bfiais

Half Mag / Half Zine

Enrique Macaya Márquez, the legendary Argentinian broadcaster, the voice of football in his country for as long as anyone can care to remember, plots the timeline with his hands. He begins with Alfredo Di Stéfano. “For me he was the best player of them all,” Macaya Márquez says. “Although I suppose it depends on the era. I saw Johan Cruyff as being like Di Stéfano … So, Di Stéfano, Pelé, Cruyff, Maradona, Messi. On that timeline. They are the top five.”

Macaya Márquez is impeccably placed to comment. He grew up with Di Stéfano and was close enough to Diego Maradona to be invited to his wedding in 1989. “Maradona used to tell me that, when he became a manager, he would take me as his assistant coach,” he adds.

Macaya Márquez has stories to tell about them all, and many, many more – gathered over an impossibly rich professional lifetime. He is here in Qatar, about to analyse Sunday’s final between his country and France, having commentated at every World Cup since 1958. This is his 17th finals; no other journalist has done so many. He celebrated his 88th birthday when he covered Qatar v Ecuador on the opening day. What stands out when spending time with him is his humility and serenity. His fellow countrymen and women have come to consider him as a kind of grandparental sage, the old guy in the cafe who will tell them all about the game with unerring insight and accuracy. They will be with him when he works the final for DirecTV Sports, hoping and praying, like him, that Argentina can win the tournament for a third time. And, in the process, consecrate Lionel Messi as Maradona’s equal.

Macaya Márquez remembers the second triumph as the most emotional and that is saying something given the circumstances around the first in 1978 – the political turmoil in Argentina as the team went on their victorious run on home soil. It is because the glory of Mexico 86 was also his glory, in part.

Macaya Márquez is a comentarista by trade, but it is something of a false friend in linguistic terms for the English speaker. In Argentina, the play-by-play commentator is the relator, the narrator, while the comentarista provides the tactical analysis. Macaya Márquez goes way back with Carlos Bilardo, the Argentina manager who steered Maradona and Co to the trophy. “I worked for a radio station in La Plata when Bilardo played for Estudiantes in the late 1960s and we became good friends,” he says.

“We spoke about football and strategy over the years and so after the 1986 final, my colleagues in South America came to congratulate me, saying that I had a big influence on Bilardo and winning the World Cup. I just told them I didn’t play. I didn’t lift the trophy.”

Macaya Márquez did get his hands on it when he was one of only two journalists on the team flight back to Buenos Aires. “I just remember the singing,” he says. “Before the World Cup, there was a conflict between the Argentine Football Association and the players and, on the way home, the players sang against them. They sang that the management were like pancakes: they flip one way and then the other.”

It is not difficult to imagine who led that chant and, where Maradona was concerned, Macaya Márquez offers the impression that arguments were inevitable. They had a classic encounter on TV in the early 1990s. “Argentina had a friendly in Japan and I became aware that Maradona and the players did not want to travel,” Macaya Márquez says. “I said into the camera that they had to go. Maradona was on the show and he said that Macaya Márquez knows nothing, nada, nada. Because when Maradona got home, he did not even have the strength to lift his children, he was so tired.

“The truth was that he and the players were out partying. I never asked about that sort of thing. My job was to analyse the games. But I told Maradona that they had to train more and train harder. Then maybe he would have the power to lift his kids.

“Maradona did not agree. But afterwards he realised that I had a point. So he asked me for a coffee and he got a TV crew along to film him apologising to me. It was special.”

Macaya Márquez became a household name through television – in particular, as the co-presenter of Futbol de Primera in the 90s, the Argentinian Sunday-night institution. It had started for him in radio. He was 23 years old when he was sent to cover the 1958 World Cup in Sweden for Radio Belgrano. At the very beginning, though, there were newspapers. Aged just seven, Macaya Márquez had a paper round in his Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Flores.

“Di Stéfano lived there, too,” he says. “He was seven, eight years older than me but we played football together at his house. We were friends. Di Stéfano would come to my newspaper kiosk and I’d let him read for free.”

What are Macaya Márquez’s memories of 1958? Surely Pelé winning the final for Brazil? “Honestly, it was Argentina’s 6-1 defeat against Czechoslovakia,” he replies. “I had stopped smoking three years earlier. I started again after that. When the Argentina team got back to the airport in Buenos Aires, they were pelted with coins.”

An Argentina triumph on Sunday would complete a rare hat-trick for Macaya Márquez, and the thought occurs that it could add up to a glorious swan song. Because this will be his last World Cup, right? “Mmm … it’s possible,” he says, a smile spreading across his lips. What he actually means is possibly not.