Team captains must play on the brink of self-sacrifice. Sometimes it’s their bodies, sometimes their time off, sometimes their public image — they don’t care. They have been chosen because they can be submissive to the needs of the team and still dominate their opponents. A perfect example of such a player was Diego Simeone.
Look at Argentina vs England, 1998, the World Cup quarterfinal.
Simeone, the Argentine captain, proved he didn’t give a damn what others thought of him. He made sure the team won.
From the very start, he made an impact.
His dive duped the referee and Argentina was given a penalty.
What a cheat — look at how he buries his right foot into the keeper knowing the image of foot-on-body and then him twirling to the ground will fool the referee. There’s intelligence there — he knows the motion will be effective. There’s deceitfulness — his drive to win allows him to abandon morals. And there’s reputation — doing shit like this makes you hated, not “hated” as in dangerous real-life “hated”, but “hated” as in opponents despise competing against you. They look for revenge, but revenge often ends with the penalty going to the second offender. Simeone instigates, seeks retaliation, cultivates victimization, then uses it to rally his teammates.
Gabriel Batistuta, the Argentine number 9, fires in the penalty.
Pick things up in the 35th minute, England leads 2-1 through the dashing of a young Michael Owen, and the force that is Alan Shearer.
The Argentines attack and a guy gets a shot off. It hits Simeone and an England defender, then turns into a loose ball in the box. The English keeper clearly will get to it, but Simeone sees a chance.
The keeper goes to ground.
He has the ball in his arms, but Simeone stamps his foot down on it.
No contact with the opponent, just a tap on the ball.
No harm. No call. But all of England screams.
It’s unnecessary prodding like this, little nips, that get under an opponent’s skin — makes them do something dumb.
Simeone’s niggling builds into Beckham’s outburst. It’s his famous strike at Simeone, the kick across the calves. The ball was coming into Beckham around midfield, Simeone came crashing through, kneed him in the back, destroyed him. Beckham was laying dead. Simeone rubbed his head like a man does to a boy.
Simeone wrestles it away then passes, but now he has nothing left.
Ayala: Good get, Cap!
Exhausted, Simeone becomes light-headed. Dizzy. Lethargic. Still, he tries to scan the game. He must find his places and help the team.
The whistle blows for full time, and boy, did he need it. Still, after a short break, it'll be 30 minutes of knife-edge Golden Goal. Both teams will be looking to end things. The team has to be at its best, and Simeone knows he's finished, he can't continue, but he's not yet ready to admit to it.
During the break, the players crowd the sideline. They are boiling vats of fluid, damp and shaking in colorful uniforms. Some have adrenalie-saturated blood, others are through with that chemical and burning more abstract drivers. For Simeone, the ego switches on.
You’ve done this a thousand times before.
You push through this.
You know how. Don’t listen to that ‘low on fuel’.
You know what feels good? Self-gratification.
Triumph makes you a man.
Simeone squirts water into his mouth.
He sees that the guys on the bench look fresh and strong.
The manager, Daniel Passarella, gives his last words to the team. His small brown eyes water. “Get the win,” he tells them.
He’s won before.
He knows how it feels.
Argentina lose the ball and Simeone has to drop back.
Simeone: José, back two steps. Almeyda, get even!
Ayala: One coming to you!
It’s England’s captain, Alan Shearer. He’s found a soft spot between Simeone and a defender. England hook the ball into him, and while it's in the air, Simeone fires the reserves. He gets to Shearer just as he chests the ball down.
The tumble is well executed.
There’s a scream.
A point at the assassian.
Red card for Becks. For Argentina, it was the Golden Ticket.
England to 10 men, and a whole lot of time to go.
Simeone doesn’t need to score goals to put the team in a position to win.
He dove, but what’s the true cost?
A few harsh words from the other side?
The ire of crabby writers?
Referees don’t even give yellow cards for it anymore.
Winning brings glory.
Beyond the-game-between-the-game, Simeone is a good reader of play, he runs box-to-box, playing in attack, midfield, and defense. He's effective in all three duties, but playing all phases of the game means the battery is gonna go.
The score is 2-2, the 90 minutes are almost up, and Argentina have the ball un-pressured in the back. Simeone is in position between the defense and the midfield, but he’s dead tired, almost panting. His teammate, Roberto Ayala, is dribbling the ball up from the back.
Simeone: Not to me.
Simeone: Give it to Verón.
Verón receives the pass and immediately moves it forward. Simeone jogs up the field. If he stops running, he'll cramp up.
The ref whistles for the players.
See? 'My love'.
Simeone walks onto the field.
His legs feel like wood.
His lungs feel cut and scraped.
But he doesn't care. He feels the love too.
The game starts again, and soon the ball comes to Simeone and he knows Shearer is going to make contact on his back, so he prepares himself for it, but he has such little strength that the little bit of contact makes him crumble. Shearer comes away with the ball.
He is a weak link.
His mind may want it, but his body doesn't have it.
Despite all his sacrifice, he is the weak one.
Don’t do this.
Simeone: Coach! Get me out of here!
Passarella: Berti is coming!
Simeone once said he played as if he were carrying a knife between his teeth.
What's the knife for?
For opponents, sure, but also for yourself.
You’re going to have wrestled adversity.
to have been slowed down, nearly destroyed, and then you’re going to walk off the battlefield victorious!
Fight fought, bitch.
Bloodied, not dead.
He takes the knife out of his mouth.
Think about how you will be remembered.
Think, you could score the goal.
You could win the game.
He cuts another notch ion the flat of his palm, then drops the knife.
You don't want to be a warrior?
SIMEONE: I want to win.
Simeone drops to the ground and is dead. It doesn’t matter how good he was at the start of the game, how valuable he was then, the moment and the future are what count, and he's now no good in either.
Play goes on, as it of course will, without him.
He won't get up until he's being substituted out.
A strong 10 is better than a weak 11.
Berti is shuffled to the halfway line, and while the assistant referee is still checking his cleats and uniform, the ball goes out, and he is signaled to come on the field.
Simeone comes back to life. A big smile on his face.
He'll run off for his curtain call.
The crowd cheers.
That’s pretty good.
He gives the arm band to Verón, taps him on the cheek, and winks at the camera.
He applauds the people back.
Now Argentina has all the links back in the chain.
It is the end of the night for Simeone, but not the end of his tournament.
Argentina needs penalties to finally knock down England, but they do it and they're through.
So for Simeone, job well-done.