César Luis Menotti does not like to talk about the 78 World Cup.
You can spend hours debating about football with him, hearing him telling anecdotes about his time at Barcelona or his relationship with Diego Maradona. He is passionate when analyzing the game, emphasizes the different styles that lead to sporting results. But when the topic is the 78 World Cup his answers shortened. You can feel a mixture of annoyance and reluctance. The coach feels that the achievement was not valued as they deserved. The reason is obvious: the inescapable shadow of the military dictatorship.
–What is the first thing that comes to mind when you remember the World Cup?
–The memory is of happiness for having kept my word and winning the World Cup and having had the opportunity to win a World Cup here. I feel like I did what I had to do. Many people had trusted us and for them, for the players, we had to play and try to win the World Cup. And it's not the same to win at home, huh. It's like Boca's shirt. It is much more difficult to play with Boca's shirt on Boca's field than at Rosario Central's. It is very difficult. The favorites have it harder. Italy didn´t win when it organized the World Cup, Spain didn´t win, Germany didn´t win, Brazil didn´t win...
Menotti says he did what he had to do. There is a key date for him: March 24, 1976. At the same time that the coup d'état was materialized and the military dictatorship broke into power, the team won 2-1 against Poland in Chorzow. That day, the Military Junta allowed television to broadcast only two things: the official communiqués and the football match.
It was the rapporteur José María Muñoz who communicated the news to the National Team. Although the repercussions were grave, neither the players nor the coach team evaluated the possibility of suspending the match. Upon returning from the tour, Menotti went to the AFA with the idea of submitting his resignation. There, the president of the entity, Alfredo Cantilo, was waiting for him. “Look, César, the only serious thing here in AFA is this folder with the project you prepared", he told him.
The coach underlines that he came to the national team (in 1974) during Peronism and that Cantilo was not a designated interventionist by the Government but a leader the endorsement of all the Argentine football clubs. From those bases, Cantilo promised to respect the project that Menotti had presented. And “El Flaco” promised to continue in his position.
–What was the best thing about that team?
–The game. Everyone had a good footing, everyone. Olguín could play striker; Galván was a hell of a player too, in the final he comes out of nowhere from inside the area. Passarella the same... Tarantini. Ardiles was an exceptional footballer. And I also had a lot of practice time. We had an impressive way to recover the ball, with two guys who were very important as Ortiz and Bertoni who helped narrow the spaces. It was an invincible team. The power of Kempes…, every winger who run the line wanted such a phenomenal goalscorer. I had an extraordinary confidence in the team. My friends told me: “Are you sure?” We played well. And it's very difficult to play here.
Nobody had to teach Menotti what politics was about. He´s been involved in argentine politics since he was a little boy. At the age of 10, he experienced firsthand Peronism internal discussions. He knew that when his father entered his house and turned on the light he had to throw himself on the floor. Just in case. “They shot my house twice. It was almost a Peronist basic unit. My father militated in Peronism and was a defender of Perón; my mother, on the other hand, hated Perón and defended Evita”,he recalls.
As a teenager and after the death of his father, “El Flaco” left the streets of Rosario to paint “Perón Vuelve” (Perón will come back) on walls and trucks. But after long discussions with his friends about the exile of the General decided to change course and join the Communist Party.
This training made him aware of the reality that Argentina lived during the dictatorship, but Menotti clarifies: “I knew there were detainees and political prisoners. I have helped in many things that never came to light, things I´m not interested to talk about. What I didn´t imagine was, for example, that people were thrown from the airplanes or so many other atrocities that were known later, after time.”
–Do you think that the championship was not properly valued?
–No, surely not. It was a calumny. A miserable infamy of those who later became revolutionaries and during the 78 World Cup broadcasted the matches with Videla in their ears. A shame. It really is a shame not to recognize everything that those players did, that they played for free all their lives, that they never claimed a prize. We donated one million three hundred thousand dollars to the AFA of friendly game we organized because they didn´t want to do it because they said it was not worth it. And with that money they made the sport center in Ezeiza.
Before jumping on the field, “El Flaco” gathered his players in the locker room and told them the same words: “Go out and look at the people. Play for them. There they are.” There were his relatives, there were his friends. There were many people waiting for a joy. Menotti feels that this is the concept that sums up the role of the National Team during the World Cup. They played for the people. And for nobody else.
He assures that he saw Videla only once during the Cup. “He came to the pre-match meeting via helicopter, he went to say hello and then left”. In return, it takes balls to have chosen Flaco Spinetta to sing for the players a week before the tournament started. Or to have helped a Devoto political prisoner and give her asylum in his house for a month.
–How was to feel the people need for a joy?
It was a crazy thing. They came to hotel where the National team was from all sides, with the children, they were ahead of the bus. The players looked at each other like saying “where do we go?”. It's incredible, there was a need... Some imbeciles say that we did a favor to the dictatorship, I could tell if I were as imbecile as them that we also put three million people in the street when there could not be more than three. That's where the custody, the organization, everything ended.