Knowing How To Play

Source: Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro


Hello Fabián,
I´ve just seen on TV - well in a YouTube link on the laptop - your recent interview in "Pura Química." As always, you helped me to think and laugh. Thanks for the fun, because here in Madrid it´s raining and it´s one of those days in which work gets stuck and nothing is turning out completely right except for a beautiful kiss this morning and the work in the garden afterwards. You helped me realize that sometimes a kiss and looking after the plants is more than enough, that I don´t need another thing.

© Viggo Mortensen.
It looked as if you had put a spell on those people on the program, because it was very obvious that the writer´s ego that´s usually perceived in such situations - that of a person who obviously comes to sell and sell himself - was conspicuous by its absence. Suddenly they also had nothing to sell, they forgot they "had" to do that. As if everybody had forgotten they were on TV and that one had to make a good impression. You were just talking, and having fun without any media pressure. You all managed to talk about books, soccer, what being a father means and other things in a normal and entertaining way, without any apparent purpose or anxieties. Let´s hope Ciclón will play like this again. You can´t lose when you turn the game around, when the usual rules are ignored. I´m speaking of the game, not of the decent human behaviour that you have always to keep in mind. I speak of mockery, about mocking yourself above all. Keeping one´s eye fixed on the action but allowing the game to stand on its head, bury itself, so it seems to disappear and become something else that attracts attention because it´s not the usual. In the midst of the suffocating everyday programs something unprecedented might happen, something that, for example, can be nothing. During the chat you described the start of the 1974 World Cup final between Holland and Germany as one of the best literary beginnings of all time. Those first minutes on the final where Cruyff and his teammates made fun of the soccer expectations and the directed fanaticisms, touching and touching [the ball] without an apparent plan, hypnotizing with their relaxation. Like an endless viper slithering its shine, waiting for you to be half asleep before biting you.

© Unknown.
Below I post the link to a nine-minute or so video centred on Cruyff, a player who changed the way of playing and understanding soccer. The same way Kubrick, for example, did with cinema - breaking with the usual way of playing, of telling, changing the pace and dragging the spectator to another side, focusing him on unexpected and maybe superfluous maneuvers. The video shows a bit of that strange start in the '74 final that you remembered.

From what I know, that way of playing was seen for the first time in Europe during the San Lorenzo tour through Spain and Portugal in 1946/1947. The 1946 Argentinian champions, who included the great René Pontoni and his teammates (Rinaldo Martino and Armando Farro) in the famous Trío de Oro [trans. note: The Golden Trio] displayed a way of touching the ball and teamwork that confused and thwarted their rivals. There are Spaniards who still remember the amazing CASLA way of playing back then. They played on equal terms against important professional teams and hammered the national teams of Spain (twice, with a total of 6-13) and Portugal (4-10). It has to be remembered that San Lorenzo achieved that with the Cuervo players on holiday and arriving in Spain in the middle of the local tournaments during the hard Iberian winter.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
This is part of a memory published in the newspaper El País in 1997, 50 years after that tour:

"What took place from the 21st of December to the end of January 1947 seemed unreal, indescribable. The daily press and the magazines expanded their soccer sections, multiplying them by several numbers. In spite of playing against the cold, the snow and the hard rains of that winter, San Lorenzo de Almagro was a sensation. They showed both Iberian national teams up: 13-6 goals against Spain, in two matches; 10-4 against Portugal. In La Coruña, tickets sold as if they were quarter-kilos of oil sold at rate prices."

After the first match they played, against Atlético Aviación (now called Atlético de Madrid,) the media praised San Lorenzo´s "admirable rapport" and their "class, a harmonious and compact soccer style where each piece works mathematically and at just the right moment ." These are some of the moves in that first game of the tour, including the goals by Martino and Pontoni:

And another one here, with magazine covers and newspapers recalling the 1946-1947 San Lorenzo and that Iberian tour, along with Julio Sosa singing "El Firulete":

The Golden Trio
The Golden Trio.
© Unknown.
Right this moment they are showing on Spanish TV the press conference in which Pep Guardiola announces his retirement as Barcelona´s coach. The new coach will be Tito Vilanova, in whose eye that arrogant idiot Mourinho stuck a finger after losing Spain´s Supercopa last year in Camp Nou [trans. note: Barça´s stadium]. "Pep´s Method" is the legacy from that Nederlands´s "Clockwork Orange" of the '70s [trans. note: they achieved this nickname not only for the colour of their shirts but the precision of their game] , but also from that 1947 CASLA. It is the opposite of the system that Mourinho foolishly imposes on the Real Madrid players. The difference between his way of accepting the defeat in the recent Champions [League] semifinals against Chelsea couldn't have been more elegant and humble, and couldn´t make a stronger contrast to Mourinho´s way of losing in the other semifinal against Bayern München. Pep is an example to follow, and I say that as a Real Madrid follower.

Pep Champion
Pep Champion.
© Unknown.


Dear Viggo: the beginning of your letter reminded me of a theme by Spinetta called "El Jardinero temprano amaneció" (The Gardener Awoke at Dawn). I think it´s great to be working in a garden, this is something propounded by Epicurus and many schools of Greek philosophers. The guys practiced the paideia, that is to say music and gymnastics.

