I waited for months. I read up on it. I cleared my calendar. I talked to my friends about it. I was ready. I actually became quite religious about the whole thing. In fact, I turned into a fanatic, a true believer. I even bought a 46 inch TV for my exercise room, just to make sure I did not miss any of his appearances during my futile attempts to build muscle. Messi was about to deliver spiritual redemption during the last World Cup. For us, Argentinians, Messi was to bring salvation. We felt that we scored with Pope Francis. It was now time for Messi to score. What could be better than the world talking about how great Argentinians are, instead of all the talk about defaulting on international obligations?
I even thought of buying one of these ridiculously expensive Argentina shirts, which cost more than the 46 inch TV we impulsively acquired, but I resisted. Matan, our son, caved in. After the first match that Argentina won, he went to the closest Adidas store in New York City and dished out half of his teacher salary. Although Matan was born in Canada, and never lived in Argentina, he absorbed my irrational love of soccer. After leaving Argentina at the age of 16, encouraged by the fascist dictatorship, I renounced most Argentinian traditions, except soccer.
My productivity during the 2014 World Cup plummeted. Thank God it was during the summer, when the university slows down. Otherwise I would have been fired. But truth be told, most of my colleagues did the same thing, running to meetings and finishing papers in between games. To make sure I did not miss any games I blocked my outlook calendar with all the relevant games and I set up my DVR – successfully I might add – to record all the games. My assistant knew not to schedule any meetings during the 84 games.
During the final game against Germany I was a nervous wreck. It was good Matan was here in Miami to debrief. He gave up playing in chess tournaments to come home and watch the last week of games with us. We are both equally irrational about soccer. When Higuaín scored during that game, the two of us jumped up and down like kangaroos. When the referee disallowed the goal, we were crushed. I used Spanish vocabulary unbecoming of a Dean of Education. Ora, my wife, did her best to console us.
My behavior during the last game was consistent with the overall regression I was experiencing. For the entire World Cup I went back to childhood, when my life revolved around soccer. During the tournament I woke up thinking about soccer, spent hours watching reruns, and -- something that did not exist when I was a kid -- wasted valuable time following blogs. Matan, who is an elitist, insisted that we follow The Guardian’s blog. But let’s be honest, he is right. No American commentator really understands soccer.
On ESPN, we were served Alexi Lalas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lalas used to be a decent soccer player, but is highly irritating as a commentator. You see, we are not just any kind of soccer fans, we are soccer snobs. The only redeeming quality of Alexi Lalas is that he speaks English. To comment on the games, ESPN invited foreign players, mostly from Latin America, whose English did not bring much pride to their educational systems.
Despite the terrible defeat in the final game, and the ensuing depression, which lasted several days, I benefited greatly from the World Cup. For once, I could speak authoritatively about sports in the United States. I could show off in front of colleagues. I could say things like “the 4-4-2 formation is working defensively” and “Sabella needs to bring Gago to reinforce the midfield.”
In addition to these displays of sublimated testosterone, my mental health also benefited greatly. Not since I was nine did I take such complete leave of my senses. For four weeks I showed complete disregard for work, responsibilities, and anything resembling mature behavior. That proved to be very therapeutic for a workaholic like me. I also gained a lot of sympathy from friends and colleagues who wanted Argentina to win, just to make me happy. Bonding with Matan over soccer, that was priceless.