What happens when a national coach doesn't pick a star player who crossed him at club level? Luke Gosset reports on the resulting demo and lawsuits
Ahealthy sense of perspective has been lost somewhere along the line when a lawyer issues a writ to order a national coach before a court to explain excluding a player from his World Cup squad.
Last month Humberto Ramírez set about trying to force Mexico boss Ricardo La Volpe to tell the nation precisely why he had overlooked 33-year-old America striker Cuauhtémoc Blanco from the 26-man provisional party from whom 23 will be chosen to travel to Germany this summer.
Ramírez embarked upon such a course of action off his own back. Like many other football fans in his homeland, he simply could not understand why Blanco was out in the cold. “We’re demanding to be given reason, motive and cause for this decision,” the lawyer said. “It has aggrieved Mexican fans.”
And he was not the only angry one. Barely a fortnight before, hundreds of banner-waving America fans marched on the streets. The protest began at America’s Azteca stadium in Mexico City and noisily proceeded to the headquarters of the national football federation, the FMF, collecting hundreds of other unhappy supporters along the way. Only the presence of armed police units ensured that tempers remained in check.
Blanco thanked Ramírez for his support, then said: “I don’t want to talk about this business any more. Of course I’m grateful for the people’s appreciation and that my efforts are recognised, but it’s better to keep quiet now.” Blanco, however, had already had his say on the subject, in quite colourful terms.
The saga started when Blanco opted out of last year’s Confederations and Gold Cups. He claimed that ex-Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos – now the country’s assistant manager – told him he should take the time to recharge his batteries at the end of a season when he was voted player of the year. Blanco smelt a rat after being left out of the ensuing World Cup qualifiers. The writing was on the wall after he was also overlooked for the friendlies that followed qualification for Germany.
Campos, unsurprisingly, would be well advised to avoid Blanco for a while. “The next time I see him he’s going to be quaking in his boots,” Blanco threatened. “We had an agreement and the bastard used it against me. He told me I’d be back in the squad for the qualifiers but I’ve been turned over and sent to the shithouse. I’d love to find out the real reasons why La Volpe didn’t want me. He should have the balls to tell me face to face.”
La Volpe puts down the snub to “tactical considerations”, but Blanco suspects other factors were involved and the pair certainly have previous. When La Volpe became America coach in 1996 he saw the forward as a maverick who upset his strict tactical formations and delighted in making an example of him.
Revenge was sweet when the talismanic forward scored against his former boss after the latter moved to Atlas, the team from Guadalajara, in 1999. Blanco celebrated the goal by lying down on the pitch in front of La Volpe. The film of the celebration is still broadcast regularly and the Argentine coach cannot stand it.
The soap opera further enthralled a captive audience when La Volpe selected his son-in-law – Atlas midfielder Rafael García – for the World Cup squad. It was then that Blanco’s mother, Hortensia Bravo, stepped in. “Let’s see if I can get one of my kids to marry La Volpe’s daughter, too,” she said. “Three of my boys are still bachelors so I’ll look at the options.” The banners carried by protesting fans displayed slogans such as “You don’t need to be the best – just a relative of La Volpe” and “Cuauhtémoc yes, Chiquis [García] no”.
Seemingly resigned to his fate, Blanco is trying to take solace by cashing in on the controversy, fronting an ad promoting a cable channel’s World Cup coverage.
From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month