© Unknown.
Epicurus said it was useless to worry about things that would not bring you happiness. Spinoza was thinking something similar when he was saying that the free man doesn´t think of death. Do you know that my old man was always telling me about Farro, Pontoni and Martino? To him they are a sacred trilogy. I love what you are saying about not taking yourself seriously, of getting rid of self-importance, lightening our loads and not being forced to represent a power; which means allowing yourself to be anything, becoming in your self. Playing soccer has to create happiness, never stress, and all those unproductive things. Here we are at the doors of a long weekend. I think I'm going to the country with my family [trans. note: in English in the original], even if it´s very cold. They just told me that Pep left [Futbol Club] Barcelona, and I had a very weird feeling: why has he done it? I remember a film that in Argentina was called "La Mujer del Peluquero" (The Hairdresser´s Wife.) I think it was French and told a love story so perfect and intense that the characters, rather than watch life´s decrepitude and the lowering of tension that usually happens in every relationship, prefer to commit suicide. Did something like this happened to Pep? Well, Viggo, I hope you come to Buenos Aires so we can talk in person, letters help and so does the e-mail, but what one treasures most about the people he loves is the voice.



Hello Fabián,
Excuse the delay in answering you since you wrote to me just before the match against Arsenal. I´ve been on a trip with my son and my father. We went back to my old man´s native land for his 83rd birthday. These long journeys they are already a bit hard on him physically, and this means that this is a special visit, probably one of the last. We are going round, visiting family everywhere. Beautiful and sunny spring days. The "plows are singing"[trans. note: "los arados cantan", a reference to a line in Silencio] , as the song says.

The French film that I know of with a hairdresser´s and a half- obsessive love, is called "El Marido de la Peluquera" (The Hairdresser´s Husband). I saw it about twenty years ago. I don´t remember if it ends like "La Mujer del Peluquero" (The Hairdresser's Wife). The one I know launched actress Anna Galiena, and the actor Jean Rochefort was also in it. There is a child who sees a very beautiful hairdresser and falls in love. Many years later, already a middle aged man, he falls in love with another hairdresser. Is this the one?

© Unknown.
You are right, we must meet. These chats between our laptops are fun and they teach me many things, but it isn´t the same as being silly face to face. Let´s see if I can travel to Buenos Aires soon. But ... you are in Switzerland, right? Until when? Could be that before leaving for the United States to visit my mother we can get together in some bar in Europe.

© Unknown.
The match against Arsenal gave us some hope. We´re still wasting many goal opportunities, but in this match the team seemed to remain quite calm and hold on well to the advantage they had. They also had a bit of luck. You have to appreciate luck, make the most of it. As I was telling you before, we are going forward in this tournament. The possibility of a relegation doesn´t enter my mind. That´s the tournament we are playing and we are going to do everything possible to keep on climbing.

© Unknown.
All Boys offers an interesting challenge today. I´ll watch the match tonight on the laptop with my son, here in Denmark near my grandparents farm, where my father grew up.

The Danish supporters are anxious thinking about the start of the European championship in June. Denmark has a very good team, but they got a very tough group. They will play against Germany, Holland and Portugal. It will be difficult to advance, but they might give a surprise. The Germans are like the Italians and the Brazilians - frequently they´ve been able to go ahead in important tournaments, sometimes becoming champions, with mediocre teams. This time Germany has an excellent team, and it would be almost incredible if they didn´t advance. This means they must beat Portugal and Holland. Denmark already defeated Portugal when they qualified for the Eurocup, and they can do it again. It seems to me Holland is the great challenge. Whatever way, it´s going to be fun watching how the thing goes.

Beautiful, Pep Guardiola´s farewell in Camp Nou [trans. note: Barça´s stadium] yesterday, and "la Pulga" shone like the jewel he is. We are lucky; rarely (not to say never) do we see a soccer player so consistent in his sporting excellence, so dignified in his public behaviour. It´s a pleasure to see everything he does on the field, see how he solves problems, how he watches the other players, how he has fun no matter what happens. He knows how to win and he knows how to lose because he knows how to play.

© Unknown.


Hello V: the story about the trip with your son and your old man reminded me of a beautiful story by Roberto Bolaño with a great title: Últimos atardeceres en la tierra (Last Evenings on Earth). It´s also the chronicle of a father and son´s last journey. If you have it at hand, read it when you come back to Spain.

Roberto Bolaño
Roberto Bolaño.
© Unknown.
I´m travelling to Switzerland shortly - to Lugano specifically, where they speak Italian and where I´m going to recall the Italian that my godfather Bruno taught me when I was a little boy. I don´t know if I told you that my godfather was a very strong father figure for me. Anyway, yes, I saw Pep Guardiola´s farewell and I remembered an old Vox Dei song, called "Presente" (Present) that had a chorus that went: "Todo concluye al fin/ nada puede escapar/ todo tiene un final todo termina" (Everything is over at the end/ nothing can escape/ everything has an ending everything has an end.)

