From Eduardo Galeano's classic, now available as an ebook. We'll have excerpts throughout the week.
In the old days there was the trainer and nobody paid him much heed. He died without a word when the game stopped being a game and professional soccer required a technocracy to keep the players in line. That was when the manager was born. His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom, and maximize the productivity of the players, who were now obliged to become disciplined athletes.
The trainer used to say, "Let's play."
The manager says, "Let's go to work."
Today they talk in numbers. The history of soccer in the twentieth century, a journey from daring to fear, is a trip from the 2–3–5 to the 5–4–1 by way of the 4–3–3 and the 4–2–2. Any ignoramus could translate that much with a little help, but the rest is impossible. The manager dreams up formulas as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception, which he uses to develop tactical schemes as indecipherable as the Holy Trinity.
From the old blackboard to the electronic screen: now great plays are planned by computer and taught by video. These dream maneuvers are rarely shown when the matches are broadcast. Television prefers to focus on the furrows in the manager's brow. We see him gnawing his fists or shouting instructions that would certainly turn the match around if anyone could understand them.
Journalists pepper him with questions at the postmatch press conference, but he never reveals the secrets of his victories, although he formulates admirable explanations of his defeats. "The instructions were clear, but they didn't listen," he says when the team suffers a big loss to a crummy rival. Or he dispels any doubts by talking about himself in the third person, more or less like this: "The reverses the team suffered today will never mar the achievement of a conceptual clarity that this manager once described as a synthesis of the many sacrifices required to become truly effective."
The machinery of spectacle grinds up everything in its path, nothing lasts very long, and the manager is as disposable as any other product of consumer society. Today the crowd screams, "Never die!" and next Sunday they invite him to kill himself.
The manager believes soccer is a science and the field a laboratory, but the genius of Einstein and the subtlety of Freud is not enough for the owners and the fans. They want a miracle worker like Our Lady of Lourdes, with the stamina of Gandhi.
Excerpted from Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Copyright © 1997 by Eduardo Galeano and Mark Fried, translation. Published in paperback by Nation Books, 2013. Published in ebook by Open Road Media, 2014; available wherever ebooks are sold. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York City and Lamy, NM. All rights reserved.