not happen at the speed of a ball but, like great sporting achievements, they are built with patience (a lot of it), struggle (more than a lot), love, dedication and perseverance.
And something else: Understanding a new lesson takes time. How many times during the week do I realize something? How many times do I say I will not get mad at Lorenzo when he yells for no reason, but I keep doing it wrong for a whole year? It takes effort and dedication.
So in soccer, as in a country (and a family), the team spirit must rise above any individual pretension. And it also takes luck or something (destiny?) that I don't know exactly what it is or what it's made of but that I can recognize as a combination of factors with a hint of mystery.
I am afraid to keep watching the ball that Emiliano Dibu Martínez saved with his foot in the last breath of the match: I fear that in some replay France’s Kolo Muani could actually score a goal. The Argentine goalkeeper did everything perfectly but he also had a share of luck or was helped by pure chance. I don't even want to imagine what would have happened if the Frenchman hit it wrong and the ball had a strange effect, or if he lifted his shot two centimeters more?
This reminds me of another certainty: Even doing your best may not be enough (that could be a consolation for Mbappé, for example, and also for many parents in relation to their children). For when it is necessary — perhaps in each of our daily defeats — the World Cup left another positive symbol that I hope to be able to assimilate: it was not only France that suffered a defeat — there were also other great teams: Brazil, Germany, Spain, England — nor was Argentine alone in its celebrations.
It is true that only one team won the tournament, but there were more who could celebrate: like Morocco, with its people in the streets for reaching a historic fourth place. It is even possible to celebrate for one match, as Saudi Arabia and Tunisia did, when they beat Argentina and France, even if they were eliminated in the group stage.
Why highlight this? I would like to enjoy the process more and celebrate the small victories. To free myself from the dictatorship of nothing being ever good enough.
A third way
I know that soccer is full of contradictions — like every other minute of life! Thousands of articles, like this one by Gabriela Siadón, say so, but let’s explore further. Wasn't this the first World Cup in Argentina to have a match (Switzerland-Cameroon) narrated and commented only by women (Angela Lerena and Lola del Carril)? This is no small feat for a sport and an environment as sexist as soccer.
The good thing about contradictions is that they provide a way to analyze complexities. It is almost never the case (or at least it shouldn’t be) that there is only room for one option. It is not Messi or Maradona. Why not think first if it can't be "and" instead of "either/or"? Why not believe that there is (almost) always a third way and that not everything ends up in an absurd dilemma? Does anyone believe that it is still valid to ask "mom or dad"?
Without linear readings, Emiliano Martínez is a good example of "and." The national team goalkeeper, a hyper-professional athlete and star of the most popular sport in the world, said that in difficult moments he asked his therapist for help. For how many omnipotent males will this be an invitation to abandon self-sufficiency?
"On the one hand, he has some bravado, as seen in the penalties, but, on the other hand, he is a guy who said in front of millions of people what his psychologist had told him. He showed his fragility, something that very few elite athletes do," said Daniel Jones, a social scientist and independent researcher at Argentina's National Scientific and Technical Research Council.
Jones called it a "hallucinating" gesture that "goes beyond the omnipotence" of men: "It is not usual for a leading figure to say it. What leading politician says that he does therapy? What trade unionist does it? What other active sportsman does it?"
A teaching moment
But there is more from the goalkeeper: After the final, as prizes were handed over, he put a glove-shaped trophy at the level of his genitals. There was nothing easier than crucifying him for a gesture that, why not, could be a teaching moment for those who were so scandalized: Is it so difficult to explain to a child what it means and why what Martínez did is not good?
The severe criticism of the goalkeeper seems to me, besides exaggerated and uncompassionate, a way of forgetting that we are all part of the same society and that, in one way or another, we all reproduce more or less violence. On this, I like what Argentine sociologist Luciano Fabbri said: "One day they turn him into a promoter of male mental health and the next a phallocentric exponent of rape culture. Capturing subjects to make them functional to their arbitrary analyses is perhaps also somewhat 'objectifying.'"
"It's absurd, it's illogical"
Anyway, we should not ask much more from soccer, right? We can even ask nothing from it, as humorist and radio host Sebastián Wainraich said in an interview when asked about his passion for soccer.
Will he remember the sparklers?
"I don't know why I want one team to beat another. It’s absurd, it’s illogical, but it happens to me. I’m not going to repress it or deny it [...] A team wins and I get happy? That's a lot! Not so many things make me happy in life. And do you know why I like being a fan too? Because it serves no purpose. And today everything has to have a purpose or another, everything has to be productive. Well, being a soccer fan is good for nothing."
In 1986, when Argentina and Maradona touched the sky with their hands in Mexico, I was four and a half years old. I don't remember anything at all. I feel that I wasn't even born for that World Cup victory. I wonder what it will be like for Lorenzo, who is not yet four years old. Will he remember the sparklers and hugs of the celebrations? In any case, he will have this text, which can be a helpful reminder or make the memory from scratch.
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