Vox Dei
Vox Dei.
© Unknown.
I think it´s the acceptance of those cycles that makes us more intense, more real people. Notice that in The Tibetan Book of the Dead what they try to transmit is that to hold on to the loved ones is very bad for the one who remains, as it is for the one who leaves. To me it was hard to detach from my godfather, allowing him to sail towards freedom or, as Spinetta wrote, "towards final healing." Well, speaking of healing [trans. note: here Fabián plays with the Spanish meaning of "curador" which not only means, among other things, 'curator' but also 'healer',] Pep Guardiola wasn´t a manager, he was an art curator, like the ones in the museums. Here, in CASLA City, the thing is still hot because of the descent problem. I was just reading a book by William Carlos Williams, a brilliant poet from Obama´s land. Here you have the poem:

El Descenso // El descenso llama/como llamó el ascenso, /la memoria es una suerte/de consumación/de renacimiento/incluso/de iniciación, pues los espacios que abre son lugares nuevos/habitados por hordas/impensadas/de nuevas especies/movidas/hacia nuevos objetivos/ (aunque antes fueron desechados)/ Ninguna derrota es absoluta derrota/siempre abre un mundo nuevo/previamente insospechado/un mundo perdido/un mundo/que llama a nuevos sitios/y no hay blancura perdida/tan blanca como la memoria de lo blanco // Despierta el amor con la penumbra/aunque sus sombras/que el sol mantiene vivas/se adormecen ya y se despojan/del deseo/ya sin sombras el amor se aviva/empieza a despertar/conforme la noche avanza. // El descenso/hecho de incumplimiento/y desesperaciones/nos revela un nuevo despertar/el reverso/de la desesperación./Por lo que no pudimos consumar/por lo negado del amor/por lo perdido en expectativas/se abre el descenso/sin fin /indestructible.

(From Desert Music, 1954. William Carlos Williams.)

Hugs Viggo, have a good trip.



Well, we tied against All Boys and we´re still alive in the Copa Argentina. Now we get Olimpo, at home. Even if it takes a lot, we are advancing. Romagnoli was very good against All Boys, controlling the ball and setting up things like Iniesta, intelligent and dangerous. Bottinelli was again the usual warrior. But the team seemed to me a bit disorganised in general. We were lucky to come out with a point, but we should have left with three.

© Unknown.
Thank you for the beautiful translation of the William Carlos Williams poem. I read it in English for the first time about 30 years ago. The Spanish translation I´ve got is quite different from the one you sent me. Yours has very beautiful and different parts like "...sus sombras/que el sol mantiene vivas..." (..."its shadows/ that the sun keeps alive".) I like this translation because this way it looks simpler and more direct than "...sus sombras,/vivas por la ley del sol..." ("...its shadows,/alive by the sun´s law...") in the translation that I knew. [trans. note: the translation of the lines of the poem are obviously not taken from the original but a translation from the Spanish versions] Although the original English ("...its shadows/which are alive/by reason of the sun shining...") is a bit different from what you have, the translator of your version ( I don´t know who he is) has understood better the original sentence, which is very direct in spite of the quantity of words used by Williams. There are translations that, as much as they can be betrayals (and any translation is always some sort of betrayal), sometimes provide us with images and irreplaceable moments, unexpected stops in worlds so familiar we had forgotten them. It has been nice to read this poem again and see where the differences in the translations I´ve read came from, and above all because, like you, it has me thinking about our old men, our friends, our deaths and the days that never stop dancing. I hope your trip to Switzerland is nice. Good luck [to you] over there. I´m including for you the version I have of "The Descent" in case you are interested. The translation is by Octavio Paz.

[trans. note: the original poem can be found here]


El descenso nos llama
como la ascensión nos llamaba.
La memoria es una suerte de cumplimiento,
una renovación
- y más: una iniciación:
los espacios
que abre son lugares nuevos,
poblados por hordas
hasta entonces inexistentes,
nuevas especies
en movimiento hacia nuevos objetivos
(los mismos
que antes habían abandonado).
Ninguna derrota
es enteramente derrota:
el mundo que abre es siempre
un lugar antes insospechado.
Un mundo perdido es un mundo
que nos llama a lugares inéditos:
ninguna blancura
(perdida) es tan blanca
como la memoria de la blancura.

Al anochecer, el amor despierta
- aunque sus sombras,
vivas por la ley del sol,
ahora se aletargan
y se desprenden del deseo.
El amor sin sombras ahora
se anima y
conforme avanza la noche

El descenso
hecho de desesperaciones
por incumplido
nos cumple: es un nuevo despertar,
de la desesperación.
Aquello que no pudimos cumplir,
aquello negado al amor,
perdido en la anticipación,
se cumple en un descenso,
sin fin: indestructible.

-William Carlos Williams
(translated by Octavio Paz)

William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams.
© Unknown.
Speaking of translations of words and ideas, I leave you with this brief official communication between the Galician Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy. It´s a very funny conversation. The gallego who speaks towards the end is a genius.

[trans. note: a version of this vid with English subtitles can be found here]
Last edited: 18 May 2012 14:24:41
© Viggo Mortensen/Fabian Casas/Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro.