As far as your all-time favorite Idrottsforum blogger is concerned, the year 2020 turned out to be a lean one, almost a sabbatical. Not a single posting in twelve months, no commentary on arguably the biggest news of the year – until now.

This week 24 years ago I got off the train in Como, northern Italy, left my backpack at the railway station and followed the singing, shouting and flag-waving multitude to the idyllic lakeside stadium dedicated, fittingly enough, to a rower.

Since I (i.e. my past self) attended at least ten football matches in three countries – Italy, France and Germany – during the one-month long Christmas holiday, I cannot recall even the final score of that particular fixture. What I do remember is the trick the visiting team’s Argentinian attraction pulled just a few metres from where I was standing.

As soon as the stubby Latino had been cornered with two Como players gently caressing his ankles, I expected him to dive, grin, and deliver a fiery free-kick.

Instead, the Argentinian flipped the ball overhead, turned around and slipped past the Como boys like a whirling dervish; then he somehow regained possession of the ball and proceeded towards the…

But the rest doesn’t matter now. It didn’t really matter back then, on the shores of Lake Como, and it mattered even less some ten years later when I had finished Bero Rigauer’s unapologetically militant, neo-Marxist tome titled Sport and Work (trans. Allen Guttmann, Columbia UP 1981).

What the young Argentinian did in front of me at Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia was merely a series of mechanical movements, an outcome of dull, tedious work sessions (which in his case at least paid well). Playful inspiration let alone divine magic had nothing to do with the way he got around the two opponents. His seemingly spontaneous gestures were conditioned in the same manner as the movements of a factory worker tied to the conveyor belt.

This is what I learned from the German academic, and the lesson can surely be applied to each and every ’moment of magic’ this season from Albania to Zambia – the only exception being perhaps Como, where they apparently don’t know how to play serious football any more.

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