Football needs villains and Ricardo La Volpe most certainly embodies one of the best ones, or better said, the evilest ones.
Having a target to whom address sporting frustrations in the form of whistling or light verbal abuse, is common, some might even argue healthy for the fan that suffers from pressing nerves. That is assuming the villain lies in the opposite side. Other is the story when the evil wears the very same shirt you adore. Then the villain becomes venomous, intoxicating your pure intentions to stay by your colors no matter what.
That is the case of Ricardo ‘el loco’ Lavolpe. Nobody hates him more than the fans of teams he has worked for, except maybe for many of the footballers he has coached.
Media of course can’t resist such a colorful character and Lavolpe’s first approach is alluring. He will enter any press room confidently, or looking like it, act games with bottles, and offer detailed explanations of moves and tactical decisions. Sport journalists and thorough fans love this exception to the rule of silent coaches reluctant to disclose any information that could actually inform.
The spiky hair, sparser as his defeats mount, the concave moustache, the religious golden pendants leaping out of his flashy attire, the lit cigarette that hides between his fingers, the volatile gestures that he makes during the games, all add to the charm. Until he is somehow contradicted and the jovial aura vanishes. Mexican journalists, as (little) innocent as journalists elsewhere, were told they knew nothing, received insults (Don’t break my balls, fucking idiots) and some got their equipment wet by El Loco. And then, the feud with Hugo Sánchez and Cuauhtémoc Blanco sealed the villainy that resulted in the interrogative ‘Why should we have an Argentine coach?’.
Obsessed with tactics as he is, he finds that saturating players with obligations and endless repetitions of plays is not enough. For the unforeseen events, he wears something red. But destiny rebels and settles the least wanted scenario: Argentina vs Mexico in the world cup. He stays away when the anthems are sang but fate, hostile once again, authorize Maxi Rodriguez’s deadly shot.
His tactical flexibility won him much praise, in his words: ‘Pele and Cruyff told me Mexico was ten times superior to Argentina’. Argentina was not as eulogistic but he gained the respect that he had lacked during the thirty years he spent as coach in Mexican clubs (with one title). A respect that made him the replacement of Alfio Basile at Boca Juniors, after his departure to the national team. The several stories of confrontations with Mexican footballers were muffled by the expectation that this character can arise.
But the stay at Boca was far from thriving. It kicked off with the blown up chance of matching the record of consecutive victories in the league, it followed downhill with the early elimination of the South American Cup (Boca was the last champion with almost the same squad), the 3 – 1 defeat against River and it culminated in a championship shamefully lost in the end. Quivering, Boca had managed to maintain in the league the advantaged obtained with Basile but slowly lost the victor impulse and wasted three opportunities to claim the crown. The functioning of the team had been scrapped, defenders oscillated disoriented between a line of three, four and five, many forwards were thrown on the field so that Boca formed a tangle unable to knit an attack. The playoff was rightfully won by Estudiantes de la Plata and Boca’s fans swallowed their pride together with the newborn venom to applaud the new champions.
La Volpe resigned as he had previously said he would if he lost the title. He then signed for Velez and Velez’s coach (destiny?) signed for Boca.
Several months before it finally happened, La Volpe was asked if he would like Riquelme to come back to Boca. ‘I’d say don’t bring him. Riquelme wouldn’t play in my team’. He later added that football is no longer played with enganches, with tens, and turning to the journalist that refuted his statement: ‘you should stop lying to the people and just retire’.
And venom finally found its way out through an unwelcome chant towards La Volpe when Boca and Velez met last night for the Libertadores Cup at la bombonera. And the non existing Riquelme scored the first goal, followed by a curtain of applause, and also received imperturbable, while organizing the play, the violent mark of Velez. The score was 3 – 0 and the venom, out and forgotten, at least until the next leg.
But La Volpe vows to have the last word. He has said on the sly to be keeping something to himself, something about the lost championship that he will reveal when this season is over, when the work of the villain is ultimately fulfilled.