Saturday, November 8, 2008

Football appears in the ‘high’ literature as well: the great Austrian writer Robert Musil was even prophetic – in his enormous and unfinished masterpiece The Man Without Qualities, Musil saw the football player (along with the tennis player) as the new ‘profane’ modern hero. He placed the emergence as early as 1913. On the other hand, Albert Camus attributed positive qualities to football in terms of morals and ethics. But he was speaking about 1930s and early 1940s. The little moment in The Outsider, where the crowd carries the goalkeeper on their shoulders through the city’s streets is nostalgically touching. Another Austrian, Peter Handke, published in 1970 one of his most famous novellas: ‘The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick’. The central character is Joseph Bloch, ‘a construction worker who had once been a well-known soccer goalie.’ (3 X Handke, Collier Books, New York, 1988)
Those are fiction books, of course, and little football knowledge can be extracted from them: no real players of teams, or fixtures. But occasionally football appears in fiction surprisingly real. Two examples from the Argentine great writer Adolfo Bioy Casares: ‘In a Sport-Dimanche that somebody left in the waiting room of the Hotel de Roma I was able to find out that today Reims plays Paris-Saint-Germain a match that I wouldn’t want to miss for anything, because Reims number 9 – the center forward, as we’d say in my day – is none other than Carlitos Bianchi.’(the short story ‘Our Trip (A Diary)’, A Russian Doll And Other Stories, New Directions Books, New York, 1992, p. 75). The episode is hilarious, at least for a soccer fan – it is going to the match with annoying ignoramus, forcing the narrator to leave the stadium before the game ends. Carlitos Bianchi is none other than Carlos Bianchi:
Carlos Bianchi still playing for Velez Sarsfield (Buenos Aires)
He played for Reims from 1973 to 1977, before moving to Paris Saint-Germain (1977-79), RC Strasbourg (1979-80), going back to Argentina and Velez Sarsfield (1980-84), and finishing his career in France – his last season is again for Reims, 1984-85. Bianchi played 14 games for the National team of Argentina and scored 7 goals between 1970 and 1972. He was 5 times top goal scorer in France (1974, 1976, and 1977 with Reims, and 1978 and 1979 with Paris SG). Curiously enough, another Argentine, playing at the same time in France is also 5 times top scorer and all-time top goal scorer of the French League with 299 goals – Delio Onnis. The two replaced each other as leading scorer – Onis in 1975, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1984. And finally: Onnis played for Reims between 1971-73. Bianchi took his place in 1973, when Onnis moved to Monaco. Unlike Bianchi, Onnis was not born in Argentina, but in Rome, Italy, the son of Greek emigrants, and was less known in Argentina. Bianchi was Argentinean champion in 1968 and three times top goal scorer – 1970, 1971, and 1980 – with Velez Sarsfield.
Delio Onnis, the great rival of Bianchi in France. Here with the colours of his third French club – Tours in 1981.

But perhaps the player means nothing to you. Try the more familiar coach Carlos Bianchi: three Intercontinental Cups – 1994, coaching Velez Sarsfield; 2000 and 2003 coaching Boca Juniors. 4 Copa Libertadores coaching Velez and Boca. Three Argentine titles with Velez, and 4 with Boca. Coach of Paris SG 1990-91. Coach of AS Roma in 1996. Coach of Atletico (Madrid) 2005-06. One of the best coaches of the 1990s – voted South Americam Coach of the Year in 1994, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003. Such is the little Carlitos popping out of the story by Bioy Casares.
But the writer had more in his sleeve: ‘Dante, who always got angry when he lost (though as a fan of the Excursionista soccer team, he should have learned to accept defeat philosophically), chided him for not keeping his mind on the game’. This sentence occurs in the beginning of the novel Diary of the War of the Pig (E. P. Dutton, New York, 1988), on page 5. The outlandish name sounded suspect, most likely an author’s invention, but knowing Bioy Casares I decided to check and make sure. It was real.